"Presence" in Absentia: Experiencing Performance as Documentation, Amelia Jones

 

Jones, Amelia, „Presence“ in: Absentia: Experiencing Performance as Documentation in: Art Journal, Vol. 56, No. 4, Performance Art: (Some) Theory and (Selected) Practice at the End of This Century, Winter 1997, pp. 11-18, published by: www.jstor.org

I was not yet three years old, living in central North Carolina, when Carolee Schneemann performed Meat Joy at the Festival of Free Expression in Paris in 1964; three when Yoko Ono performed Cut Piece in Kyoto; eight when Vito Acconci did his Push Ups in the sand at Jones Beach and Barbara T. Smith began her exploration of bodily experiences with her Ritual Meal performance in Los Angeles; nine when Adrian Piper paraded through the streets of New York making herself repulsive in the Catalysis series; ten when Valie Export rolled over glass in Eros/Ion in Frankfurt; twelve in 1973 when, in Milan, Gina Pane cut her arm to make blood roses flow (Sentimental Action); fifteen (still in North Carolina, completely unaware of any art world doings) when Marina Abramovic and Ulay collided against each other in Relation in Space at the Venice Biennale in 1976 (fig. 1). I was thirty years old-then 1991-when I began to study performance or body art1from this explosive and important period, entire- ly through its documentation. I am in the slightly uncomfortable but also enviable position of having been generously included in this special issue. Presented, in the words of the editor, as a sort of oral history, the issue is based on the premise that one had to be there-in the flesh, as it were-to get the story right. I was asked to provide a counternarrative by writing about the "problematic of a person my age doing work on perfor- mances you have not seen [in person]." This agenda forces me to put it up front: not having been there, I approach body artworks through their photographic, textual, oral, video, and/or film traces. I would like to argue, however, that the problems raised by my absence (my not having been there) are largely logistical rather than ethical or hermeneutic. That is, while the experience of viewing a photograph and reading a text is clearly different from that of sitting in a small room watching an artist perform, neither has a privileged relationship to the historical "truth" that are (perhaps usefully, perhaps not) laden with person of the performance (more on this below).