Afterglow time [1]

By Cédric Moris Kelly, in charge of documentary research at the Villa Arson (translation by Holy Dye).

Showing a way to indefinitely perceive the ephemeral, communicating a narrative and its image to outline a missing object of study without wearing it out. Allowing the public to discover a rare type of artwork because it has dissipated. The multi-media nature of the Web, its faceted mode of transmission, i.e. the unfurling of an ideal system of classification on a massive scale conceived by library scientist and mathematician Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan [2], are perhaps perfect grounds for the development of such a resource.

A performance is in perpetual mutation, from its conception to the memento it leaves behind, firstly depending on the very sense of the term performance but also depending on protagonists and witnesses whose memory and narratives are sometimes – must we always say – punctuated by complementary or contradictory information. It is the process of performance without judgment that we are launching today, Saturday, June 30th with the site performance-art.fr.

For five years now we have met all the actors of this artistic practice on the Côte d’Azur’s territory. All of them is perhaps not quite exact, for each encounter was an occasion to once again pull out our address book and jot down new names. Our approach thus took on an exponential aspect in potential encounters, in possible narratives of vanished works. Despite these five years of research, the work accomplished was gigantic albeit unfinished.

A priori this approach stands apart from missions of an art center without a vocation to build up cultural heritage. Herein, we have conducted an unconventional work by seeking to present an immaterial cultural heritage. This last point endows the project with an experimental nature, in line with the role of an art center. Likewise, this process of investigation led us to the discovery of unique practices, sometimes largely documented but often left to the wayside by art history.

These encounters have prompted us to gather documentary traces but also narratives. Many times, after discovering a box of slides from an artist’s basement or cupboard we witnessed living memory transforming our interlocutor into an inevitable user of hypotyposis, if not boastful. These recovered images were often the medium of vivid anecdotes at the crossroads of artistic commitment and the vicissitudes of daily life.

According to Jean Dupuy, Serge lll who hitchhiked with a piano on State Route 7 in 1969 could have moved from the roadside. Apparently a truck stopped offering to drive him to Paris but Serge lll was there for the photograph. The myth sometimes crumbles, testing our belief. Quite often it will be all the better for it, aggrandized, the beauty of the first heard narrative having won out.

Inversely, Pierre Pinoncelli, who many accused of having stopped at Villefranche-sur-Mer during his Nice-Peking bicycle trip, produced a certain quantity of documents attesting to the fact that his travels ended at the border of the Popular Republic of China. Which storyteller to believe? And finally is it truly important? It is perhaps in the folds of memory that the vanished work again becomes habitable, certainly in an entirely different form. Thus we must bring the trace back to its true place, desirable fragment of an unsolvable puzzle.

These converging views have often been left to us in writing. We have subjected the artists to a sober questionnaire, pertaining to all sorts of performances, allowing us to harvest factual data, to identify the extant documentary traces and outline the path taken by the work and its intention. They were free to complete it or not, using wisdom or excess.

We hope the open-endedness of our approach results in a participative Website [3] such as we have launched. than snuff out myths, we anticipate on the contrary that this tool will feed them. Hence, through such a means, we resolve the paradox of institutional documentation of a creative form set in motion in the 1950’s and 1960’s in place of an art of professionals and counter to the market. [4]. No testimony captured in the database, building the source of structured information for the database and on-line internet site has been modified after contradictory information collected. Our role is non-partisan, we simply relay, aiming for objectivity as much as possible.

Technologies emerging via the environment of Web production allow us to extend these ethics. By merging together multifarious traces in a same visual space, by opening up access according to all possible objective ontologies defined by our institutional research group [5], we hope we’ve discovered a degree of satisfactory abstraction in the conception of this database giving free reign to every measure of subjectivity.
Very concretely, from the start of the database the technological choice focused on the XML language. It is designed to be simple to handle for it follows a linear, hierarchical structure easy to conceptualize, (DTD [6]), it is optimally “serializable” according to needs or contrarily can shift to the relational in production phase. We determined the coherence of ontologies according to the XSL recommendations from the W3C, particularly XSLT and Xpath. Each tag or element of semantic identification allowing automatized processing is infinitely multipliable. A performance object, a.k.a. parent in a hierarchical view, can adopt as many documentary, factual or nominative objects required for child. [7]. This technical characteristic ensures a plurality of viewpoints.

In conception phase of a database around an open corpus in perpetual fulfillment, the ductility of an XML tree allowed continual adjustments until June 8th 2012 in order to find, in the simplest manner possible, the form of a receptacle adept at welcoming this mass of objects whose very nature is extremely heterogeneous. Once the configuration had been determined, we migrated towards a natively relational SQL database system. In the production phase, the latter allowed us to integrate the constraints of integrity necessary for completion of the base thanks to a multitude of contributors, and this, by taking into account all sorts of content therein. The inventory of potential content was made after examination of the 736 performances accessible on the Web today. We hope this is a prime representative sample of these artistic practices.

SQL hence allows us to launch a multi-user application: several queries can be effectuated at the same time on the database. This technological migration marks the shift from our institutional research group’s resources to the public sphere and a stabilization of the database’s schema.

In summary, we are planning to launch a collaborative platform intended for the publication of new content or an enrichment of the already existing in addition to the public’s appropriation of proposed content. From ephemeral art existing for and by the presence of the public and its interaction, inclusive of its subjectivity, we proffer a tool incorporating objectifiable traces now deferential to the website’s visitor and contributor subjectivity.

Occasionally, upon discovery of pieces documenting a performance which particularly incited our interest, the protagonists implicated in this story responded with a certain amount of amusement. The artists involved could never have imagined one day being questioned by an institution concerning a certain event, thereby making history with what they themselves considered a simple anecdote.

Our subject of study was always conceived with simplicity and removal, that is to say without any attempt to write an unequivocal panorama [8] through the embellishment of facts, but rather by delivering a story amongst many with the lightness of an afterglow image.

Cédric Moris Kelly

 

[1] - In Physics “partial persistence of a phenomena enduring after the disappearance of the cause which provoked it”, Trésor de la Langue Française, 1971-1994, 16 volumes.
In image technology endurance time measures a screen’s speed erasing images which have supposedly disappeared, it expresses itself in milliseconds.

[2] - The five laws of library science put forth by Ranganathan (“Books are for use, every reader his/her book, every book its reader, save the time of the reader, a library is a growing organism”) are easily adapted to the net. Their application also conveys the possibility of finding a same document according to all axes of classification imaginable. This is made possible when content is identically reproducible without material consequences.

[3] - Upon simple request the artists or witnesses of the performance may obtain reserved access to the site allowing them to edit the textual and documentary content.

[4] - See the manifesto by George Maciunas drawn up in 1963.

[5] - Title, sub-title, venue(s), date(s), context(s), length, type(s) of context, designing artist(s), performer(s), witness(es), anonymous protagonist(s).

[6] - “The purpose of a DTD (Document Type Definition) is to define the legal building blocks of an XML document. A DTD defines the document structure with a list of legal elements and attributes.” w3schools.com, DTD tutorial, <http://www.w3schools.com/dtd/default.asp>.

[7] - Anders Berglund, Scott Boag, Don Chamberlin, Mary F. Fernandez, Michael Kay, Jonathan Robie, Jérôme Simeon, XML Path Language (XPath) 2.0 (Second Edition), December 14th 2010, <http://www.w3.org/TR/xpath20>.

[8] - This assertion is undeniably commonplace given the stakes of research at hand, as the project progressed we were in contact with over a hundred protagonists of this story, performance artists or direct witnesses. First hand experience concerning narratives is a priceless experience.