Re-Constructing Performance Art: Processes and Practices of Historicisation, Documentation, and Representation (1960s-1970s)

30 November – 1 December 2018,  Freie Universität Berlin

The issues of documentation and representation of past performance art have dominated the debate over this art form, both in scholarly and museum-related contexts, for several decades. In recent years, the discussion has undergone a crucial shift, in that no longer is it concerned with whether a performance may or may not be reproduced and documented, but how multiple materialisations and representations in effect re-produce an artist’s work over and over again in the course of its history. The symposium Re-Constructing Performance Art, while upholding this new approach, offers a new and original perspective within it. In three sections and one roundtable, international scholars will explore the practices of historicisation, documentation, exhibition, and archiving of performance art. The aim is not to evaluate specific techniques and methods for the preservation of this art form, but to examine how these practices construct its epistemic and aesthetic space. Thus, the question is not if or how performance art can be conserved but how different strategies of conservation and transmission shape its reception according to different agendas and strategies.

The first panel, Defining the Boundaries, explores modes of historicisation as enacted by artists, theorists, and scholars, both discursively and non-discursively, emphasising the deep interrelation between theorisation and artistic creation, on one hand, and their reciprocal performative power on the other. The second panel, Documenting or Re-Presenting?, focusses on performance documentation, investigating its phenomenological constitution, the specificity of certain mediums of documentary transmission, as well as interrogating modes of reception of performance histories through documentation. The final panel, Spaces and Times of Performance Art, examines the practices of archivation and exhibition of performance art, analysing how they take part in the processes of its re-presentation and reception. In addition, at the roundtable, scholars from various fields of research will discuss and compare their methodological approaches to performance-based art forms and their history.

In each section, a recurrent yet shifting “centre” will resurface—the document—considered not as a mere medium or record of a performance, but as a juncture at which practices and strategies of historicisation, conservation, and representation are entangled. The symposium intends to contribute to the reading of this entanglement and to stimulate novel approaches to analyses of its stratification. Performance documentation thus functions not only as instrument and source for historical re-construction, but also a device for the critical scrutiny of these same practices of re-construction.

The symposium is part of the research project Between Evidence and Representation: History of Performance Art Documentation from 1970 to 1977. The research is conducted by Tancredi Gusman as principal investigator at the Institute of Theatre Studies of the Freie Universität in Berlin, and supervised by Erika Fischer-Lichte. The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 747881.



Friday, 30 November 2018, L115 Seminarzentrum, Freie Universität Berlin

13:30 Registration and Reception

14:00 WelcomeErika Fischer-Lichte

14:15 Tancredi Gusman (Berlin) Toulouse-Lautrec at the Beach. Documentation and its Role in Performance Art History

Section 1 – Defining the Boundaries: Performance Art Ideas and Historiography

Chair: Torsten Jost 

15:00 Heike Roms (Exeter) Performance Documentation as Artistic Self-Historicisation in the 1960s and 1970s: Modalities of Performative Historiography

15:45 Break

16:15 Lorenzo Mango (Napoli) Historical Roots of “Performative Theatre”: The Italian Post-Avantgarde

17:00 Sylvia Sasse (Zürich) Practical Aesthetics: Performance Art (as) Theory in Eastern Europe

17:45 Break

Roundtable–Methodologies of Performance Art Research

Chair: Tancredi Gusman

18:00 Doris Kolesch (Berlin), Jan Lazardzig (Berlin), Michael Lüthy (Weimar)


Saturday, 1 December 2018, L115 Seminarzentrum, Freie Universität Berlin

09:30 Registration and Reception

Section 2 – Documenting or Re-Presenting? Media of Performance Art

Chair: Andrej Mirčev

10:00 Philip Auslander (Atlanta) Performance Documentation and Its Discontents; or, Does It Matter Whether or Not It Really Happened?

10:45 Barbara Büscher (Leipzig) Easy Access? Book as Archive of Performance Art and as Source Material of Its History 

11:30 Break

11:45 Sabine Gebhardt Fink (Lucerne) Re-mediate and Remember Performance Art and Activism in Collaborative Constellations: Some Thoughts about the Methodology of Performance Chronicle Basel

12:30 Lunch break

Section 3 – Spaces and Times of Performance Art: Exhibition and Conservation History/ies

Chair: Tancredi Gusman

13:30 Annette Jael Lehmann (Berlin) Exhibiting Performance Art of the 1970s: Outlining Central Questions in a Case Study

14:15 Barbara Clausen (Montreal) On the Interplay of the Archival and the Curatorial

15:00 Gabriella Giannachi (Exeter) How a Record Becomes Art: The Role of Documentation in the Preservation, Exhibition, and Experience of Performance Art

15:45 Break

16:15 Adrian Heathfield (London) Recurring Imponderables

 17:00 Closing remarks and farewell

The event will be held in English. Detailed information on the speakers and their presentations is available in the supplemental Book of Abstracts.

Book of Abstracts




Admission is free. Registration is preferable. Email:



Freie Universität Berlin
Silberlaube (Ground Floor)
Seminarzentrum L115
Otto-von-Simson-Str. 26
14195 Berlin-Dahlem




Organized by

Tancredi Gusman, P.I. of the research project Between Evidence and Representation: History of Performance Art Documentation from 1970 to 1977 (Freie Universität Berlin, Marie Skłodowska-Curie IF, Horizon 2020, Project ID 747881)


Performance Art: Who Cares? Actors in the Documentation and Reactivation of Performance Art

22 March 2019, Migros Museum for Contemporary Art Zurich

Photographs, films, videos, and other documents play a crucial role in the history of performance art. They confer duration on ephemeral events and allow for their historicization as well as reactivation, making art performances accessible to new audiences. This process is associated with a fluctuation of meanings and functions: on the one hand, documentation is the evidence of the live character of the art event; on the other, it becomes a medium of the work of performance art in its own right. Which function a document serves in the afterlife of performances depends not only on the intentions of the artists and documentarians. Rather, it is also a result of the activities of various other actors that are involved in the production, preservation, exhibition, and reenactment of performance art. The symposium will bring together artists, archivists, curators, gallerists, and scholars for a conversation about performance art and the roles of its documentation.


2 pm Welcome/Introduction: Tancredi Gusman and Alena Nawrotzki

2.15 pm Sabine Gebhardt Fink, Andrea Saemann, Chris Regn and Margarit von Büren

3.45 pm Graciela Carnevale and Mira Bernabeu in dialogue with Tancredi Gusman and Cornelia Huth

5 pm Ewa Partum (via video), followed by Karolina Majewska-Güde who talks about Ewa Partum’s performative artworks

6 pm Eleanor Antin in dialogue with Tancredi Gusman and Cornelia Huth (via Skype)

7 pm Final remarks, Q&A

Followed by an apéro


The symposium is organized by the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst as part of its cooperation with the project Between Evidence and Representation: History of Performance Art Documentation from 1970 to 1977 directed by Tancredi Gusman at Freie Universität Berlin. The project Between Evidence and Representation has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 747881.