Being Here Now: Alternative Strategies for Documentation
–posted by Lisa Radon
This was the most satisfying TBA panel I have ever attended, not because there were grand revelations or that I was deeply inspired, not even that the chat held to its stated topic, but because it wasn’t completely maddening, thanks to a smart panel that was generous about passing the baton (or mic) and a smart moderator who kept things on track and clipping right along.
Documentation is not criticism is not documentation. Document v. discourse. There are layers here. There is the act, the documentation of the act, the criticism of the act, and the preservation of the documentation of the act. Issues like how well can documentation capture or represent the act. How do different methods of preservation (digital or analog), storing, and retransmission of documentation affect accessibility of the act as piece of history, affect our collective knowledge, memory of work? I believe it was Zimmer who rightly pointed out that documentation can only be a shadow of the original performance and that the words of the critic can help to add dimension and context to the document as representation of the act.
So as usual, the chat’s title and the panel’s chat don’t exactly jive. This one covered discourse more than documentation, but it dug into document enough to make it work.
We had some very fine critics on the panel—both veterans, Elizabeth Zimmer, dance critic at the Village Voice and author of Envisioning Dance for Film and Video, and young guns, Jeff Jahn, Jen Armbrust, and Katherine Bovee of PORT—and so we got some engaging conversation on the critical role. Jahn pointing out that there is really no such thing as objectivity and called himself, charmingly, an “arch-subjectivist.” Zimmer quoted the old saw about journalism being the first draft of history. As a copyeditor (and a fabulously meticulous one, as I hear from those taking her workshop), she talked a bit about accuracy and its import. A misspelling in a 150 word piece of criticism today (often the only notice an avant- piece will receive) can make for a nightmare of ambiguity and confusion for the scholar or historian twenty years down the line. There was talk about authority and the dilution of critical authority with blogs and insta-websites. Jahn looks at it through the lens of chaos theory: that valuable nodes, those that matter, will become more heavily trafficked, rising in significance, increasing their authority.
Rounding out the panel were Mike Merrill of urbanhonking, the reason you’re reading this weblog, and the well-spoken poet and WW writer Amanda Deutch.
There was talk about digital v. analog archiving of documentation. Point made that digitizing work, while providing an alternative means of preservation and increasing accessibility to the information, also removes it from its context. An audience member complained that digital archiving is elitist, only available via computer. Savvy panel member, Armbrust pointed out that anyone can access the internet at the library. I reflected that digital archives I rely on, like ubuweb, make documents (audio) available to me that I would never otherwise be able to access. The costs of going to a library in New York or San Diego to dig through their archives/special collections (if I’d even be allowed entrance as a autodidact not sanctioned by academia) are prohibitive.
Some of the best bits were little notes offered by Stadler. In talking about his role as a publisher, making objects (not bytes), he deliciously mentioned reaffirming, “the connection of body to this object of information.” (Many Clear Cut books are made to fit in your hand). And as a wrap, after talking about archiving, he suggested “Hold onto anything you find useless. Anything that someone you know has that they don’t have any use for, hold onto it.” And because he conducted such a great chat, (and let us pass around his index-card catalogue for the 557087 show of Conceptual Art put on by the Contemporary Arts Council of the Seattle Art Museum) I’ll forgive him his oft-repeated comment that making (or writing crit) should not be sullied by commerce. In other words, that we should not seek pay to write criticism because money alters the product. Only 24 hours in a day, Mr. Stadler, and writers must eat.