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Hayley Newman

Hayley Newman


H: I began to think about the traditions of text within the oeuvre of performance documentation. Looking specifically at the conventional book format used for the distribution of performance work, I singled out texts that artists had written in the 1970s to describe their performances.

h: In a sense, the mechanics of performance practice from this period corroborate its location within a conceptual frame. The significance of such works from the 1970s can be seen to be relative to a synthesis of concept and performance, which is reflected in artist’s descriptions of such works.

H: The text panels for Connotations were written observing the often ‘matter of fact style’ used by Chris Burden while recounting his own work. Burden’s use of language in his descriptions may be considered to be analogous to the visual information presented in the photographic documentation of some of the works. For example, in the photograph for the performance 747 we see an image of Burden with his back to the viewer holding a gun which he is pointing upwards at the sky in the direction of a Boeing 747. This image is extended through a single sentence that describes how Burden had shot at a Boeing 747 aeroplane. Burden’s description of the work 747 reads “747. January 5, 1973. Los Angeles, California. At about 8am at a beach near the Los Angeles International Airport, I fired several shots with a pistol at a Boeing 747.” Chris Burden (BLOCNOTES editions, 1995).

h: It seems as if the cool detachment of the text copies the factual authority of the camera in its documenting of work, thereby acknowledging the difficulty of reproducing tone, cadence or emphasis in written language. By playing down both the extraordinary physical feats and emotional content of the performances, the prosaic nature of Burden’s texts limit our view of the work. This seems to imply that any readings of the text and image must be made through the work’s absence.

H: Yes, I agree. Considering the oblique nature of such information provided as documentary evidence the question occurred to me: ‘how do we know that Burden performed this or any other of his works’. I am not suggesting that this performance did not happen but that a visual document (video/photograph) and text (speech/writing) are being used to authorise one another and that in their collusion they are self-reflexive.

h: Perhaps this is similar to the convention in the mass-media by which a photo may be validated by a caption explaining the image or where a caption makes sense only in relation to its counterpart image.

H: Outside of the actual performances, text/image documents from the 1970s appear to attempt self-reflexivity and become the product of action. The structure of the text/image based work Connotations , follows or imitates these conventions of performance description from the 1970s to ‘authenticate’ a series of fictional performances. The photographs in the series were staged and performed by myself with most of the images being taken by the photographer Casey Orr over a week in the Summer of 1998. The dates, locations, photographers and contexts for the performances cited in the text panels are fictions. In all instances the action had to be performed for the photograph but did not take place within the circumstances or places outlined in the supporting text. Writing in the past tense and using the first person to provide background information such as date, time, place, photographer’s name and title of work, the texts also describe action and (occasionally) the consequences of that action. In making Connotations, I was aware of how the image and the text in this sense sustain each other’s narrative.

h: The problem of not seeing work in its primary form but instead considering secondary published material, such as a photograph with its supporting text, creates a vacuum that is often filled by anecdote and mythology. Is this phenomenon an aspect of Connotation’s design?

H: The individual pieces in this series rely on the interplay traditionally set up between text and image within performance documentation, subsequently reflecting the responsibilities and limitations of documenting the complexities of a ‘real’ event. In providing no information beyond the basic conceptual outline for the performance, the texts actively encourage anecdote in their repetition and acceptance as documentation, or as truth.

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