Revolving Documents

Fast on heels of May’s public events, last week marked a trip to Switzerland to take part in the Revolving Documents conference at Museum Tinguely in Basel. Staged at the opening of BANG BANG – a major exhibition exploring translocal histories of performance art in Switzerland – the conference brought together international researchers and artists to explore different narrations of the ‘beginnings’ of performance art, and to consider the methodologies by which galleries and museums have sought to reconstruct and represent performance art histories.

Moving between the histories of specific contexts of the development of performance art – including Israel, Scotland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia – and the varying strategies by which ‘ephemeral’ events might be documented, we frequently came back to the question of narrative. That is, not simply what stories are told but the terms on which they are constructed and formed, how they might be placed in conversation or contestation, and to what end.

In talking about the history of live art in Scotland, I returned to idea of the absent tradition of Scottish performance art explored in talk for the Glasgow Theatre Seminars last year to consider other, competing narratives of Scottish cultural exceptionality emerging from events such as the Edinburgh Fringe and in reference to the mythos of the ‘Glasgow miracle’. What do such narratives naturalise as the backdrop for the emergence of performance art? How do they shape knowledge of experimental or interdisciplinary arts practices, and the communities of artists involved in their promotion?