Interviews with users of performance artefacts

Our third step was to question eleven users of performance artefacts about their needs, opinions and experiences in this field.[1] Most of the interviewees had experience of several spheres of activity, being e.g. artists who also curate, document, teach and research. We asked them about the importance of the individual types of artefact for the practice of transmitting performance art. Furthermore, we inquired into issues such as what a video recording can offer as opposed to an eyewitness report and what role media-specific characteristics play in this. Their answers point to the following conclusions: curators and artists maintain a critical view of the potential of artefacts for providing evidence; the latter, moreover, frequently regard documentation as a ‘necessary evil’ for the purpose of self-promotion. Researchers and educators, by contrast, use artefacts in their work in a more historical-critical light. Regarding the role of technological recording media, two currents of opinion can be discerned: the first can be associated with the concept of ‘trust in realism’ and is characterised by the assumption that ‘reality’ can be conveyed by technological media (photography, video). The ‘original’ live act is central to this position while artefacts and documents are of secondary importance. The second viewpoint can be described as taking a ‘constructivist attitude’, where all artefacts, including photography and video recordings, are attributed with the potential to transmit fragmentary knowledge and information about a performance. From this point of view, the live act is not ‘superior’ to the artefact.                              

All users noted the importance of language-based artefacts (texts, flyers, image-text combinations) for analysing performances. They also stressed the value of oral or written accounts, ascribing to them the capacity to invite empathetic receptions of a live act. They did not, however, explicitly note that eyewitness reports convey as much about the perception of the receivers themselves. The following points were repeatedly stressed: both eyewitness reports, whether direct oral accounts in the form of audio recordings or written texts, and interviews with artists are important sources of information and both are generally lacking in the collections / archives.

[1] For the names of interviewed users and interview questions, see ‘Related documents’; see the published interviews with Swiss artists at