Perform, Repeat, Record- Elsie Campbell

Chapter 41, The Live Artist as Archaeologist


In this Chapter, Amelia Jones interviews renowned performance artist Marina Abramovic on the topic of re-performing her own work, re-performing other artists work, and having new artists re-perform her work. This interview touches on many points regarding performance art that I had been either curious about or had never even considered.

A minor point that Marina made early in the dialogue was regarding the birth of performance art and interest in the human body. She mentioned that the renewed interest in body art was related to the AIDs epidemic (which we already kind of new from our segment on AIDs) but she followed that by saying that this epidemic spurred a pervasive fear of dying and interest in the exploration of that fear. This does seem like a natural outcome of the AIDs epidemic, but I had not thought of it in quite such stark terms. Performance art is a great way to explore death because it is the most ‘alive’ art one can create. Additionally, it would be quite easy to bring the audience through a begining to end cycle, which is a sure fire way to deal with death.

Beginning on page 548 Marina begins discussion re-performing her own art and what that means to her and moves on to discuss re-performing others work. She talks about how when she is re-performing her own art she has the freedom to rearrange the ‘pieces’ that make up the original. This gives her room to apply new life and personal experiences to the piece without needing to adhere to a strict outline in order to retain the structure of the original. More than that, she says that it is inevitable you “find[ing] yourself unconsciously repeating actions or visual elements you’ve seen from other parts of your life.” (552) When she re-performs other people work, she needs to keep at least some of the original structure to keep it the same piece, and she is not the original creator of the artist so does not have the freedom she discussed when talking about her own work. From this, I had a few interesting thoughts: first, it seems like re-performing one’s own art hold very different implications and come from different places of motivation. When you are re-performing your own art, it’s more like editing and revising with new life and new pieces that make it more contemporarily relevant. Where as when you re-perform someone else’s art and adhere to the original structure, it seems more like you are re creating the original piece and the original message. This difference points to a distinction between the ‘piece’ and the ‘performer’ that leads into the last point I wanted to talk about.

With traditional art (paintings, sculpture, et cetera) you only get the product of the art. With performance art you get both the product and the performer, and the interaction therein brings something specific to the piece. Like i just mentioned, re-performing art exhibits one element of the performer and piece dynamic. On page 550 Marina talks about how when she reenacted seedbed she could not convey the every element of the original piece’s intention because she had not ‘production’ because she was a woman. I thought this comment was very interesting because it touched on how each artist, in some sense, is forced to bring pieces to a performance work, whether it’s their own work or a re-enactment of someone else’s. For example, a black woman reenacting a performance piece by a white man, even if she did it exactly as he instructed, would carry different implications socially and would by necessity add a layer of identity to the piece that had not originally been there (or had originally been different.) This comes back to the idea that performance art isnt just art, but its the piece, the performer, and the symbiotic relationship of identity and intention therein.

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