Three conjectural models for records people from ‘Tending the archive’

Three conjectural models for archives

There are three key ideas in my PhD thesis Tending the Archive that are relevant for the recordkeeping community. That community is broadly conceived as everyone interested in facts and how they get produced.

Conjectural model 1 – authenticity

There are three parts to my conjecture about authenticity.

1) Authenticity extends to the quality of the action that gets documented in the record. A good record of a duplicitous action is not going to support the record user.

2) Authenticity calls for a double-visioned experience. An encounter with a record needs to take into account both the event that the user seeks to reach through to, and the record that enables it. The authorship of that record will shape that access. Emphasising authorship of the record plays a role in authenticity.

3) Authenticity also calls for ethical use of the record that emphasises what remains true to the record and what varies from it in its new circulation.

Authenticity is a cornerstone in the world of records. It is one of four properties that the international standard includes in its definition of a record – authenticity means a record is what it purports to be. This is the argument that there is a 1:1 relationship between the record and a past event. A parallel lies in photography. As theorist Geoffrey Batchen writes, there is an undisputed relationship between the event that took place before the camera lens, observed by the sensor and recorded by the chip. Reality can be shaped or staged in front of the lens (Australian art historian Anne Marsh writes about this extensively), and the digital record the photo makes can be changed (look no further than Trump, here’s the 2018 article from the Guardian about the inauguration photos but nonetheless, there is the 1:1 relationship photographic technology to event holds. This is the argument records make, they are evidence of a transaction or interaction that took place. To protect that evidence from interference and change is no mean feat and that is the work of record keepers.

The authenticity argument that a record is what it purports to be extends to its material form – it actually is an email sent through a network system. It also extends to its transactional claim – it actually went from my outbox to your inbox. And the content is actually what I wrote to you.

My PhD uses an outlier case study of a media art from the 1970s, British artist Guy Sherwin’s Man with Mirror. The data set involved users testing a manual myself and a colleague made as we re-enacted this artwork.

Above: Teaching and Learning Cinema’s users manual titled (Wo)Man with Mirror, photo, Lucas Ihlein. Check out the manual here

The contention of the manual is that the instructions it contains are a record, they are an account of us carrying out that re-enactment. Can the manual testers expect to achieve something close to the original artwork? Why should future users pay attention to this manual? Because the manual instructions are a record, like a note-for-file from a phone call or minutes of a meeting, an account of an event that took place.

But crucial to the re-enactment process was the intention to stay true to the original. This means that what’s capture in the record has a clear relationship to the original artwork. The intention in the action the record documents matters for authenticity.

Yet this gets complex. No-one can be the original artist, Guy Sherwin, in 1976, not even Sherwin. The instructions in the manual are faithful as far as possible but they are instructions made by my colleague and I.

Above: instructions in the user’ manual showing authors and Teaching and Learning Cinema members Lucas Ihlein (left) and Louise Curham (right) working on the re-enactment that is documented in the instructions.

Users need to both reach through to look at Sherwin’s original as well as be alerted to our authorship (Lucas and I wrote an article that addresses this notion of reaching through to items from the past (2015) ) Historian Greg Dening explains the importance of acknowledging the user of records as a ‘performer’, the process cannot be neutral (2002)). What I add is that the creator of the records is also a ‘performer’.

The research identified there is an ethical dimension for future users of our manual. Each user made changes to the work, changes they felt were needed to ‘be true’ to their situation. Yet their starting point was adherence to the rules and rigours of Sherwin’s work set out in the manual. They followed these rules but as they progressed, they each found issues they needed to deal with that reflected their current situation eg Laura Hindmarsh is an artist 35 years younger than Guy. As a young female, she felt she needed to find a way to reflect her situation while still calibrating to Guy’s original. This emphasises an usual quality to authenticity, that change can be a requirement for authenticity.

I arrived at this whole discussion of authenticity through the work of American archives scholars Bill Rosen and Frank Blouin who write about archival authority. In short this discussion is about how records become social facts, how they have the power to stand in for past events. What makes a record able to claim a relationship to something that happened in the past? The process begins with the credentials of the maker: who made it, and why. Also crucial is the process, what process was used, how reliable was it? From the standing of these credentials, a reputational contagion operates, the reputation of the record maker is conferred to the records. Twentieth century humanities scholarship, for example the giants Foucault and Derrida, spells out hegemonic (world view shaping) power relationships that are a real problem for records – you have to be powerful to get to make and keep records. So accumulations of records in archives have distinct limitations as long as the records that are kept are made only by the powerful. Archivists have been grappling with this for decades, how to make the voices kept in records a more accurate reflection of society and the records that are kept a more accurate picture of events (see Terry Cook and Joan Schwarz for an intro to the power problem from the archivist’s perspective and much of Sue McKemmish’s work focuses on the harm one-sided records cause). The work of my colleague and I in making records for communities important to us ie the manual for Sherwin’s artwork, are part of the crucial and growing sector of community archiving efforts. To lock off Blouin and Rosenberg’s argument, where once archives were a font for writing history, as their one-sidedness became evident, historians needed to look further, to broaden their sources. To spell out the connection from archival authority to authenticity, a record has authenticity, is what it purports to be, because of who made it and the process it participated in. Despite the problems of one-sided archives, the core claim that there can be a relationship between an event in the past and its material trace as a record holds.

To sum up what I’ve got to say here, the intention in the action documented in the record matters. Users both look through to the event the record documents and at the record itself, for this reason acknowledging the impact of authorship of that record matters. In use, change can be a marker of being ‘true to one’s situation’ ie authentic.

Second conjectural model

The case study I deal with is a media artwork from the 1970s. I define it as a complex situation, difficult to meaningfully archive using traditional methods of preservation ( such as good storage for existing components and duplication or digitisation to extend the life of the components). The reason it evades the usual methods is that Man with Mirror requires the same person to perform in both the recorded media and the live performance. Just keeping the recorded media will not deliver a meaningful performance of Man with Mirror in the future. Just keeping a recording of a full performance of Man with Mirror as the artist Guy Sherwin performs it will also deliver a partial experience. As film scholar Dirk De Bruyn describes : ‘the experience of Sherwin’s performance is not available in any YouTube or Vimeo recordings of the event–although the simultaneous “oh-ah” trace of the impact on its audience is palpable on such recordings’ (De Bruyn 2018, 50). You have to be there to really get it.

Man with Mirror as a landmark work is accepted by scholars in the relevant field of contemporary art, experimental film and art history [add those scholars]. It is worth keeping alive. So how to do it? The manual was made in part to address this situation and provide for future re-stagings. What is important here is that the instructions are an account, a tale of the experience myself and my colleague had as we re-enacted the artwork. Another word for ‘account’ here is story.

The role of storytelling in capturing complex situation is supported by recent scholarship. Gibson, Crea and Chambers (2018) proposed that storytelling is a crucial and compellingly effective tool. It involves three stages, witnessing, recounting and receiving. These different viewpoints build up a ‘narrative mesh’, a legitimate way to build a picture of a complex situation.

Not only is storytelling a good fit for the complexity of Man with Mirror, there are qualities to storytelling that can ensure its preservation for the longterm. Walter Benjamin wrote about Russian writer Nicolai Leskov. Benjamin used Leskov to analyse storytelling. In storytelling, the tale is not depleted in the re-telling. It is made stronger. A compelling story is embedded in the teller, it is made specific by the teller but that too doesn’t deplete the tale, rather it strengthens it.

The instructions in the users’s manual for Man with Mirror are an account, a story of my colleague and I, following Guy’s instructions and our own observations to deliver a faithful rendition of the artwork. Future users will embed the instructions in their bodies and tell ‘the story’ using the instructions their way. But the story doesn’t grow weak, it grows stronger in the re-telling. I conceptualise this as a model of a growth ring, where the original work isn’t changed but it is strengthened by rings around it.

The manual reflects these growth rings by inviting users to literally add an insert to the manual, telling the story of their experience. Enriched metadata is one phrase that can be applied to this.

Above: Laura Hindmarsh’s inserts to the user’s manual.

The lessons for record keepers here are that records can be thought of as stories, in this model, use strengthens. That use can be literally attached to the record as metadata. There’s nothing new to record keepers in these ideas – use metadata is standard part of a trusted recordkeeping system, but taken together, they add an emphasis on strengthening or preserving items through use.

Third conjectural model

The discipline of performance studies has theorised extensively about archiving performance. The scope of performance studies is broad but it finds its roots in theatre studies and anthropology. Live performance is a significant component of its objects for study. For this reason, archives and the relationship to performance have been an important discussion in the field. Rebecca Schneider has made some key contributions to this discussion (her original 2001 article, revised in her 2011 book Performing Remains, art and war …). She highlights two aspects useful for record keepers. For Schneider, the archives are about the future and they carry an opportunity for communities to respond anew to events of the past and therefore to repair and set new directions. She describes archives as offering a hail to another time, essentially a future time, a future reader or user. This interval between the time of the record and the time of its reception is critically productive, a time for reflection, in which we can choose how we respond to what has been laid down in the past. For Schneider the archive is always of the future, always live because that is where we receive it, through our senses in the room or before the screen we cradle. This has resonances with Derrida’s conception of archives as pressing send to the future. Hitting save on the keyboard is effectively sending a message to a future, not yet known (this image comes from Archive Fever).

I include Schneider’s hail here for information, because I believe its productive, constructive and generative relationship with the future has much of value to record keepers as an idea.

There is a second idea of Schneider’s that chimes directly with my case study. That is a re-ordering of the usual sequence of record making. Usually the record documents an event that took place in the past. Schneider analyses generative structures like gesture, theatre scripts and religious rituals. Where there is a generative ‘code’, when it is used, that use, or event, becomes a record for the existence of this code. The event itself becomes a record. In my case study, the user’s manual for Sherwin’s artwork has the potential to be a generative code for the work. In that understanding each future performance of Man with Mirror becomes a record of the persistence of that generative code. The potential insight for record keepers is that there are instances where keeping the records themselves may be less important than keeping the generative code that produces them.

There’s a lot more in Tending the Archive. It grapples with embodied knowledge and making decisions that involve bodies (Ch 2), re-enactment (Ch 3) and keeping strategies for works like Man with Mirror (Ch 4).

There are work-in-progress questions it raises about the nature of authenticity (you can see my thinking here is still unfolding in claiming the importance of subjective experience for authenticity) and about forms of knowledge. The ‘future directions’ section outlines my efforts in Indigenous knowledge management that I set aside pending a time when I can research that with appropriately qualified scholars, I’m building those relationships at Charles Sturt University. The records continuum is a model in Australian archives scholarship that grapples directly with problems of time in relation to records, analysing these ideas through the continuum is another fruitful future proposition.

Right now I am focused on a series titled ‘Let’s talk about expanded cinema’. You can read about that here on Dirk De Bruyn’s Dialogics blog at Deakin

Additional references:

Batchen, Geoffrey. 2001. Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: MIT Press.

Benjamin, Walter. ‘The Storyteller – Reflections on the Work of Nikolai Leskov’. Illuminations, Schocken Books, [1935] 1969, pp. 83–109,

Blouin, Francis X., and William G. Rosenberg. 2011. Processing the Past: Contesting Authority in History and the Archives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

De Bruyn, Dirk. 2018. ‘Performing the Margins of the New’. In Experimental and Expanded Animation: New Perspectives and Practices. Springer International Publishing.

Dening, Greg. ‘Performing on the Beaches of the Mind: An Essay’. History and Theory, vol. 41, 2002, pp. 1–24,

Ihlein, Lucas, and Louise Curham. 2015. ‘Reaching Through to the Object: Re-Enacting Malcolm Le Grice’s Horror Film 1’. Performance Matters 1 (1–2): 24–40.

Schwartz, Joan M., and Terry Cook. ‘Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory’. Archival Science, vol. 2, no. 1–2, Mar. 2002, pp. 1–19,

Trying out the (Wo)Man With Mirror user’s manual with Laura Hindmarsh in March & April 2016

In the last post, I explained how the time delay of almost 12 months has bought some useful thinking time. Here’s a short narrative of what we did with Laura over the weekends of 19-20 March and 6-7 April, 2016:

In suburban Canberra, Lucas and Louise are working with young artist Laura Hindmarsh who is here to try out using the user’s manual produced in 2009 for the Teaching and Learning Cinema re-enactment (Wo)Man With Mirror. The work takes place in three stages.

The first stage is to amass the resources needed for Laura to make the work which involves buying and painting a mirror, buying film stock, organising Pete Humble, our cinematographer friend to assist with filming Laura’s (Wo)Man With Mirror. There is an earlier blog post about the first meeting with Laura and measuring her up for her mirror.

We then work slowly through how the piece works – the choreography with the mirror is filmed while it takes place outdoors. This film is then projected while the performer repeats the choreography. The mirror is used to map the film to the live performance. The projection is set up to match the live mirror size and position. At  intervals through the performance, the live mirror and the projected mirror map exactly. To understand how this works, we watch video documentation of Guy Sherwin performing Man With Mirror (the piece TLC re-enacted as (Wo)Man With Mirror). We also watch footage of Lucas, Louise, Louise’s mother Valerie and Lucas’ father Owen. By comparing these, we start to see what properties work best in the performance.

We are all very focused in this watching session. Content that we have enough information about the choreography, we then move outdoors to look for the location where the filming should take place. We need some shadow falling on the mirror and we want to capture the hills and bushland we can see in the distance, a Canberra response to Guy’s footage shot on Hampstead Heath. Lucas then talks Laura through the movements.  As Laura goes through the choreography, we video tape it.

We come back the next morning to shoot Laura’s ‘hero’ footage on super 8 mm film. There is some cloud cover and it seems we will not get the desired shadow. The sun emerges just enough and we shoot the film with Lucas calling out the moves to Laura.

We return some weeks later with the film. Our task now is to put the film together with the choreography as a performance. It quickly emerges that the user’s manual instructions for this task tell us little or nothing about the task of super 8 film projection and we must fall back on our experience to achieve this. We refer to the user’s manual barely at all during this process. As it gets on to dusk, we videotape a performance in the location where the film was shot. It is very windy and wild and we are too late—the camera sees only black rather than twilight.

The next day we come together for a debrief. And it emerges that Laura would like to try a 16mm version. Because of other film work Laura and I have been doing, we have the resources on hand. It takes some time to work out the logistics as we will use wind-up 16mm cameras that shoot only 25 seconds at a time. This means Lucas and I must work in tandem – as one person winds, the other shoots and we must synchronise exactly. Lucas will  now be busy winding and shooting his camera so we must record his instructions for Laura. Lucas makes a voice recording on his phone (a podcast) and we test that she can hear this. There is a lot of repressed laughing during this shoot as the experience for  Lucas and Louise frantically winding between shots feels slapstick.
This shoot ends in a flurry to meet other commitments. Laura takes this film back to London with her where she processes it by hand in her Hackney darkroom. She opts to set it aside in favour of the super 8. In late 2016, she performs with this in London with a new ‘voice track’ she produced from video documentation of her footage. Immediately before the screening, she discovered an interesting slippage in timing between her voice track and her footage. This was created by the film projected at 18 frames per second while the video footage of this film was transferred to video at 24 frames per second.

Work starts on ‘using’ the (Wo)Man With Mirror user’s manual

Subtitle: Louise’s PhD uses (Wo)Man With Mirror as a case study for performance-dependent heritage and things that need passing on from person-to-person; why we involved an anthropologist; why this blog post is/is not a record.

At the Urambi Village Community Centre, Saturday 19 March 2016. Left to right: Louise Curham (Teaching and Learning Cinema), Laura Hindmarsh (artist), Peter Humble (cinematographer), Diana Glazebrook (foreground, anthropologist), Lucas Ihlein (Teaching and Learning Cinema).

Louise’s PhD uses (Wo)Man With Mirror as a case study for performance-dependent heritage and things that need passing on from person-to-person

In this picture, Teaching and Learning Cinema and colleagues are gathered in Canberra to work with visiting artist Laura Hindmarsh to ‘use’ Teaching and Learning Cinema’s (Wo)Man With Mirror user’s manual. We will spend the next two days getting to the point where we’ve shot Laura’s film.  A few weekends later, we’ll work with Laura as she puts together a performance using the film.

Today (the day I’m writing) is 5 January 2017 and much time has passed since we did this work. Ever since, my head has been consumed with this work as TLC’s work with (Wo)Man With Mirror is the case study for my PhD (Aug 2014 -). In my research, I’m using (Wo)Man With Mirror to make the case that we expect too much of the archive. The archive alone can’t be expected to keep everything for us in ways we are likely to want in the future­–we also need people to pass things on from one person to the next. Unscaleable, impractical? Perhaps. But possibly also true and that’s what I’m thinking about. Take for example, Man With Mirror (Guy Sherwin, 1976- ) which (Wo)Man With Mirror emerges from: in the archive could be video documentation of Guy’s performances, Guy’s super 8 film (or a 16mm copy as EYE Film Museum in Amsterdam did make), even a super 8 projector for posterity. There could be flyers, reviews, letters and emails between Guy and curators about it (Lucas recently trawled the British Artists Film & Video Study Collection for Man With Mirror, showing us there is some stuff about it but not a huge amount ). How to make sense of all this? For TLC, we found direct ‘tuition’ from Guy incredibly important.

Why am I happy to spend three years (duration of the PhD) thinking about this? I earn my living as an archivist and we archivists find ourselves so often ignored, sidelined–let’s face it, contemporary culture loves ‘the archive’ but the average punter prefers to go around archivists because the quiet, patient, thorough, bottom-line work archivists do to ensure records can be used as evidence doesn’t seem to meet the average punter’s expectations. Evidential properties? What does the average punter care for that? Well if your granddad was a member of the Stolen Generation and there are records about his life in institutional care, you probably care an enormous amount. But let’s take for example the government webpage I consulted last week. It’s different today, but lucky for me will do the trick thanks and I don’t need an archivist for that (of course, the archivist in mean retaliates, yes it might be there today but in 20 years? To which the user in me replies I got what I need and I don’t really care how I got it). And what about when the work comes together only in the moment in which I experience it? Man With Mirror is an example of that. Sure, we can watch a performance on YouTube and that gives us some kind of contact with the work but you check it, as alluded to above, it’s quite hard to decode what is actually going on. And those present around the table in the picture above would say the experience of it in the flesh is entirely different.

So here we are in this picture on the morning of Saturday 19 March 2016, exploring body-to-body transmission. And from a PhD research point-of-view, I’m framing this case as a kind of heritage object–one that is performance-dependent. I’m hoping I can shed light on how we think about the archive and I’m hoping I get a better understanding of how I can use my two fields of expertise, which I’m describing as creative use of obsolete media and the archives.

Around the table in the photo, you see Louise, Laura, Lucas, cinematographer/filmmaker/musician Peter Humble and anthropologist Diana Glazebrook. Peter is there to shoot the super 8 for Laura’s film and I commissioned Diana to be here to observe Teaching and Learning Cinema at work. She is taking field notes for a ‘micro’ ethnography.
There is more to the story of Pete’s presence and also to Di’s – Pete’s story comes out in the next blog post, we’ll get back to Di’s soon.

So here’s what we did – we spent Saturday morning talking, orienting ourselves, getting a common understanding. Here’s some transcript around the time of the photo you see, about 40 minutes into our conversation:

Louise: the purposefulness then, you’ve got to be purposeful about carrying it out but it’s then about the mapping of what is purposeful for you. And to me that is the bit that’s different, and maybe it’s not front of mind for everybody …  we’re [Teaching and Learning Cinema] trying to be as procedural as possible [when we work on a re-enactment].
Laura: Because that’s what TLC is and it’s like drawing on your history as an archivist [referring to Louise] and your engagement with like disseminating work in a sort of pedagogical way, opening up practice in an educative way [referring to Lucas]. And then my role, coming in not as a TLC person–we briefly touched on this in Wollongong–just how I often work with other people’s work but as reference point to create a procedure, task, which I then stray away from, or the process takes me away from. The work has some connection back to someone like Yvonne Rainer or Boltanski [Laura has made past works that involve repetitions or iterations of works by these artists] but it’s a very … it’s like the seed’s sown and then I use that as my excuse to make a work, or the subject of my work and it strays quite far from it. So this has the potential to do that, to stray really far from Man With Mirror because my interests in recreating work are different to yours.
Louise: We’re exactly aligned there.
Laura: The starting point, regardless of where it ends up, the starting point is to be taught it as TLC would teach it and then it’s sort of up to me in-
Louise: Yeah, exactly.
Laura: –and I feel like whilst we’re here in March/April, that’s sort of what our aim is. In April I’ll perform the work as TLC intends it but when I come back in November, there’s this potential for it to be my version of it.
Peter: It’s also the nature of the way the work has to come together because there is sort of these two aspects as well. We have to make the work, which is performative in its own right but then there is this whole other aspect where you then take the performance into another performance which is sort of quite unusual.
Lucas: I think it can be multiple things at once. Like you say, the outcomes of this could suit multiple agendas.
Louise: Yeah, well it’s got a whole agenda because we’re actually doing data collection for my PhD right now [laughs] …
Laura: Hence the multiple recording devices, surveillance!
Louise: … but it’s interesting, that thing. I love the purposeful–I find that such a useful word. Because I got really a bit confused by those talks up in Brisbane about [at a 2015 art history conference], kind of how long is a piece of string in terms of what is authentic. You know, authenticity and does it matter and in the end to me, that word, purposefulness is so useful because it kind of then just brings it back to the individual person and their individual context and purposeful means different things in different settings.
Lucas: And I think that’s right. And to connect to what Laura was saying about having to make it your own, we did that as well. Although this sticks fairly closely to the original at least in terms of digging up, codifying and then following the original choreography, the motivation for doing this comes from our own desire rather than a sort of sense of duty or responsibility to someone else’s desire … First things first, what we can discover from being as close as possible?
[STE-000 Sat 19 Mar 2016 Urambi Village community centre, morning 11:20 – 17:00]

And Di’s notes about this same conversation:
Louise talks about purposefulness and procedural basis of this kind of cinema. Trying to be procedural as possible. Laura responds about her role as non-TLC person, how she often works with other’s work [she is responding to Lou, eye contact with Lou mainly]… her interests in recreating other people’s work is different…starting point is as TLC intends but then later potential for it to be Laura’s…Lou says exactly…Lucas nods strongly…
Lou opens her user’s manual in half, reading while Lucas talks about what can be discovered through being ‘as close as possible’.

Why we involved an anthropologist

Why was Di there? As part of my PhD, supervisor Ross Gibson suggested I ‘triangulate’ my data by commissioning an ethnography. Di’s expertise is in West Papuan refugee communities and she is the managing editor of the Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology at the ANU (lucky Canberrans – all these clever people just around the corner … ) One of the many conferences I attended this year was a symposium organised by the University of Sydney performance studies folks called Scenes of the Real, a most rewarding couple of days for me. This audience included those with backgrounds in anthropology and practices around performance ethnography. They were alarmed that I chose to work with Di who had no expertise in arts anthropology and they found the whole notion of ‘ethnography’ problematic due to the short time frame. However, some of them also loved the ‘wrongness’ of this approach, the ‘just-do-it’-ness. At the time I gave this talk, my point was that we’d commissioned this ethnography, weirdly returning ourselves back from what the body knows to what is empirically observable, I called it reinscribing the archive. Yet at the time Di gave me the notes, I could make little sense of what they contributed.

My initial motivation to involve Di was to help with the problem that I am deeply embedded in the case of (Wo)Man With Mirror. By embedded I mean that I am part of the work of (Wo)Man With Mirror and it is also central to my research. The research lingo calls this being an ‘embedded researcher’ and a downside of that position is that the embedded researcher’s observations can be written-off as too subjective. The research model I’m working with makes a plus of my embeddedness and the fact that this research focuses on my own practice but nonetheless, having ways to say ‘this is actually what happened’ are useful. From a research point-of-view, that’s the purpose in Diana being there.

So now, 10 months later, what do I think Di’s notes contribute? Her notes record our interaction as she observed it, and in what they observe they show up what she thought was significant. For example, she captures body language, at one points she notes my ‘hand on heart’ as I comment on the uncertain future of film stocks and she captures in detail the eating and drinking that goes on. Reflecting on what she captures and what she leaves out, what emerges for me is a scene of hospitality. Now I know this was important to me because I spent some time organising it before that weekend but this is why Di is here, because her external observation captures that, helping to bring more to my PhD data than just my subjective experience.

It’s slowly emerging for me that their contribution is as a written record, filtered through the skills of the discipline of anthropology and through the particular skills and experience of Diana, who came along with no background to Teaching and Learning Cinema. Because of this filter, or lens, they do something that the video and audio recordings don’t do (the media archaeologists of course argue that these recording technologies encode very specific kinds of filters on to what we have come to accept as indexically ‘real’). I will get to a discussion of records and what one is.

Here are her notes from the start of our day:

Louise and Laura arrive at the community centre through the wide flywire doors and Louise introduces Laura. Then Lucas arrives and greets Laura. Lou ferries food while Laura cuts cake and makes coffee. Lucas and I have a conversation about ethnography. Lucas: Anthropology and ethnography are different things. Diana: Cultural anthropologists use an ethnographic method grounded in long-term observation in a field setting…I haven’t used this method in a setting like this and am not sure what insights it might bring. Lou suggests that Lucas and I could put out a table. I carry a 4-seater, Lucas carries a 2-seater. Lucas places them as a block and I re-position the tables to form a rectangle. I set up my laptop at the end of the table furthest from the kitchen. Lou places several A2 user’s manuals on the table. Lou is in kitchen cutting capsicum and cucumber strips and unpacking dips. She explains that the dip is made from excess eggplant. Knock at the side door and Louise goes to the door and opens it and Pete enters with filming gear in hand. He and Louise exchange a long hug then Pete and Lucas hug and Lou introduces Pete to Laura. Pete asks Louise whether she has explained to Laura that he forgot the lomo. Louise: yes. Laura: It’s OK. Pete apologises to Laura. Louise says to Pete that she knew Laura would be ok about not having the lomo to film with. Lou introduces Pete to me. Louise explains to me that Pete phoned her before he boarded the train this morning at 630 to say that he has realised he had forgotten the light. I ask Lou what a lomo is she explains that it is a tank. Pete and Lucas talk about how abundant the Urambi gardens are. Lucas asks who wants coffee and pours coffee for himself and Laura and Lou. Pete and Lucas talk about the facility of the community centre for art work. Pete says he has noticed the piano in the other community room and Lou suggests that he could play. Lou places the film camera onto tripod in the doorway. Conversation about bhaba ghanoush dip and how to make. Laura asks Lou how she made it. Lou positions the tripod and camera at the bottom of the room [so that it is capturing the activity at the table]. The film must be rolling, the buzz is audible. Pete asks Lou where filming will be done. Lou says we haven’t decided that yet [as a collective]. Laura removes a large camera from a bag and places it on the kitchen bench top. Pete walks across and picks it up and says it is very nice. I ask Pete directly what term he used to describe the piece of equipment he forgot to bring. It was lomo or [film developing] tank, he says. Lucas approaches the table where I am working and asks me whether I am observing and writing about what they are doing. I say I am but not sure about the meaningfulness of my observations in this context. Lucas says that as a group they have never worked in this formation before and they are just catching up working out what they are doing.

Why this blog post is/is not a record

So it’s taken me a long time to work out what Di’s notes contribute. This neatly brings me to the time delay in writing this reflection. In the same way I couldn’t understand the significance of Di’s notes when she gave them to me, it’s only now, 10 months later that I’m starting to actually understand what I want to say about art and archives and this business of knowledges of the body. It’s quite simple – I want to say that knowledge of the body is important. Implicit in this is the importance of valuing things we can’t see.

But let me say more about the time lag in this blog post. Wearing my records manager’s hat, the time at which the record is made in relation to the event carries weight. The best records are those that are impartial, produced as a by-product of a process. If there’s no process to produce the record, then making the record as close to the time of the event it documents improves its standing as evidence. For example, if there are bullying problems in a workplace, making a diary note straight after the meeting where bullying was experienced will have far more validity than a diary note made 10 months later. TLC’s blog has worked effectively as a record of our work because, thanks to the era of Lucas’ practice using blogs as artworks, notes (mostly by Lucas) have come quick smart on the heels of practice.
However, for the archivist, digestion time is critical. In the art of appraisal (deciding what becomes archives), contemporary best practice is sentencing (applying retention decisions) on creation ie you have worked out before hand how long different kinds of records need to be kept and you then have a list of record types and durations for how long they should be kept. In government jurisdictions, this is a key task that government archives carry out–helping government agencies come up with these documents about retention decisions.
So the key here is that you have a good holistic picture of what’s going on in the agency so you can make some reasonable decisions about what should be kept and how long for. There are some key principles to this: community expectation (some of my archivist colleagues call this The Canberra Times test, ie if this record is chucked, will it be on the front page), evidential and legal requirements, and what the organisation actually needs to do its business.
So as a record, this blog post is way too late. However, here’s the art historical slant–performance studies has an important discussion about whether performance remains or disappears. The timeline for this goes like this. 1993: performance studies scholar Peggy Phelan wrote a book exploring what goes ‘unmarked’ in visual culture, mulling over the value of things that can’t be seen. She asserted that it’s in the nature of performance that it disappears. 1997: art historian-focused-on-performance art, Amelia Jones, pointed out the reality that documentation of performance does not disappear and can be used by people like Jones to talk about performance works made, as she describes, when she was a child (or in the case of Laura, before she was born). This performance studies discussion continues–Rebecca Schneider’s idea about performance as record is one I am still really making sense of … Lucas and I did use her idea to talk about re-enactment as a kind of mini-ritual.
Right, let’s get to the point. It’s this.
Jones makes obvious that documentation does let us access work from the past. And I have spent the past three days going through our documentation of the work with Laura so that’s my claim that this blog post has some validity as record.

Re-enact, repeat, reiterate, re-perform – a practitioner’s chat

Join us for an afternoon’s discussion about re-enactment and related practices at Westspace, Melbourne Saturday 9 July 2-4 pm

If you make work or think about work that connects with re-enactment, repetition, reiteration and re-performance, or you’re just curious, please come along.

Last November in Brisbane a group of artists, curators and academics spent an afternoon talking re-enactment, repetition and the like as part of an art history conference (more about that in an earlier post on this blog). Several of us will be in Melbourne to listen in at PSi#22, the international performance studies conference and we plan a follow-up chat to discuss our work further, mull over new thoughts and generally reflect on these ideas as we work with them in our practices. We welcome new participants to our conversation.

Continue reading “Re-enact, repeat, reiterate, re-perform – a practitioner’s chat”

Laura Hindmarsh and Man/(Wo)Man With Mirror

Last week Laura and I got together for our inaugural chat about using the user’s manual for (Wo)Man With Mirror. Laura’s participation has been a long time coming, started in 2014 with an unsuccessful TLC grant application. That project proposed putting the user’s manual to work with a group of artists in different cities and regions. As preparation for this current work with Laura has unfolded, that idea with multiple artists and locations was ambitious! The work for one artist alone is ample!

So what’s the plan for this work with Laura? Below is the logistics email sent out this week, some changes of course.

So to get back to Laura and I getting together last Tues … our purpose was to measure her up for a mirror, to fill her in about my PhD which hovers unsubtlely behind her using the user’s manual (her re-enacting our re-enactment is excellent data for my tending the archive project) and for me to learn more about what she’s up to on her PhotoAccess residency.

I discovered a lot in our hour. Critically, Laura is considerably smaller than I am – her wing span measures 142 cm.

Measuring Laura 02

Fortunately I had a small spare mirror made for my mum in c. 2010. On Wednesday, I took this to the glass shop in Tuggeranong and got it cut down. It looks tiny but seeing it in Laura’s grip today, we think it’s right.

To return to Tuesday’s get together, I understood better how repetition and its slippage are themes in her work so I see why she is intrigued by using the User’s Manual. Anyway, after about an hour, we reigned in our conversation, agreeing to hold off on the musings until we are underway with the whole contingent (Lucas, Diana the anthropologist and a little later, Peter the cinematographer). At this point I tasked Laura not to prepare, thinking that Lucas and I would effectively ‘teach’ Laura the piece. We discussed our thoughts that there was little point in us all being together if she (Laura) was just to work from the user’s manual – she could do this on her own in London. We wound up our chat in favour of food and Austin Buckett in concert.

Louise and Laura consult the user’s manual in Laura’s studio at Gorman House.

Consulting user's manual

Of course since our meeting, life has intervened and we will have a slightly tighter schedule than originally planned. So yesterday I called Laura and asked her to take the reigns and get herself prepared enough to be ready to film on Sat (20 March). She sounded quite relieved on the phone to have the opportunity to study Guy’s version and look closely at what we have online. I took her mirror over to her this morning. It was very wet which put me off adding a fresh coat of white to the back – Laura has enthusiastically taken care of this.

So now it looks like Laura will work predominantly from the user’s manual. I’m imagining the role for Lucas and I becomes one of ‘coach’ or just the pragmatic passing on of information, as Guy did with us. What we have done so far is to set up the infrastructure for the work (maybe hospitality is a better word) – the mirror, the stock, the camera and cinematographer (our friend Pete Humble) and I suppose a conducive environment by us all making the effort to come together – quite major as Laura had to re-book her ticket, Lucas and Pete are travelling from interstate, there is a coterie of child minding arrangements behind freeing up three adults this weekend.

Some other notes from Laura and Louise meeting 10 March

Laura’s PhotoAccess work so far includes beautifully processed Tri-x in pos – greatly exciting for me and my super 8 enthusiasms (Tri-x is the standard Kodak B&W positive product offering which I cross-process to neg). She talked me through her contact printing experiments, involving swinging a large format enlarger onto the floor onto 16mm strips laid out down there. You get the gist, physical film adventures par excellence …

And my PhD, well that’s about things that are prone to disappearance and how keeping them alive calls for a kind of ‘tending’. It uses TLC works as case studies. Tending applied to this setting came up in work Lucas and I did on our Performance Matters article on Horror Film 1. My recent angles of inquiry have been into Indigenous knowledge management and ecosystems post climate change – novel ecosystems and the end of pristine wilderness and all that. Behind this lies my hunch that keeping stuff is a chancy business at best and there’s some adaptation in our thinking away from the binary of access and preservation that can help us through this and it’s a lot to do with linking knowledge to its source and keeping that connection alive. This work of Laura’s will hopefully contribute to my dataset as will Diana’s study of us at work.

Here’s the email about logistics from earlier this week:

On Tue, Mar 15, 2016 at 9:29 PM, L Curham <> wrote:

Hi all

Just confirming we’re all go this weekend. Please chime in if I’ve overlooked something.

I’ve organised the Urambi community centre as our work space. I used it on Monday for another project and it is just fantastic for this kind of work … great having the kitchen and plenty of room, extra tables etc. We had a fabulous sit-down pizza lunch on Monday. I’ll make you one on Sat.

So here’s a 25 words or less on what we’re up to:

Our task this weekend is to shoot Laura’s footage using the User’s Manual as our guide. In the first week of April, Lucas, Laura and I will then get together to work on the performance side of things.

Here’s a schedule:

1-7 March – Laura and Louise get together briefly. Laura receives (Wo)Man With Mirror users’ manual. Louise measures Laura’s ‘wingspan’ and organises mirror.
Fri 18 March – Lucas arrives, intro afternoon, dinner together
Sat 19 March – studio day, drive around location options, rehearse ‘choreography’
Sun 20 March – Pete Humble joins us as cameraman. We shoot Laura’s footage.
Weather contingency – if forecast is terrible, we may have to be ready to shoot on Sat. Current forecast is mostly sunny Sat and Sun, tops of 22 and 23 degrees, 20% chance of rain on Sunday. I’d say we’ll be fine to plan to shoot on Sunday.

Over this Fri, Sat, Sun ethnographer Diana Glazebrook also joins us intermittently to do a small ‘ethnography’ of our work. Di is a good friend of mine and an anthropologist who specialises in displaced people in Papua. She is intrigued to make a study of us at work.

Mon 21 Mar – film goes off to Nanolab, returns later that week.
Fri 25 Mar – LC reviews footage (with Laura if you want to do that)
Tues 5 April – Wed 6 April – studio days. Task is to put the work together with projectors and the film.
Cover days if needed: Mon 4 April – if first lot of film is NG (no good), we need this day to re-shoot. Soonest we could get footage back would be Thurs 7 April, so studio days are then Thurs 7 April and Fri 8 April.

And here’s an equipment list
S8 camera – Pete is bringing
Manfrotto stills tripod – LC
Super 8 colour pos – LC (have 3+ rolls)
Mirror – I have ordered as Laura’s wingspan smaller than the mirrors I have
Projectors, tripods, film, mirrors of TLC version LC (if needed).
Documentation devices – LC
Laura’s DSLR
Lucas’s zoom

Best, LC

AAANZ Conference Brisbane 2015 – Re-enactment discussions

We had a terrific time with our six presenters at the AAANZ conference in Brisbane this week.

We’ve posted a document over here which outlines the theme of the discussions, as well as how we divided up the conversation, and the abstracts from our presenters.

Thanks to presenters Sandy Gibbs, Steven Ball, Georgia Banks, Greer Honeywill, Elizabeth Pulie, and Simone Hine.


Lucas Ihlein and Louise Curham

Re-enactment / Repetition / Reiteration / Re-performance as embodied research

The following is a call for contributions to a session at the AAANZ conference in November, in Brisbane.

This panel explores the widespread phenomenon of re-enactment as a tactic of embodied research in performance art history.

Performance re-enactment (or “re-performance”) has emerged since the turn of the century as an arena of practice and scholarship, an embodied means of “doing” historical research as well as a way of critically reflecting on ephemeral artworks from the past.

Recent texts have begun to unpick the multiple layers of mediation that produce, and emerge from, re-enactment practices (Jones and Heathfield 2012; Santone 2008). Reenactment inevitably raises questions about authenticity and the primacy of “unmediated” experience versus the role of documentation. As Jonathan Walley writes, the motivation for carrying out a re-enactment may begin with a desire to access an “authentic” experience of a past work of ephemeral art, but the physical-material practice of actually executing a re-enactment can prove unpredictably generative of insights that go far
beyond the historical (Walley 2013).

Contributions are invited for this panel involving (but not limited to):

  • Description and analysis of specific re-enactment projects as creative practicebased
  • Discussion of the phenomenon of re-enactment as it has developed in recent
  • Exploration of intergenerational connections in re-enactment processes;
  • Analysis of the “event score” as a tool for codifying performance practices;
  • Theoretical investigations into iteration, repetition and difference triggered by
    a consideration of re-enactment;
  • Enquiry into the impact of and on archives when re-enactment is used as a
    tool for historical research;
  • Exploration of specific contributions to this field from Australia and New

We also invite non-traditional and performative presentations which physically enact or re-enact as their creative / scholarly contributions to this panel (pending technical feasibility and approval of the AAANZ conference convenors).

Proposals should be sent to the convenors:

Dr Lucas Ihlein (University of Wollongong) and Louise Curham (University of

Due: 28th August 2015

Proposals should consist of the following:

1. Completed session participation proposal form, or an email that provides the
required information.
2. An abstract of the proposed paper, of no more than 400 words.
3. A brief biographical statement outlining any institutional affiliation/s and area/s of

Review of Line Describing a Cone, 2005

A review of our Perth presentation of Line Describing a Cone, 2005.

Anne-Marie Archer – Line Describing a Cone (written 01 June 2005) at State of the Arts (now no longer online):

The idea of walking into a smoke filled room to be part of an event is quickly becoming a thing of the past. However, Anthony McCall’s Line Describing a Cone demands such an environment to truly appreciate the impact of his innovative work from the ’70s.

Entering the room was an unusual experience as the crowd disappeared beyond the fog and a single beam of projected light captured not only the attention, but also the fingertips and hands of the audience as they played with the medium.

The half hour evolution of the cone’s arc lit the faces of many Western Australian art identities and enthusiasts who had taken the opportunity to witness and engage in this three-dimensional, unique participant-driven experience.

Artist Lucas Ihlein, instrumental in the event and its delivery, described his passion for ‘Expanded Cinema’, designed to extend and expose the cinematic apparatuses to create a live experience for the audience.

Throughout the film, the crowd roamed around, within and into the projected physical space. Aside from fellow attendees, there were no images or theatrics to distract you from the raw and abstract understanding of cinematic projection. Yet there was still a climax in the film as the two streams of light drew closer to finally complete the cone.

The projector becomes the source, yet it was the audience’s management and manipulation of the projected light that was most fascinating and the Bakery Artrage Complex provided the ideal space to explore this light sculpture phenomenon from every vantage point.

Take advantage of the rare opportunity to see this work, as it evokes elements of your personality that respond to an external stimulus that is both inviting and memorable.

– Anne-Marie Archer

Review of Line Describing a Cone

The following review was originally posted on a blog called File Thirteen, back in 2001. We linked to it in 2005 when we organised our first Australian tour of Line Describing a Cone. The File Thirteen blog doesn’t seem to be online any more – the review is on the Internet Archive, but we’ll re-post it here for an extra backup, and because we think it’s a nice piece of writing.

Line Describing a Cone (1973)
Perhaps the most original performance art film ever created, Anthony McCall’s ground-breaking 1973 “Line Describing a Cone” can be summed up pretty basically. McCall uses a projector to create a light beam that runs through a space filled with smoke. His 30 minute film begins with solid black; soon a single point appears, causing a shaft of light to be emitted across the room. Finally, the dot builds, becoming a line, than an arc, then semi-circle, before finally being completed as a circle projected on a black. This process takes about 30 minutes. When finished, the light beam emitted from the projector, through the black film with circle drawn upon it, shown across a smokey room, appears to be in the shape of a cone with tip at projector’s lens and base at the wall on which the light beam is projected.

The curious thing about this film is that the audience is urge, in fact expected, to not simply sit and watch the film, but to move about the room (where there are no chairs) and inspect and play with the light beam. This becomes fascinating as the projected light beam can be interesting when viewed from different angles about the room. Also, the audience playing in the light beam can create myriad interesting visual images. It’s rather astounding for something so seemingly simplistic.

By creating a film, and determining the space and manner in which it should be projected, McCall creates a “performance film.” “Line Describing a Sphere” is perhaps the first (and only?) avant-garde “audience participation film” as well. Watching the film, in a pitch black space, one initially moves through the space with trepidation, afraid that they will run into another audience member. Recollections of bathhouses and adult book stores struck me in this early period of the film. But as the light beam projected grows and eyes become adjusted to the space, one begins to move more comfortably around the room and experiment with the context of the piece. The blackened room becomes a playground where our imaginations and creativity are allowed to flow. It is interesting to note that if this film was shown to children, they would play quite freely in the space and with the projected lights. But adults are far more restrained and aware of others’ “personal space.” We are curious yet cautious, experimental yet apprehensive. We don’t want to diminish the experience for the others in our “audience.” So, sadly, we don’t play as freely… at least initially.

But as the film unwinds during it’s 30 minute running, we become more free and more relaxed. Eventually, everyone begins to play in the light and often the experience of seeing someone else playing in the light is as amusing, interesting, and surprising as our own self-revelations. The audience becomes more than simply just a group of strangers. We become “audience” sharing an experience. Because the film is silent, we become more relaxed about speaking out or laughing or showing awe verbally while as a group. It becomes a heightened “shared” experience. It brings a sort of “togetherness” to the group. It’s very “70’s” and very communal.

“Line Describing a Cone” is beautiful in it’s simplicity. It’s amazing it took someone over 8 decades after film was invented to create such a piece. But the beauty of the film is it’s ability to incite imagination and curiosity and experimentation in a group of random viewers who all happen to be sharing the same cinematic and artistic experience.

This is as much a film as a statement on film. The piece shares many common bonds with more traditional films. It takes film to a more basic level where audience interacts more exactly with film. Like all film, it requires no live physical person to represent the film at it’s viewing (except perhaps, like all film, the projectionist). It requires only film, projector, projector operator and audience. And like all film, the audience often has shared reactions to the playing out of the film. There is shared moments of laughter, awe and interest, even if we are strangers at the event, even if we all arrive and depart separately, even if all of our perspectives are different.

And, after all, isn’t that one of the greatest magics film has to offer?

Line Describing a Cone – Projection Specifications

The following info is copied across from Canyon Cinema’s website:

Line Describing a Cone, Anthony McCall | 1973 | 30 minutes | B&W | SILENT
Rental Format(s): 16mm film, 24 fps

Note: Special projection requirements – see below.

Line describing a cone is what I term a solid light film. It is dealing with the projected light-beam itself, rather than treating the light-beam as a mere carrier of coded information, which is decoded when it strikes a flat surface (the screen).

The film exists only in the present: the moment of projection. It refers to nothing beyond this real time.

The form of attention required on the part of the viewer is unprecedented. No longer is one viewing position as good as any other. For this film every viewing position presents a different aspect. The viewer therefore has a participatory role in apprehending the event: he or she can – indeed needs to move around, relative to the emerging light-form.

“… Anthony McCall’s LINE DESCRIBING A CONE [is] a film which demanded to be looked at, not on the screen, but in the space of the auditorium. What was at issue was the establishment of a cone of light between the projector and the screen, out of what was initially one pencil-like beam of light. I consider it the most brilliant case of an observation on the essentially sculptural quality of every cinematic situation.” – P. Adams Sitney, Artforum

Please note: there is, obviously, especially for one-time showings, a certain necessary improvisatory spirit. So these specifications should be taken as guidelines rather than imperatives. However, I can say that the most successful showings that I have witnessed have been reasonably close to these recommended conditions.
-Anthony McCall

  1. That projector should be inside the viewing space, not inside a projection booth.
  2. The projection space should be entirely empty of chairs or other furniture.
  3. The projection space must be absolutely pitch-dark. Owing to the delicate nature of light, even a slight spillage of ambient light from poorly masked windows or doors can seriously affect the film’s visibility. A five or six-inch-wide strip of thin black card loosely looped over the top of the projector casing to minimize light spillage from the heat vents up onto the ceiling, can also help.
  4. Whenever possible, use a 16mm projector with a 350 watt Xenon lamp (and this would be essential for the longer projection throws). The Xenon lamp is significantly brighter than that of a standard projector.
  5. The projector should stand on a plinth of about 4-5′ in height (the ideal height would place the lens of the projector at approximately half the height of the projected image). [Metric: 1m – 1.5m]
  6. The ideal projection distance between projector lens and wall is between 30′ and 50′ feet. The ideal frame height at the wall is between 7′ and 11′ (ie giving an ideal ratio between beam length and frame height of between 4.5 and 5 to 1). The base of the frame should be about 1′ from the floor. [Metric: 9m – 17m throw, 2m – 3.5m frame height, 30cm from floor]
  7. The light of the beam is visible through its contact with tiny particles in the air, be they from dust, humidity or smoke. The most effective and controllable method of ensuring visibility is by hiring or borrowing a “Hazer”. These can usually be rented by the day from theatrical or lighting supply firms. See, for example, the Martin/Jem ZR24/7 Hazer. A Hazer fills the projection space with a safe, odorless haze similar in appearance to a sea mist, which is extremely effective in rendering the beam of light palpable and visible.