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Performance as Knowledge graphic spacer Wednesday 3 May 2006
The Portico Rooms
Somerset House, London WC2R 1LA

Transcripts – Edit 1

ResCen Seminar: Performance As Knowledge – #4
Audience Specification


Daisy Abbott (DA)
John Ashford (JA)
Guy Baxter (GB)
Jill Evans (JE)
Bonnie Hewson (BH)
Michael Huxley (MH)
Lois Keidan (LK)
Judith Knight (JK)
Khairoun Abji (KA)
Bob Lockyer (BL)
Bonnie Mitchell (BM)
Simon Rookes (SR)
Joshua Sofaer (JS)
Andrew Stewart (AS)
Alda Terracciano (AT)
Jo Turner (JT)
Sarah Whatley (SW)

Speakers not identified by name on transcription tape referred to as Man or Woman

Transcriber: Christine McLachlan


Chris Bannerman: It’s time to earn your lunch, so we have one hour to put together what we’re going to do for the rest of today. Please make points and responses to things you’ve heard before, together with the things we should talk about in the breakout sessions.

JE: This is specifically with reference to recordings. I would like to talk to people about whether anything is better than nothing. What quality should we strive for? I think it’s a huge debate for people with very different views on the issue.

LK: I have been exploring conversations about the relationship between archiving and documentation in terms of the how and the what; in other words, what form we are looking at for this documentation. Also, I would like to discuss the relationship between documenting and archiving and documenting and dissemination: are they different things?

Woman: I would be interested to talk more about what an archive can and cannot do: namely, our expectations of what an archive is, the different ways in which an archive can be used, and the different purposes – for artists, for education, for access.

Man: I think we could look at the idea of co-ordinating what we do. Guy Baxter talks about the possibility of a new organisation, but there may be other ways that we can co-ordinate, perhaps through working parties on how to create archives within a dance company and on how to catalogue and what the cataloguing standards should be, and so on. In short, rather than establishing a new organisation, there may be some other possible form of co-ordination.

CB: Good, good – at some point people you are going to have to sell these ideas to your colleagues, so be prepared.

Woman: I would like to talk about recording performance or at least of thinking about recording culture, specifically when reference to ethnic minorities. So I’d like to talk about what the idea of what recording culture is, about whose idea of culture it should be, and how does one record culture.

CB: May I ask if you include in that additional contextual material other than the recording of the performance?

Woman: Yes, yes, yes.

Woman: I’d be interested in talking more about the archiving process. I think that is very interesting, particularly with regard to the dialogue of the artist [and performers].

CB: Is that the same point as Lois’s earlier point about recording and documenting or is it another strand of thought?

SW: I think there’s an overlap, but my point is specifically about the archiving and process.

DA: I’d like to talk a bit about people’s knowledge of archives, both digital and analogue. We can actually get the awareness of what’s online or is otherwise out there in a way that’s going to stick, so that people have an idea of where they can go to find material.

MH: I’d like to explore the relationship between students and archives, both postgraduate and undergraduate students. I’d like to look at the whole nature of what the archive is. There has been much discussion already of that and I would like to expand this to examine the nature of what you present to students as an archive and therefore, to some extent, determine what they actually learn. To pick up on what Susan was saying and also Sarah just now, I’d like to look at the complete question of archiving process and how a student’s experience might be influenced by directing them to look at process as well as product.

CB: The ideas are coming thick and fast now.

KA: I’m Khairoun Abji from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. I’d like to look at ways of presenting archives and whose presentation is going to set the current standard. For example, some art galleries have their entire collections digitised, of which the presentation available to most audiences amounts to little more than pictures of not particularly high quality on part of a web page. The question is about whether general users get to remix, present and represent the archives themselves, and of how digitised or non-digitised materials may be exploited.

Man: I think we’re all wasting our time unless we talk about dissemination and accounting for what we’ve got already, because so many other archive issues can become highly theoretical unless people are actually using them.

JA: That was going to be my point, but I’ll add a little more detail. We’ve heard about the splendours of the New York Public Library; indeed, I went there when I was young and found very important material. Of course, I had to go New York then, whereas nowadays I think I should be able to access many of its collections by broadband internet. I know how difficult the copyright situations are, but this has to be a subject for discussion within a wider discussion of technical difficulties and how people can encounter archiving in the digital age.

CB: I can detect some strands that can be drawn together here. But let’s keep this going for a bit, since we don’t want someone to leave saying that we missed their point. So this is your moment to say we should be discussing.

Woman: I would like to discuss how archive information can actually be applied, especially to students – school students as well as university students – and the general public.

BM: I’m interested in how companies can create archives so that those companies, who will be practitioners themselves, can learn in order to make that process a part of their daily practice, such that it becomes their responsibility.

Woman: As an extension to [Khairoun’s????] point about the presentation and the creative uses of an archive, this bears in the direction of how artists might perhaps creatively use digitally archived materials in their work, and on the onus of appropriation that might be considered for the development of art or dance and [other archives.]

CB: And do we sometimes appropriation ‘sampling’? Right, any more for any more?

BL: I think that we could discuss developing guidelines for companies, not least because I believe there are archives sitting in company cupboards and videotapes under directors’ beds, but nobody knows simple things like when they were made, where they were made, who was performing, and what the thing was. I don’t remember when we started to put the BBC dance archive on paper, but it wasn’t until Robert Penman spoke to one of the dancers about this who said, “Ah yes, that’s exactly right. Yes, I remember … yes, we used to do three steps there and now we do four because somebody had passed it on. And another thing I remember people saying to us was, “Well, my children will never be able to see my dance because the BBC has never recorded me dancing”. So I think there is an important social area that we have also got to investigate.

AS: There’s just one thing that Susan Melrose was talking about, concerning the polarity between the enigmatic and technicity. That, of course, roots in something that Walter Benjamin spoke about, in terms of the reproduction of the artwork in the mechanical age. One of the things that Benjamin identifies is the ritual that takes place during performance, and it is precisely this enigmatic quality that is really the most difficult to archive. It appears that a lot of what we’ve spoken about so far has looked at the practicalities of recording. From a philosophical point of view, how do you go about recording the enigmatic, the ritual?

JT: How do we convince funding bodies to give us money to do all this wonderful stuff?

CB: That could be a very large group. Any more for any more? Okay, here’s the question: there seems to be certain clear themes around which we could organise groups but there are several comments that might lead me to believe that we’re also talking about structural [?????] or sectors. Mike Huxley mentioned working with students, for example, so does this mean that we should divide not just the long themes but also look at particular areas work such as students and archives? Does that sound like a good idea? One group of themes, I think, are addressing both the knowledge of archiving and the archiving process, particularly in relation to the learning experience. Does that sound right? Mike is nodding. And, if that is right, how many other people are interested in that? Go on – be brave!

[Woman: (Inaudible)]

Man: Good question Lois but yes yeah, that isn’t. So students and archiving process, hands up. Okay – that’s starting to sound like the formation of a group; therefore, if we were to look more broadly across that area and incorporate the point that Lois raised about the types of user groups, this may be about dissemination as well as presentation. How many people are interested in that aspect? Well that sounds like a group, too. Right, let’s look to put some other things together. We had a view put forward that, in fact, we need to know what we’ve got, create a way of finding out what we’ve got, and come up with some way of co-ordinating our knowledge of what we’ve got. Are people interested in talking about that? One, two, yes, that sounds like another group to look at what we’ve got. Please articulate these concerns more accurately with more sophistication than I’m doing here, trying to respond to you as a living group of people.

There was a concern about the ways in which we are actually documenting; I’m referring specifically to the point about recording culture, what it is that we are trying to document. Is that overlapping with another group, perhaps concerning the nature of the document? And then, of course, we also have issues about promoting the use of archives and how companies create archives, guidelines both for the company as artists and as an interface between the people generating the artwork and the people generating the record.

BH: How you collect things and the sort of material that you’re collecting are different from who collects it and how it’s disseminated. That theme really covers how we collect [this separate ?? perhaps ‘a particular’ or ‘individual performances’] performance.

CB: Thank you, Bonnie. So, do we have a group focusing on how we collect things? Yes, it sounds like we have another group.

SR: There was an interesting point raised this morning that might fit into this group about the expectations of archives and about what people think archives are for, about what they do and how they do it. I think that maybe fits into [this group to discuss how we collect things]. I’d like it to fit somewhere.

CB: Well, it could be that the document needs to be fit for the purpose and you need to find out what the purpose is before you start documenting. I think you’re right, that it does fit into that group.

JK: Could how we collect the archives incorporate how they’re made in the first place and the artist’s or artists’ involvement in that? Somebody has already mentioned about artists learning to document their own work.

CB: Good point – sounds right. Any more for any more? We’ve been making good progress and are being very well behaved. I thought you’d all be arguing by now! Okay, it sounds like we have four groups, and who’s going to tell me what they are? Group number one.

Woman: Students and other users.

CB: Students and other users. Would anyone like to say a little bit more about that and what it should include and not include?

[Lois: (Inaudible)

CB: Yes that’s right, I was cunningly trying to ally two groups Lois but thank you for pointing that out. But that’s an interesting and good question, say it again.

LK: The expectations made by the BBC Archive people saying in groups, what the expectations are and what they’re for and how.]

CB: Any responses – does that work? Okay, it sounds like a useful collaboration; everyone appears to be in agreement about that. But I wonder about the student issue. Do we want to hear a little bit more about that? Or do you think we’ve said enough about it? It may be about learning and perhaps that’s a strand that we haven’t said so much about. Mike [Huxley] do you think it should be elaborated?

MH: To clarify, my point is not just about students within the academy, but also about ‘learners’ in the wider sense. It is this whole question of the learning process: what people go through and how archives are set up; what materials are presented to people, and how do we look at that relationship. It is about the idea of how we can improve both the learning process by looking at that relationship and the way archives are set up, and also the idea that you might have a new learning process in future, something we haven’t got already. It is that sort of an argument – trying to be a bit adventurous.

CB: That’s a useful elucidation, I think.

Woman: (Inaudible).

Man: The students will become archivists.

Woman: Or, to put it another way, archivists will become students. I realise students are an endangered category in a place like [……????] academics; nonetheless, all archivists will have studied somewhere. And the way in which the student accesses material will influence attitudes regarding the choice of material by the tutors. Apart from the first person to speak in this session, nobody has spoken about value. She wanted us to discuss whether “anything is better than nothing”. I would tilt that differently to ask: is everything to be recorded by every company, right from those graduating in dance at Laban who go to the Edinburgh Festival and then get sensible jobs? Is everything to be recorded? Who decides? Who judges? I think these are central question for the academy, because we’re reticent about dealing, for all sorts of reasons, [with matters of aesthetics]. And yet we all exercise judgement constantly. I believe we need a discourse about judgement and about what is worth archiving.

CB: I think Guy [Baxter] raised the point that archiving is a process of selection, if I remember.

Woman: Let’s talk about it.

Woman: I think everything could be recorded, if the artists do it themselves. They may make an initial recording of just one show at the Edinburgh Festival and go on to become the next most important theatre or dance company in history. Depending on the progress of that company, their longevity and how they develop, that initial work may be dumped in the bin or it may go on to be part of an archive. These days, there’s nothing to stop all work being recorded, even if it is not stored in the archive.

Woman: I agree completely with you say, but there is still a question of maths and selection, especially when any kind of professional institution intervenes in the process.

CB: And who would do the recording?

[LK???]: Doesn’t that raise the issue about who are the gatekeepers of our culture. Has the gate kept by the people who are making value judgements [and …?…]?

Woman: Absolutely. Ethnic minority issues come up here as well. How do you have a black theatre, which isn’t categorised as black when it names itself as such?

Man: Select everything, keep everything and sort it out later: who does that ‘sorting out’? It will not be the performing arts companies that are going to decide whether this production is important and this one unimportant. They are going to contact an archive institution, saying “We’re a really important company. Here’s all our work – you must have it”. So, someone outside that company has to do the selecting that has to happen. It doesn’t happen naturally; someone still has to do it. The other problem is that of quality, which is what Jill [Evans] mentioned earlier. Of course, everyone records everything on a dodgy camcorder from Dixons, so we’ve got a massive archive of every performance ever made that we can’t view because it’s of such poor quality. I think there are two big issues here and it would be really good to discuss these further.

CB: Good, good, a bit of provocation. You know that provocative comments are welcome here.

Woman: I hate to be the one to bring up documentation, but while it may be true that everything can be recorded just to sit there, so to speak, there’s no point having [such a resource] if people are unable find it when they need it. Unfortunately, it’s the adding of documentation that takes all the time and expertise, and this is not necessarily already there in performing arts companies.

CB: Responses and further comments?

Woman: In the area of dissemination, I didn’t hear mention of funding. I think we should add funding issues to any discussion of dissemination.

CB: Does that sound right, that funding ought to be linked to dissemination?

Man: I wonder whether, [together with Baso????], we could talk about Guy [Baxter]’s idea for a co-ordinating body, something to add razzmatazz, that’s jazzy and sexy and can alert people to what there is. Such an organisation could pull together common strategies to address the various things that we’ve been talking about; to give them strength, as it were.

GB: To some extent, this type of organisation already exists. But I think what we perhaps need to explore is whether there are specific organisations that can help with the work of co-ordination. Future Histories is one such organisation that in black and Asian theatre provides a link between performing arts companies and performing arts archives. What we need, perhaps, is more Future Histories; to be honest, however, we have got organisations that already bring us closer together. I wasn’t necessarily talking about some kind organisation that comes in above; rather, I was thinking of the need for more organisations that come in below and help us all to talk together. I certainly I think it is worth discussing.

AT: Future Histories ran a series of seminars around the country on the art of archiving. Basically, we worked with companies to give them tools on how to preserve, how to organise, how to catalogue. Something like this might be part of our discussion, about whether something like this should be done and documented: in other words, the matter of giving tools directly to the company, to be independent.

CB: Does this link with the learning issue, that of learning through archiving?

AT: Yes, this is a learning issue because I think, in learning and in trying to find other ways of engaging in the learning process, one should probably look at having the artists as students themselves. I personally find this very interesting; certainly, the artists who took part in those seminars found it incredibly useful and loved it.

CB: That’s very interesting. Could you also see that happening within the training of an artist? Okay. How many groups are we going to organise ourselves into? We have four rooms, unless some of you wish to make a group out on the balcony. But I don’t want to make that too attractive!

JS: I have identified four groups. There seems to be one looking at what is archived, what we do with what we’ve got and whether that in itself is creating a canon or creating history. There is another about dissemination and access, which might include funding. The third group is about quality, preservation and standards of archiving. Finally, there is the discussion about the use of archives and the learning experience.

CB: Does that sound right to people? What is missing?

Woman: I’ve tried to break that down a little bit more, roughly according to the same as Joshua’s headings, I think.

CB: Okay.

Woman: Firstly, what have we got? Who co-ordinates the collection and will alert people to what there is? We need some sort of co-ordinating method to help disseminate, including how we document materials so they can be found. Secondly, how do we collect performance and what can be recorded? How is an artist involved in documenting? What tools can we give to the artist and are there new ways that we might collect performances? Thirdly, what can be recorded? What can be collected and what is worth recording? Is anything better than nothing? Who should serve as the gatekeepers of culture and take value judgements about what is and what is not archived? Finally, we come to the learning experience, which is an innovative breakout group. What ways can we encourage collection and learning in the field?

CB: Joshua did you recognise those categories in relation to what you said?

JS: Yes.

CB: Now, a couple of questions from me. Within those groups, would we deal with the funding issue, making a case for this area of work? I can see ways in which it could be done, but do you? Or do you think we’re moving away from the funding issue? The other thing, I think, concerns developing the way forward, whether it should be the responsibility of an organisation or a network.

Woman: Is it not a case of whether [archive work] should be funded, but whether, given limited funds, we prioritise what is [archived]?

CB: I’m sure making priorities is always wise. Somebody said to me in preparation for today that the United Kingdom has not yet signed the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural, but that it will. [????Therefore, there will be some commitment in a way to very, very interesting in the sense that we have lots of commitments to culture, and lots of entitlements.????] There is [also] a kind of intangible culture. How are we dealing with that? That might draw strands together in a way that perhaps hasn’t previously happened. I wouldn’t want to say there is no funding. But there will always be limited funding, and you’re quite right to say that how we prioritise is key. There could be blood on the floor, but this is probably a key discussion.

Woman: You mentioned the funding issue. It seems to me that funding goes in each of the categories that have emerged so far.

CB: I was going to ask that question, but thank you.

Woman: Rather than isolating funding in one of the groups, it should be discussed in all of them.

CB: Yes, and there may be some issues that do over-arch in that way. Can each group also take that on: that is, issues of funding and even issues of prioritising funding issues. I propose that you’ve earned your lunch. When you return, there will be a flipchart listing the subjects for each of the breakout groups. Well done – there’s not as much blood on floor as I expected, which is very interesting. During lunch we’re going to play a video loop from the New York Public Library, so you’ll have a chance to see it more than once.

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