Forced Entertainment, "Speak Bitterness" (1994). Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Research projects

Performing Documents: modelling creative and curatorial engagements with live art and performance archives

Dr Paul Clarke (Bristol, Drama) Prof Simon Jones (Bristol, Drama) and Prof Nick Kaye (Exeter, English) have been awarded £429,000 for a three year project that will create collaborations between research academics, creative artists and curators in the use of performance archive.

Many archives of live art and performance have been or are being produced, as this contemporary form becomes valued by museums or collections internationally gaining significant cultural capital. AHRC funding has or is enhancing a number of key resources, through conservation, cataloguing and digitization, making them accessible to potential user-groups: e.g., Bristol's recently completed project to digitize the National Review of Live Art Video Archive and the award for 'It was forty years ago today...': Locating the Early History of Performance Art in Wales 1965-1979. Performing Documents will research and facilitate a further significant advance in the understanding, engagement with and use of these archival materials and performance archives more widely. Where traditional scholarship has tended to appraise archives in relation to art-historical narratives and read documents as the textual remains of past events, this project will produce models for the investigation of this archival material through practice-as-research. Thus the project will advance an understanding of existing archival holdings through their relationship to current and future creative practice, in ways that will deepen academic, professional and public engagement with what remains of this ephemeral work. Specifically, the project will explore the potential for knowledge transfer from the Live Art and Arnolfini Archives; it will develop practical models for the future use of this material for a wide range of communities of professional users, including scholars, practitioners and curators. It will also develop strategies for the exhibition of these materials and ephemera, such that culturally significant, event-based art can be understood and communicated across generations of artists and scholars, as well as to a broader public.

Practical approaches to historiography will be explored through three distinct dialogues between renowned professional practitioners and scholarly practitioner-researchers, and between academic and cultural industry partners. The first workshop will focus on artists' re-use of their own archival materials; the second on artists' use of other artists' documents; the third on the exhibition of documents and performance ephemera using curatorial practice as its mode of enquiry. Each enquiry explores a distinct approach to engaging with these documents: they model a set of experimental tools for future creative use and re-use. The project will enable audiences, scholars and professional practitioners to access these workshops through a series of symposia and showings, which will make these processes public, alongside ongoing online documentation. The third workshop concludes with a two-day conference that will be synchronized with an exhibition and performance of selected outcomes. This will draw out and make public significant discussions and comparative reflections from the previous symposia and add a wider call for international academic engagement with the project's questions. A co-authored and edited book, combining DVD, will compile documentation and reflection on the practical inquiries, essays from the investigators and developed conference papers. Published by a leading publisher, this will be distributed internationally across the various sectors involved.

Collaboration between the Department of Drama & Theatre Collection (UOB), the Drama Department of Exeter University & cultural-industry partners Arnolfini & Inbetween Time Productions (Bristol) will provide extensive access & dissemination to the various academic & creative-industry constituencies as well as major public engagement. The project's impact will be enhanced by its exhibition and performance outcomes being included in the Arnolfini programme and Inbetween Time international festival of live art (2012). This festival will include a contextualizing archival display and additional commissioned re-enactments by national and international artists.

This research project is a part of the College of Humanities Visual Culture initiative.