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From the Archives: 1971 and “everything that is farthest out on the current art scene”

In contemporary art, it’s not hard to summon nostalgia for the late ’60s and early ’70s, a time when so much of what artists were producing seemed authentically new and authentically cool (at least given today’s perceptions about “authentic,” “new,” or “cool”). The art world was smaller and more manageable in many ways, not least […]

In 1971, Dan Flavin’s tunnel filled with multicolored lights, "Untitled (To Elizabeht and Richard Koshalek)," bisected a new Walker gallery designed to accommodate such works.

In contemporary art, it’s not hard to summon nostalgia for the late ’60s and early ’70s, a time when so much of what artists were producing seemed authentically new and authentically cool (at least given today’s perceptions about “authentic,” “new,” or “cool”). The art world was smaller and more manageable in many ways, not least because the practice of discovering “alternative modernisms” had yet to be discovered. In New York, which was still regarded as its capital, artists were still colonizing the neglected downtown Manhattan lofts that would later become coveted real estate; more to the point, they were making art in these spaces that had no place in typical white-cube galleries and museums.

That’s what made the 1971 exhibition Works for New Spaces such a critical moment in the Walker’s history and, arguably, in the broader art world. Curated by then-director Martin Friedman, the show inaugurated the Walker’s new building designed by Edward Larabee Barnes, whose seven white-cube galleries were, in fact, designed specifically with these new kinds of artworks in mind. As the title indicates, 21 of its 22 works were special commissions, with artists making the work partly or wholly on site. That practice is commonplace now, but this was the first time it had been done, at least on such a wide scale.

By 1971, Friedman had been leading the Walker for a decade, establishing his reputation as “a vigorous champion of everything that is farthest out on the current art scene,” as Hilton Kramer noted in the New York Times, reviewing both Works for New Spaces and the new Barnes building. But the commissioning of new art, which has become integral to the Walker’s mission, didn’t really get underway until the late 60s, while the Barnes building was under construction.

As Friedman recalled in the Walker’s Bits & Pieces collections catalogue, those commissions included Red Grooms’ The Discount Store, installed in the State Theatre building a few blocks away on Hennepin Avenue; and outdoor works around the city by William Wegman, Richard Treiber, Barry LeVa and others for 9 Artists/9 Spaces. Regarding that show, Friedman said that “practically everything was destroyed in one way or another by the public” during what he called “tense anarchic days, with protests, riots, and bombings all over the country. … We certainly never thought of what we were doing as confrontational, but those were difficult times.” (More on 9 Artists/9 Spaces here and here.)

The art in Works for New Spaces, however, was presented in and around a new, pretty much universally lauded building (the one exception being a strobe-light piece by the artist group Pulsa in Loring Park), so the Walker director could be as far-out as he wished without worrying about people attacking the art. As he put it, “the artists we invited could hardly wait to attack the building, and they did, in the most amazing ways.”

Looking back 40 years from another era of “difficult times,” Friedman’s references to artists and the public on the attack, not to mention the destruction of artworks, are notable. Even if riots and bombings are still mostly taking place outside the U.S., there’s no question about the domestic factor in Time’s naming “the protester” as its “Person of the Year” with a cover story penned by Kurt Andersen.

It’s also easier to see how 1971 and Works for New Spaces were not so much the advent of the ’70s but rather a culmination of the ’60s—a decade “of relentless and discombobulating avant-gardism, when everything looked and sounded perpetually new new new,” as Andersen observes in another piece in the current issue of Vanity Fair. Incidentally, his characterization of the ’60s in that article is part of a broader and fascinating complaint about how current culture seems stuck rewinding the past 20 years. Perhaps that phenomenon explains a craving for new-new-new alternatives to the same-old same-old—or maybe just a fondness for old art that was once bracingly new.

Above, Minneapolis Tribune coverage of the opening festivities for the new building and the show, which “has completely dominated the local art scene lately and continues to be a source of discussion and debate,” wrote critic Mike Steele in a later piece.

 

The forms in Lynda Benglis’ Adhesive Products “assume the character of spectral, primordial creatures.” One of the “products” was remounted for the 2010 Walker exhibition Abstract Resistance; and in 2009, Friedman wrote a comprehensive story about the Benglis commission in Art in America. (This quote and those following are from the exhibition catalog.)

In Siah Armajani’s Fifth Element, “a folded gold plane floats in space with no visible means of support and rotates mysteriously on its vertical axis. The supporting device, an electromagnet developed by University of Minnesota physicists, is concealed within the white ceiling box. Armajani’s use of sophisticated technology is that of a mystic.”

 

Created with “gauze-like fabric tautly stretched across a space,” Robert Irwin’s No Title was remounted in 2009, appropriately enough, in the Walker’s Friedman Gallery, part of the 2005 expansion to Barnes’ 1971 building. A blog post about the reinstallation shows some great archival images of Irwin and an assistant at work

Sam Gilliam, “once associated with the Washington School of Color-field painting,” had by 1971 “abaondoned the use of the stretched canvas” to make works like Carousel Merge, above. Gilliam intended the canvas to be “hung in a variety of configurations in any given space.”

Larry Bell used “a huge vacuum chamber to adhere vaporous layers of a silver alloy on glass plates, which then assume an elusive reflectivity” in Garst’s Mind No. 2.

 

In James Seawright’s Network III, a “suspended light grid receives its impulses from a programmed computer,” but the viewer is also “a participant whose movements direct the patterned activity overhead.”

 

 

The Migrant Manifesto: presented today by Tania Bruguera and Immigrant Movement International

The United Nations has designated today, December 18th, International Migrants Day. In cities throughout the world, artist Tania Bruguera and those involved with her five-year project Immigrant Movement International (IM International) presented the Migrant Manifesto: MIGRANT MANIFESTO We have been called many names. Illegals. Aliens. Guest workers. Border crossers. Undesirables. Exiles. Criminals. Non-citizens. Terrorists. Thieves. […]

The United Nations has designated today, December 18th, International Migrants Day. In cities throughout the world, artist Tania Bruguera and those involved with her five-year project Immigrant Movement International (IM International) presented the Migrant Manifesto:

MIGRANT MANIFESTO

We have been called many names. Illegals. Aliens. Guest workers. Border crossers. Undesirables. Exiles. Criminals. Non-citizens. Terrorists. Thieves. Foreigners. Invaders. Undocumented.

Our voices converge on these principles:

1. We know that international connectivity is the reality that migrants have helped create, it is the place where we all reside. We understand that the quality of life of a person in a country is contingent on migrants’ work. We identify as part of the engine of change.

2. We are all tied to more than one country. The multilaterally shaped phenomenon of migration cannot be solved unilaterally, or else it generates a vulnerable reality for migrants. Implementing universal rights is essential. The right to be included belongs to everyone.

3. We have the right to move and the right not to be forced to move. We demand the same privileges as corporations and the international elite, as they have the freedom to travel and to establish themselves wherever they choose. We are all worthy of opportunity and the chance to progress. We all have the right to a better life.

4. We believe that the only law deserving of our respect is an unprejudiced law, one that protects everyone, everywhere. No exclusions. No exceptions. We condemn the criminalization of migrant lives.

5. We affirm that being a migrant does not mean belonging to a specific social class nor carrying a particular legal status. To be a migrant means to be an explorer; it means movement, this is our shared condition. Solidarity is our wealth.

6. We acknowledge that individual people with inalienable rights are the true barometer of civilization. We identify with the victories of the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, the advancement of women’s rights, and the rising achievements of the LGBTQ community. It is our urgent responsibility and our historical duty to make the rights of migrants the next triumph in the quest for human dignity. It is inevitable that the poor treatment of migrants today will be our dishonor tomorrow.

7. We assert the value of the human experience and the intellectual capacity that migrants bring with them as greatly as any labor they provide. We call for the respect of the cultural, social, technical, and political knowledge that migrants command.

8. We are convinced that the functionality of international borders should be re-imagined in the service of humanity.

9. We understand the need to revive the concept of the commons, of the earth as a space that everyone has the right to access and enjoy.

10. We witness how fear creates boundaries, how boundaries create hate and how hate only serves the oppressors. We understand that migrants and non-migrants are interconnected. When the rights of migrants are denied the rights of citizens are at risk.

Dignity has no nationality.

Immigrant Movement International

 

From IM website:

“IM International held a two-day convening on November 4th and 5th, engaging (im)migration experts from both local and international communities, activists and community leaders from social service organizations, elected officials and academics.  The event focused on re-defining what it means to be a (im)migrant in the context of the 21st century, establishing a new framework for analyzing this multifaceted concept. The meeting concluded with the first draft of a migrant manifesto that will be used directly in our call to action on December 18th

 

Bruguera read the Migrant Manifesto at Occupy Wall Street’s Immigrant March at 2pm this afternoon. Elsewhere, in locations from Birmingham, Alabama to Laayoune, Western Sahara, the manifesto was read in conjunction with nearly 200 projects related to migration issues and experiences: http://immigrant-movement.us/december18/

 

 

 

 

 

New to the Collection: Carmen Herrera

Born in Cuba in 1915, Carmen Herrera charted her own alternative modernism while working in virtual obscurity for some seven decades. While living in New York in the 1950s, where the male-dominated Abstract Expressionist movement held sway, she made reductive, hard-edged abstractions that predate the work of artists such as Lygia Clark in Brazil and […]

Born in Cuba in 1915, Carmen Herrera charted her own alternative modernism while working in virtual obscurity for some seven decades. While living in New York in the 1950s, where the male-dominated Abstract Expressionist movement held sway, she made reductive, hard-edged abstractions that predate the work of artists such as Lygia Clark in Brazil and Ellsworth Kelly in the U.S. There’s a particularly striking affinity between Herrera’s work and Kelly’s; notably, the two spent the same years in Paris, from 1948 to 1953, and the Walker’s extensive holdings of Kelly’s paintings, sculptures, and works on paper offer up potential for more dialogue between these artists. Her work also proved prescient as Minimalism and Op Art took hold in the 1960s, and with later minimalist developments in the work of American painters such as Brice Marden and Agnes Martin, both of whom are represented in the collection.

It wasn’t until 2004, at the age of 89, that Herrera sold her first painting; like many women artists of her generation, her work was overlooked despite her friendships and associations with prominent male artists like Barnett Newman. Now, however, the artist and her work are now receiving much-deserved attention as critics and curators investigate overlooked strands of 20th-century art in and beyond the U.S. Herrera’s paintings have entered the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum, and the Tate Modern; the Walker’s acquisition is special in that it includes a free-standing sculpture—the only work of its kind by Herrera—as well as three gouche-on-paper works: the blue one, a study for the sculpture, and the red and green studies below.

RELATED LINKS

 

 

Herrera 2010.53.1-2

 

Interview: JoAnn Verburg on her new iPad-based photo project

Photographer JoAnn Verburg and Minneapolis-based Location Books have teamed up to produce what is likely the first artist’s book created expressly for the iPad. Launched today after a preview at Verburg’s riverfront studio on Sunday, the free app, entitled AS IT IS AGAIN, is linked to Minnesota’s long winters, although it was shot over three months […]

Photographer JoAnn Verburg and Minneapolis-based Location Books have teamed up to produce what is likely the first artist’s book created expressly for the iPad. Launched today after a preview at Verburg’s riverfront studio on Sunday, the free app, entitled AS IT IS AGAIN, is linked to Minnesota’s long winters, although it was shot over three months in Italy. The subject of a 2007 Museum of Modern Art solo exhibition (which came to the Walker in early 2008), Verburg briefly discussed aspects of the new project via email this morning, including its title, which is taken from a James Broughton poem Verburg recited Sunday:

This is It.
This is really It
This is all there is.
And it’s perfect as It is.

There is nowhere to go
but Here.
There is nothing here
but Now.
There is nothing now
but This.

And this is It.
This is really It
This is all there is.
And it’s perfect as It is.

 

Tell me about the title. What poem did it come from, and why did you select it for this project?

James Broughton wrote “AS IT IS No. 2,” the poem I recited. The word “again” was added to the title of my book for a couple reasons. One is that I’ve used his title before, as the title of a triptych of olive trees; and the other is that the word “again” evokes the seasons recurring, and the fact that we depend of the seasons shifting every year. It would be a horrible shock if winter didn’t turn into spring every year. And yet, when we are really socked in, winter seems quite permanent, doesn’t it? After 30 Minnesota winters, I made these images in Italy, walking uphill with my camera and tripod every day for three months, up to the Roman aqueduct, knowing that an almond tree would bloom at some point.  Although it felt–chilly day after chilly rainy day–as though the tree would never bloom, one day it did, and it was absolutely THRILLING.

Is there precedence for artist-made books for iPad? How is this different from previous projects?

I have heard that David Hockney is doing a project with iPad drawings. I think it is a blog, but I haven’t checked it out. Maybe it’s a book. I know many photographers will translate their pre-existing fine art photography books from hardbound to iPad. But as far as we know, this is the first fine art photography book made specifically to be experienced on an iPad.

Tell me about the images — where did you shoot them and what captured you about that place?

As for the location from which the images were made, there is a lovely tradition of taking the same walk every day in Italy, called the passagiata. I love the little road where these pictures were made. It makes a circle below the fortress in an Italian hill town in Umbria. Over the days, weeks, months, and years, I’ve seen many of the same people and their dogs walk there. The people become older, the dogs, too, then there are new puppies, and so on. Meanwhile, the seasons come and go, and the aqueduct changes, too, but a much slower tempo. I’m interested in the different tempos, all occurring simultaneously as we live our lives, observing the big picture and tiny details.

JoAnn Verburg, center, with Scott Nedrelow and Ruben Nusz of Location Books, “an artist-run independent publisher that gives contemporary artists the opportunity to produce new work in book [and now iPad] form.”

From the Archives: Red Grooms’ 1970 Target Store

For one month in 1970, Dayton’s 8th floor auditorium (usually home to extravagant seasonal displays) housed artist Red Grooms’ replica of a Crystal, MN Target store. This installation, simply entitled The Discount Store, was in part just one piece in Figures/Environments, an exhibition organized by the Walker (then anxiously waiting its new home in the […]

For one month in 1970, Dayton’s 8th floor auditorium (usually home to extravagant seasonal displays) housed artist Red Grooms’ replica of a Crystal, MN Target store. This installation, simply entitled The Discount Store, was in part just one piece in Figures/Environments, an exhibition organized by the Walker (then anxiously waiting its new home in the Edward Larrabee Barnes building) and also featuring Duane Hanson, Jann Haworth, Alex Katz, George Segal, Paul Thek, Lynton Wells, and Robert Whitman.

Grooms came of artistic age in the years of Pop Art and found himself as an artist without a home, so to speak, who defied pigeon-holing. He worked in painting, film (with Kuchar), performances, happenings (with Kaprow), and what Grooms called “sculpto-pictoramas”, constructed walk-through installations such as The Discount Store and his even larger depictions of Chicago and Manhattan.

The Target store installation consisted of hundreds of cardboard products–brooms, vacuum cleaners, sponges, guns (because they sold them back then), and other Target products, rendered in a signature Red Grooms style, all exaggerated cartoonish features and disproportionate proportions. The customers in The Discount Store, constructed from wood, were inspired by people Grooms observed in the Crystal store, like a girl selling donuts (the wooden version being 10 feet tall), and a group of women overheard saying they’d come 100 miles to buy an iron. His vision held together the installation as he brought in dozens of helpers to complete his Minneapolis piece and help paint all the elements.


The Discount Store installed in Dayton’s 8th floor auditorium; Grooms: Drawing for the installation

What warmed me to this piece is that while it is clearly an observation on abundance and consumption in 1970 (and oh, we only need to look back at last week’s Black Friday to see how “far” we’ve come), coaxing the audience to recognize themselves in those wooden caricatures, Grooms approached this subject with a reverence, even while calling the idea of the discount store “very ugly.” “I love unreal things,” he once said, and didn’t mind being compared to Walt Disney, the master of unreal things. The massive parking lots intrigued him, he “fantasized” about their “sizes and shapes” but was disappointed by the real things. (As a personal note, I’ve also had a fascination for the layouts of parking lots since I was a kid, so this tidbit of information made me pretty happy.)


Installation crew (Red Grooms and wife Mimi Gross in the tire) Photo: Eric Sutherland

But the fascination was laced with disgust–Grooms looked forward to the nostalgia, that one day (which we are still waiting for) when “all those plastic toys will have great nostalgic value. Like guns out there. They have to be made illegal sometime so they’ll be nostalgic later.”

We’ll be showing a film from the collection all about The Discount Store during Saturday’s free open house, Wall-to-Wall Walker (the event being the impetus for my Google searching and archives browsing). It’s screening in the Cinema from 10:30 am-2 pm.

After Hours: CMYK vs. RGB

Walker members reveled together with the Minneapolis design community during our After Hours celebration for the Oct. 21 opening of Graphic Design: Now in Production. With so much to see and do, galleries were full the entire evening. One of our new members, Terese, scopes out some beautifully hand drawn death metal logos. A special […]

Walker members reveled together with the Minneapolis design community during our After Hours celebration for the Oct. 21 opening of Graphic Design: Now in Production. With so much to see and do, galleries were full the entire evening.

One of our new members, Terese, scopes out some beautifully hand drawn death metal logos.

A special feature during this exhibition is the ability to create your own poster.

Instead of using ink, this printer cuts circles!

Here’s some of our buttons from the button-making station where attendees had a chance to show some flare for their team.

Party-goers also had the chance to frolic and be seen in Party People Pictures taken in the freight elevator off of the Cargill Lounge.

This witty designer seems to have re-purposed her Pantone swatch book for the photo!

These friends picked Pantone swatches to match their C, M, and K outfits!

Taking it a step further, we had guests that found swatches to match their hair!

Thank you to all of our lovely members and friends for helping us celebrate the opening of this landmark exhibition by showing your CMYK or RGB pride!

Video: Baby Marx at Occupy Wall Street

This is the latest video from Mexican artist Pedro Reyes’ Walker exhibition Baby Marx, which explores the intersections between ideology, entertainment and contemporary art. A couple of weeks ago, Karl Marx and Adam Smith took a field trip to New York City to visit the Occupy Wall Street protest in Liberty Plaza–separately, and with different […]

This is the latest video from Mexican artist Pedro Reyes’ Walker exhibition Baby Marx, which explores the intersections between ideology, entertainment and contemporary art.

A couple of weeks ago, Karl Marx and Adam Smith took a field trip to New York City to visit the Occupy Wall Street protest in Liberty Plaza–separately, and with different views on the issues at hand. Marx sees in the current economic crisis the same self-destruction of capitalism that he predicted 200 years ago, and in this an opportunity to revive socialism. Smith, however, sees a different opportunity.

Inside the precarious tents the resistance goes on, in a place that the privileged few have fled in a golden parachute…

Baby Marx at Occupy Wall Street from Pedro Reyes on Vimeo.

New “Baby Marx” Scenes: Marx and Smith Breakup pts. 1 & 2

Here are the latest scenes from Pedro Reyes’ ongoing project, Baby Marx. Shot at the Walker in August, the episodes have just been released. In these scenes, the action takes a melodramatic turn as Karl Marx and Adam Smith have a falling out over the “green” movement and Smith’s penchant for consumerism. Hearts heavy, the […]

Here are the latest scenes from Pedro Reyes’ ongoing project, Baby Marx. Shot at the Walker in August, the episodes have just been released. In these scenes, the action takes a melodramatic turn as Karl Marx and Adam Smith have a falling out over the “green” movement and Smith’s penchant for consumerism. Hearts heavy, the two wander separately around the Walker, lamenting the breakup and meeting the likes of Che Guevara, Friederich Engels, Frederick Taylor, and John Maynard Keynes.

Check back tomorrow for scenes from the duo’s trip to Occupy Wall Street in New York.

Marx and Smith Breakup pt. I from Pedro Reyes on Vimeo.

Marx And Smith Breakup pt. 2 from Pedro Reyes on Vimeo.

Karl Marx and Adam Smith Drop in on Occupy Wall Street

Last week Karl Marx and Adam Smith, two of the stars of the Pedro Reyes exhibition/video series Baby Marx, made an impromptu trip from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis to Occupy Wall Street in New York’s Financial District. The artist had been tracking the protests and decided the puppets should check them out. Among other activities, Marx interviewed OWS protesters, while Smith set up the first Occupy Wall Street bank.


Adam Smith launches the First Occupied Bank. Photo: Natalia Nakazawa

Last week Karl Marx and Adam Smith, two of the stars of the Pedro Reyes exhibition/video series Baby Marx, made an impromptu trip from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis to Occupy Wall Street in New York’s Financial District. The artist had been tracking the protests and decided the puppets should check them out. Together with the director of photography Vicente Pousso and the Minneapolis-based puppeteers Janaki Ranpura (Smith) and Marc Berg (Marx), Reyes shot several new scenes. Among other activities, Marx interviewed OWS protesters, while Smith set up the first Occupy Wall Street bank.

Normally museums don’t let their art objects go on field trips during an exhibition. For one thing, they might get damaged. But Pedro’s idea was so obviously in tune with the project as a whole — exploring as it does the intersections of art, ideology and entertainment, not to mention the clash between Marxist and capitalist theory — that the registrars and curators worked out a way to make it happen and released them back into the world. Visitors to the Walker last week saw two empty stands where Karl and Adam normally hang out, plus labels letting them know that they would return soon.

The videos of the visit should be ready in the next few weeks and posted online, in the meantime here are a few snapshots:


Marx prepares to interview a protester at Occupy Wall Street. Pictured: Michele Fiedler, Pedro Reyes, Karl Marx, Vicente Pousso and Marc Berg. Photo: Natalia Nakazawa

Marx is not so happy with Smith’s new profit-making scheme. Photo: Natalia Nakazawa

Walker Loading Dock: Puppeteer Marc Berg returns puppets to the Walker’s Assistant Registrar for Exhibitions, Pamela Caserta. Photo: Bartholomew Ryan

Walker Receiving Area: Adam Smith is doing OK after his trip to New York, according to a condition report that reflects any changes. Photo: Bartholomew Ryan

Karl and Adam in situ at the Walker. Photo: Gene Pittman

UPDATE: Here’s video of the Occupy Wall Street segment from Baby Marx.

Cataloguing Performance

On Nov. 4, presenters, curators, archivists, and researchers from around the country will come to the Walker and spend the day together talking about what it means to catalogue performance. In preparation for it, I’ve interviewed University of Coventry professor Sarah Whatley about her experience cataloguing the contemporary performance practice of British choreographer Siobhan Davies. Whatley collaborated with Davies on the UK’s first digital dance archive, Siobhan Davies Replay, which at the moment entails over 500 moving images, nearly 2,000 still images, 300+ text files.

Meredith Monk and Ann Hamilton, Songs of Ascension, 2008. Photo: Walker Art Center.

When artists such as Tino Sehgal, Meredith Monk, Danh Vo, Trisha Brown, or Merce Cunningham enter the Walker Art Center’s collections, some vexing issues arise when it comes to cataloguing their often ephemeral, multidisciplinary, and indiscrete works.

On Nov. 4, presenters, curators, archivists, and researchers from around the country will come to the Walker and spend the day together talking about what it means to catalogue performance. We will revisit questions that have existed since the 60s but have become pressing of late: why do it, for whom is it done, what is captured and how, what is discarded and why, what is updated and when, and whose perspective is it… The workshop, led by Philip Bither, McGuire Senior Curator of Performing Arts, and Robin Dowden, Director of New Media Initiatives, will inform design and development for cataloguing the Walker’s 50-year history of performance art commissions.

Abi Sebaly, Cunningham Fellow, catalogs the costumes Robert Rauschenberg designed for Merce Cunningham's Antic Meet (1958). Photo: Gene Pittman.

In preparation for it, I’ve interviewed Coventry University professor Sarah Whatley about her experience cataloguing the contemporary performance practice of British choreographer Siobhan Davies. Whatley collaborated with Davies on the UK’s first digital dance archive, Siobhan Davies Replay, which at the moment entails over 500 moving images, nearly 2,000 still images, 300+ text files. Their team worked together for 30 months before the project launched online in 2009. We spent an hour or so talking about documenting and publishing information on living artists’ performance work.

Homepage for Siobhan Davies Replay.

Some excerpts of our conversation:

Brooke Kellaway: The question of how much to involve the artists is definitely on my mind. It’s their work the catalogue is representing and we want their input—pragmatic and creative. At the same time, with hundreds of artists in the Walker’s collection, we’re trying to construct some sort of coherency and consistency in the catalogue entries. Were you really open to the project evolving in collaboration with Siobhan Davies, or did you from the start have a set structure in mind?

Sarah Whatley: It was very much working in collaboration with the artist, from the beginning. And that was not without its challenges, as you can imagine. In a way, the artist is thinking—understandably and rightly so—about her representation through the online, which is very different from how they’re represented either through what is understood as being the past, and surely the live present if they’re still making work. But of course when you’re building something that has to be robust and stable as an online resource, in a way we had to manage quite carefully their engagement with the nuts and bolts of the backend—to try and get them focused on the more aesthetic frontend part of it. But that could be quite tricky. I think it’s about managing that collaboration so the artist feels really involved and has a real sense of ownership, but on the other hand not permitting them to have too much control. It’s not an easy balance, and we struggled with it—it was all really healthy, all those tensions are ultimately really productive, but there are tensions.

Brooke Kellaway: In making these kinds of new web-based resources, what is your stance on selection in terms of publishing material also accessible elsewhere (such as early press reviews), or focusing more on material that’s otherwise quite difficult for researchers to access, or both?

Electrical diagram for Trisha Brown Company’s Glacial Decoy (1979) at Walker Art Center, 1979. Credit: Walker Art Center.

Sarah Whatley: This is a really important question. Of course the notion of an archive sort of suggests that it’s everything you can possibly get your hands on. And in a way I think the value of something which is archival in nature is in a way the user finds the meaning and connections so it doesn’t become overly curated or selected or edited in putting content up there. But there’s a pragmatic approach as well, which is to say, what can we really achieve in a timeframe that’s going to make this feel like a really full collection? Ultimately I think it comes down to what we can achieve. My advice from the experience we’ve had is to try to include as much as possible, because even if it’s already in the public domain, it won’t be in the same way in the public domain if it’s online because people are making connections that they wouldn’t make when they’re seeing a different copy. On the other hand, once you give people some content, then they’ll be intrigued to find out more content. So it’s a gateway to what else is available. The online means that you’ve got that wonderful environment in which you can put out a lot of stuff that otherwise would not be seen…it might never make it into the public any other way, such as rehearsal material and so on, and that seems to be really valuable from a user point of view, it’s information they really can’t get otherwise.

Brooke Kellaway: Did Siobhan Davies maintain her own archive before you started this project? Did she organize a lot of her content in advance?

Sarah Whatley: No. Well, the Company had a bit of a system—they had quite a lot of it neatly filed, but there was a lot that was still in boxes, and in paper bags, and plastic boxes, and unorganized, and stuff that she thought she owned and she didn’t, and we had to go in and find who owned the rights to things, and so forth…

One of the things that she’s absolutely brilliant about now as a Company, is that every time she does anything she gets sign off for everybody that’s involved in the performance. And this has been really important. Because her practice has shifted a bit, I mean she isn’t making work for theaters anymore, she’s making work in gallery spaces, she’s making installation work, and she’s working with major visual artists. She’s also now collecting like mad, collecting traces of the work, so, whereas some of the earlier works have got very little content—just a few videos, some photographs, and a bit of text—now she’s generating hundreds of images and hundreds of traces of her work, which is in itself quite demanding because we have to add the content. So essentially yes, the company collects everything and then we—the university—put it on the site.

But, it’s an interesting question…I must just ask you about Eiko & Koma’s wonderful website  that is sort of archival in a way.

Brooke Kellaway: This is the perfect example. They’re so completely excited about the Walker presenting this history of their work with the Walker, and at the same time, they already have this beautiful and very rich archive of their own. I’ve been wondering how much our content should overlap—would we be using our resources most wisely if we present a certain amount of the same information? I’m not sure. Of course, as you mentioned earlier, users will make different connections based on the way the material is presented on the Walker’s site, vs. on Eiko & Koma’s site, and elsewhere, and our standards will differ, etc.

Homepage of eikoandkoma.org

Sarah Whatley: It could work very well – users who use yours may jump off onto their website and vice versa. I don’t think it as a problem of duplication, because in a way they are quite different things.

When I was over in the States last year, Eiko & Koma came into a Network meeting that we were having and I was just fascinated by their discussion of Naked, and it’s presence on their site. It was very interesting how they bring their experiences as artists into that space. For example, of course the work is really slow and it takes a long long time to unfold. And they were saying things like, “We had to make it read online…there’s no point of having 17 minutes of doing nothing….” So they shrunk the screen and they changed the time span of the work, and that sort of thing, and they were of course coming at it from a choreographer’s perspective, they were thinking of it from a dance maker’s perspective, which is incredibly valuable. But when it’s their own content in their space, they can do that, they can be sort of playful. So I think it’s just about being careful about how those negotiations are carried through, because you will need to take ownership of what it is you’re doing but also respond to them as an artist thinking, “Well, actually our work reads very differently online.” So of course it’s about a healthy dialogue and a healthy negotiation, but it’s also I think from your point of view being very clear about what your purpose is and what you’re creating, and how does the artist come into that space of your creation, because it is your creative space in a way.

Brooke Kellaway: Absolutely. And I think it’s so important to communicate that dialogue and that negotiation to the user so they come into the site and they really understand our impetus, and our process, and our relationship with Eiko & Koma. To either see it as a collaboration with the artist or not, or something in between. And that’s really important to convey to researchers.

Sarah Whatley: Yes, to make the lens through which they’re meeting the work is extremely important.

Brooke Kellaway: How have researchers responded to your project?

Sarah Whatley: Generally really positive. I mean, inevitably, with something which is a bit pioneering in the sense certainly there’s very little else in the UK which is archival like this, of course they say, “Well now we want the same for all these other choreographers!” So it kind of sets the bar and all of that. But generally, I think one of the things researchers appreciate is the immediate, quick, one-click access to a lot of different material so they can make connections as I mentioned earlier, so they can see very quickly a span of work, they can see how work shifted and changed over time, so they can make quick connections between text-based material and visual material. And we‘ve got the scrapbook tool which is a really easy tool, which means the user can collect those searches and thoughts in a very easy and trackable way.

Also, Davies is not really an artist who goes outside of the UK very much, but a lot of people across the world are now coming into her work, either because they’re intrigued about the archive as an archive or because they’ve found her material and then are seeing her work. So in a way it’s a new way of generating audiences.

Brooke Kellaway: Do you keep it updated with new material that is found?

Sarah Whatley: Yes we do, and that’s really challenging!

Brooke Kellaway: How many people are working on this?

Sarah Whatley: Well, theoretically nobody! No, I’m joking a certain part—because you get funding, and you build the thing, and you put it out in the world, and you kind of go “that’s it,” and of course it’s never “that’s it” because every time the artist makes something new it needs to go up. We want to keep the site fresh, so we do little tweaks with the color palette and things like that, and all of those kinds of things have real costs associated. The University in effect is still managing the updating. But it’s not easy, because again you’re managing an expectation of an artist who keeps making really different work. So of course she’s now saying, ‘”Oh but I want the archive to look different because I’m doing really different work,” and we’re saying, “But we can’t change the back end! The architecture for the archive is the architecture.” We can do some fairly low cost updates but we can’t do anything major.

Brooke Kellaway: Will the project continue indefinitely?

Sarah Whatley: We do have an agreement in place, which is 3 years, which we will then review, and see whether or not the partnership is productive and working for us. Inevitably funding is a big issue in that because it’s really hard to think in terms of how we continue to sustain the archive other than simply adding content. We’ve got licenses in place with a lot of our contributors and we’ll need to renegotiate those at some point, and all of those have costs involved, such as annual server costs, and all of those sorts of things. There are the staffing costs, and staff time. It’s a bit of a myth that once you build an archive it’s done and it’s finished. Of course the technology evolves as well, and already what we’ve started off with 3 years ago is already sort of ancient technology.

Brooke Kellaway: What are your most important pieces of advice for the kind of project we’re doing?

Sarah Whatley: Get as rich information as you possibly can from the artist—such as where exactly did this happen, who was in it—so that you can get as much knowledge about the performance. Because that in a way is what’s most useful for the user—they’re looking for extensive information, and the only people who can probably provide that are often the artists. That’s really important knowledge, it’s really critical knowledge. We thought we were going to be deluged with content, and actually we had to work quite hard to get information out of people. So at times you have content there but you might not have all the information about the content, so ask the artists as much as possible.

And the other thing is to test it, get it out there and prototype, get users in to test it and to tell you what it is they find useful or difficult, and what’s there that they want more of and need. Interestingly, with Davies, she was really not that happy to test it before she felt like it was finished, complete. For us, it was really important to get it out when it was still really a bit scratchy and unfinished. We didn’t try to finish something before users told us what was working and wasn’t working. So go through a series of user testing, it’s really important because ultimately that’s your audience and your user community.

Brooke Kellaway: Thanks so much Sarah.

Sarah Whatley: It sounds very exciting. And I wish you the very very best of luck.

***

If you’re interested in further reading on the topic of cataloguing/archiving performance, here’s a list of sources extracted from a larger bibliography I’ve been composing while working on the Walker’s new collection catalogue (to launch on collections.walker.org sometime next year).

Allender, Paul, Ross Varney, and Sarah Whatley. “Digitizing Siobhan Davies’ Dance.” Body, Space & Technology, 7 (2) (2008): 1-13.

Clarke, Paul. “Performing the Archive: the Future of the Past.” Draft of the talk by Paul Clarke for research project, Inside Movement Knowledge. October 31, 2009.

Edmunds, Becky. “Creating Digital Documentation of Performance.” Video compilation of workshop for JISC Digital Documentation and Performance seminar, September 23-35, 2009, organized by JISC Digital Media and University of Bristol.

Heydenreich, Gunnar. “Documentation of Change – Change of Documentation.” In Inside Installations, edited by Tatja Scholte and Glenn Wharton, 165-171.  Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011. **Heydenreich presented his paper in 2010 at the International Symposium Contemporary Art Who Cares?

Hoffmann, Jens, Klaus Biesenbach, RoseLee Goldberg, Robert Wilson. Artistic Production | Collecting Performance. Recorded 11 June 2009, Art Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

Hölling, Hanna. “On the Afterlife of Performance.” Essay for symposium, The Manifold (after) lives of Performance, November 13-15, 2009, coproduced by DeAppel and STUK Kunstencentrum.

Inside Movement Knowledge: a two-year collaborative, interdisciplinary research project into new methods for the documentation, transmission and preservation of contemporary choreographic and dance knowledge.

MAP (Media | Archive | Performance): a research project on media, art and performance.

Mulready, Thomas. “Performance Art Festival+Archives.Permanence Through Change: The Variable Media Approach, by Alain Depocas, et al. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology, 2003.

Potts, Alex. “The Artwork, the Archive, and the Living Moment.” In What is Research in the Visual Arts?, edited by Michael Ann Holly and Marquard Smith, 119-137. Williamstown: Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, 2008.

Siobhan Davies Replay: online archive of British choreographer, Siobhan Davies. 

The Cataloguing Performance workshop is supported by the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences’ grant-funded project, “CollectionSpace: Cultivating Shared Software Solutions Among Communities of Practice.” Attendees by invite only. Please check back mid-November for outcomes of the event.

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