Performance documents: Marina Abramovic's "Seven Easy Pieces" and the photographic documentation of performance art
Gagliardi, Francesco Giuseppe
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This thesis is devoted to the photographic documentation of performance art. In the first chapter I analyze Seven Easy Pieces , a series of reenactments of classic performance works from the 1960s and 1970s that Marina Abramovic presented at New York's Guggenheim Museum in the Fall of 2005. The project was doubly relevant from the point of view of documentation: it was based entirely upon documentary records (Abramovic expressly chose to reenact pieces that she had not seen when they were first performed), and it presented itself as a model of how performance art should be documented. In examining the theoretical underpinnings of the project and the documentary strategies deployed by Abramovic, I argue that, notwithstanding some of the artist's most radical claims, Seven Easy Pieces relied upon a fairly conservative understanding of the relation between audience, performance event, and documentary images. One of the central premises upon which the project was built is that, in the 1960s and 1970s, performance artists were so exclusively preoccupied with performance as a live medium, that they paid little or no attention to creating an enduring record of their work. As a result, so the story goes, the photographic documentation of 1960s and 1970s performance art is scarce and qualitatively lacking. This assumption, shared in one form or another by a surprising number of people variously concerned with the issue of performance documentation, paid a significant role in justifying the 2005 Abramovic reenactments as an occasion to produce "new and better" documentation of the original pieces. Through an in-depth analysis of the extant documentation of four of the pieces reenacted by Abramovic (Bruce Numan's Body Preassure , Vito Acconci's Seedbed , VALIE EXPORT's Action Pants: Genital Panic , and Gina Pane's The Conditioning ), in the second chapter of the thesis I argue that this assumption is largely inaccurate. My central thesis is that, although some early performances were indeed offhandedly documented, so that all that remains of them is a bunch of blurry and badly framed black and white snapshots, a good number of performance artists active in the late 1960s and early 1970s deployed documentation in a variety of sophisticated and highly self-conscious ways. Even some of the awkward black and white snapshots, moreover, are in fact less naive than they appear to be: their casual style is often deliberately deployed in order to convey a feeling of authenticity, and their "bad quality" is flaunted as a way to emphasize the primacy of a live, unmediated experience of the work.