Rebecca Schneider, “Performing Remains” (Performance Research 2014)
“Archivists Mary Edsall and Catherine Johnson described the problems of preserving performance, declaring that the practices of body to body transmission’, such as dance and gesture, meant that ‘you lose a lot of history’. Such statements assume that memory cannot be housed in a body and remain, and thus that oral storytelling, live recitation, repeated gesture, and ritual enactment are not practices of telling or writing history. Such practices disappear.” 101
It was at this moment that I finally understood why performance is so hard to preserve. Performance is so focused on the body and space, transmitting ideas from one body to another; whereas, archivists tend to preserve ideas and objects because it is a feasible entity to process. With writing, concepts and ideas are preserved in text and therefore, can easily be transmitted from body to text to body. Written manuscripts can be preserved forever and later be referred to as historical resources. With Dance, this property is largely lost in the archive, even if it was recorded on film.
“The archive is habitual to western culture. We understand ourselves relative to the remains we accumulate, the tracks we house, mark, and cite, the material traces we acknowledge.” 100
This is something that has made me curious now for some time. Why do we archive things? Why collect objects and marks of things from the past? Who found value in hoarding old things that we now consider as historical knowledge?
Nicholas Birns, “Ritualizing the Past: Ralph-Lemon’s Counter-Memorials” (PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 2005)
“Yet Lemon’s improvisational memorial seems more powerful in emotional terms, even though no trace of it ever happening is gone from the site. Like the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site in Duluth is now an uninflected, neutralized public space. But neutrality means neither unanimity nor transcendence. The vacancy of the present does not mean America has recovered from its past.” 21
Birns made me think of how memorials can archive history. The drawback of performances is that they pass and eventually disappear, in the reading, Birns refers to the powerful events of the civil rights movement. As a result, memorials are set in place to immortalize the history of events that have transpired at historic sites. Without memorials established to document history, these sites will not be able to hold the same historical importance as they would have with the memorials.
“Lemon seeks to ritualize the past, but not to monumentalize it. America is a society without any palpable relation to history, a society particularly ahistorical when it assumes it is ultra-historical. The ultra-historicism of official memorials makes us think the past is finished when we still have the power to construct it.” 22
What is the difference between the ritualization of the past and the monumentalization of the past when we live in a society that believes the past is terminal and disconnected from the world today?