Performance: Conservation, Materiality, Knowledge

This research focuses on the questions of con­ servation of performance­based works, their temporal specifics, the involvement of the human and non­human body, the world of their extended trace history, memory, and archive.

Factsheet

  • Lead department Bern University of the Arts
  • Institute Institute Materiality in Art and Culture 
  • Research unit Präventive Konservierung
  • Funding organisation SNSF
  • Duration (planned) 01.10.2020 - 30.09.2024
  • Project management Hanna Barbara Hölling
  • Head of project Hanna Barbara Hölling

Situation

This project centres on the conservation of per­formance­based artworks. Being of intrinsically short duration and involving human or non­human body, performance­ based artworks challenge the common assumptions that a work of art can be fixed, static and ‘conservable’ – an object easily constrained by the established systems of documentation and archival ordering.Because such a performance materialises only within a short temporal frame and thus refuses any enduring, material manifestation, its conservability seems beyond the bounds of possibility. As this project demonstrates, the temporal specifics of performance-based forms are additionally complicated by the very notion of traditional conservation, which too often disregards the intangible aspects of heritage conveyance – the transmission of memory, skill, technique, and tacit knowledge.

Course of action

Unravelling the complexities involved in the conservation of performance-based forms, Performance: Conservation, Materiality, Knowledge aims to expose the theoretical and practical apparatuses of conservation, its attachment to traditional paradigms, and the resultant shortcomings in the sphere of the intangible. Taking as its starting point the need for conservators to access and deepen this area of study, the project sets out to accomplish three principal aims: (i) Using selected examples of institutions and artworks, the project reviews and systematises emerging approaches to the newly established subfield of the conservation of performance-based artworks; (ii) In order to ensure that these works are preserved and accessible in the future, this project also explores new methods for conserving performancebased works through: (a) forms of documentation and archives, (b) material residues and (c) the transmission of knowledge; (iii) In pursuing such a focus, the project reflects on conservation as a knowledge-generating activity, and tests its potential contribution to broader discourses in performance studies, anthropology, art history and aesthetics.