This article considers archival performances rather than archives as places or repositories. This is done by expanding reflections on affect and by framing three specific archival performance practices: re-enactment, affective doubling, and surrogacy. The topic of The New Human is approached through the complex materiality of contemporary memory practices.
Listen to this:
The short piece of music you (may) have just listened to is composed by Max Richter. It is a track called “Lines on a Page (One Hundred Violins)” from his Memory House cd (2003). Music and a range of bodily practices are central to my processes of reflecting on presence, memory and archives, and this cd in particular has been a sort of companion. This track offers a slipping in and out of phases, a sliding across registers, and the scratchy voice just beneath the instruments provides words you cannot quite hear: a body that is present but not quite legible. A body that exists in a state of potentiality.
Memory practices are shared, they are informed by the digital even when not in digital format, they are shaped by a sense of data excess and data vulnerability. Understanding the complex materiality of contemporary memory practices can be helped by looking not just to how we remember but to what sort of corporeality shapes memory. Deepening a Spinozan approach to bodies, or at least Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza, was my first step to reflecting on the affective and re-enactive aspects of memory.
“1. A body is a relation of speeds and slowness, motion and rest.”
“2. A body affects and is affected.”
“3. A body in relation with other bodies experiences composition and decomposition.”
All of these bodily qualities reflect the relationality and motion of existence, the ‘never-fully-formed’ state of bodies, which is to say their potentiality. The first one [speed and slowness] is the most overtly kinetic or, as I see it, rhythmic. It is possible to detect speed and slowness in the motion of bodies of all sorts — even parts of bodies — and identity a rhythmic component: fast, slow, syncopated, attenuated. Even stillness has a speed. This can be equated to a sort of musicality in the motion of bodies and parts of bodies. For example, as I write my fingers move rapidly across the keyboard, my foot taps in short bursts, my thought processes move more slowly or jump backwards and forwards, I hold my breath, my computer operating system updates and networked automated functions occur according to different timings, and I am in the midst of a myriad of social choreographies around me.
The second [affecting and being affected] is the dynamic mode, and is prevalent in many considerations of affect at present. (Massumi, Stewart, Illouz, Clough, McCormack). In short, I shape events, people and things in the world, and they shape me. It relates to the resonant qualities of all bodies, the perpetual dynamic exchange of initiating and responding, from the micro to the systemic. It is significant for levelling the power relations between self and other, for providing a way to explain how we are affected by non-human actors and in turn affect them profoundly, for permitting more than a rationalist account of a range of systemic exchanges.
And the third one [composition and decomposition] relates to extensions and reconfigurations, also to cycles of life and death, renewal and obsolescence. It is Spinoza’s way of locating joy and sadness, of building an ethics where the qualitative modes of existence as “good-bad” in terms of either increasing or diminishing vitality replaces transcendent categories of “good-evil.” From the perspective of performance it is impossible to avoid noticing the word composition, already resonant with music and a close companion to choreography.
Simply put, a body is not a fixed thing. It is not a bounded thing. It is not an isolated thing. It is mutable. It extends to include organic and inorganic intensities. It is fundamentally in a state of exchange, negotiation or reconfiguration. It exists in a state of potential. “A body can be anything; it can be an animal, a body of sounds, a mind or an idea; it can be a linguistic corpus, a social body, a collectivity” (Deleuze 1988, 127)
With relevance to archival performances: bodies slide across registers, where the word ‘register’ points to perception, meaning and recording.
For years when I discussed bodies and technologies I felt the need to offer a reminder that a body can be digital, but it is not necessary to say this anymore. Databodies and physical-technological assemblages are ubiquitous. More relevant to reflecting on archives and memory is the thought that bodies can be no longer living, they can exist in memories, imagination, or traces of all sorts. They can be perpetually in process of being constructed and disintegrating. Or as Temi Odumosu points out, remembering and dismembering. Archives are not closed or contained, in this sense they offer another example of what it means to exist in a state of potentiality: open to future re-collection, re-inscription, re-enactment.
The dimension of ‘no media’ within lives saturated by ‘new media’ has never been more significant. Without needing to evoke a luddite duality between embracing or rejecting technologies, the degrees of presence of technologies in our lives are like gradations or colourings, constituting affective tone of each day and shaped by micro-practices. Critical reflection becomes more important than ever in what has been called a “post-digital” period, not in the sense that we are so over the digital, and are rewinding to a nostalgic pre-digital state, but because we are now dealing with the “messy condition of art and media after digital technology revolutions” (Cramer 2014).
Whether or not we have already experienced peak digital transformations cannot be said, but without a doubt we are mopping up after shifts that have already happened and are still breaking over us in the form of Big Data. Florian Cramer writes, “Post-Digital thus refers to a state where change through digital information technology has already become clear and apparent,” it reveals the absence of critique that surrounded the term “new media” (Cramer 2014). I appreciate the simple, but significant, implications of this argument: once it is no longer helpful to articulate constantly the presence or pervasiveness of the digital or the new, the task becomes one of developing ever-more refined capacities for critical reflection. In other words, get over the gloss of the new or utopian anticipation for what is about to arrive, and start critiquing what is actually here. For example, the presence of adverts at the start of each youtube video of the music you listen to as you read this article can be questioned rather than simply ignored: What does it mean for the massive contemporary archive that is youtube to be imprinted by advertising? How can we disregard the stark affective disjunction between the tone and motivation of the advert and those of the music? Critical mistrust of products, systems and ‘solutions’ with their marketing rhetoric and political undercurrents can lead, unless we are sapped of all energy and agency, to a new set of practices emerging from a shift in attitude.
Archival loss and data excess
This article constructs an argument that three seemingly disjunctive practices — re-enactment, affective doubling and surrogacy — are archival performances. Further context is useful because these are not ahistorical philosophical experiments, they are grounded in specific contemporary conditions of both the loss and excess of the post-digital: the schizophrenic cultural reality of living with simultaneous data excess and archival loss.
Digitizing does not guarantee longevity. Far from it. Obsessive chronicling in digital format and pumping this data into the cloud does not constitute preservation or protection from loss. We have been warned that our current time could become, archivally speaking, the lost century.
“We are nonchalantly throwing all of our data into what could become an information black hole without realising it. We digitise things because we think we will preserve them, but what we don’t understand is that unless we take other steps, those digital versions may not be any better, and may even be worse, than the artefacts that we digitised”
These are the words of Vint Cerf, a Vice President of Google (cited in Sample 2015). His argument is based on the loss of hardware and platforms capable of reading and accessing our data in the future, but his alarmism can be viewed through his corporate affiliation with Google as an encouragement to all to get off external or platform specific storage devices and upload everything to the cloud — opening a different set of questions relating to control, access and ownership over time. It is also worth questioning who the “we” are when he states the “we will lose our history” bearing in mind that many millions of people never have and never will make it into archival records.
Compounding the problem, Cerf sticks with a narrowly material argument, concerned with the hardware and software rather than the wider cultural bodies that enter into relation with the tech industry, contributing to rippling webs of corporate and corporeal vitality or loss of vitality. For instance, the legal permissions to copy, store and access both software and data is a shifting terrain. “When IT companies go out of business, or stop supporting their products, they may sell the rights on, making it a nightmarish task to get approval” (Sample 2015).
From personal research experience I know the sense of shock and vulnerability when data from an art project lodged on the servers of a small but friendly start-up become absorbed into the capital of that company, making it a desirable target for buy-out by a large multinational corporation. The data does not need to suffer bit-rot for it to be lost, locked, or compromised. (And we do not need to digitise in order to record … but I’ll get to that in a moment after a few words on data excess, the downside of data loss.)
Contra, but simultaneous to, the fear and reality of archival loss is data excess. Excess not just in personal life documentation processes and in the lack of editing on all levels that characterizes data accumulation practices but in the passivity of being archived. Big data, the Internet of things and surveillance systems take the archival agency out of our hands and create de facto cultural public memory practices that “capture it all,” while withholding knowledge of the scale and scope of the capture and storage (Kozel 2016).
Excess and loss converge in Shoshana Zuboff’s analysis of “surveillance capitalism” which is based on a logic of unfettered accumulation of data for commodification and monetization.
“Google and other actors learned to obscure their operations, choosing to invade undefended individual and social territory until opposition is encountered, at which point they can use their substantial resources to defend at low cost what has already been taken.” (Zuboff 2015, 85)
Along with contributing a way of understanding the post-digital, Florian Cramer echoes the characterisation of digital culture offered by the open document on Alternatives to the Singularity as the “crapularity”. The crapularity refers to the wild replication of data, of which “90% is rubbish” and over which we have little or no control (Open document on Alternatives to the Singularity, 2011) The crapularity refers to a state of techno-culture, with little or no choice of opting out, and little sign that it will slow the production of
“crap analytics, crap results and crappy technology, keeping culture and society in a state of permanent system updates, error messages and software dependency hells where doors stop working because their remote control apps are no longer being maintained and where two bugs are fixed by introducing ten new ones” (Cramer 2016, 21)
The implications for archiving are distinct: squeezed in two directions from fear of data loss and concern for contributing to data flux that is at best meaningless or at worst integrated into systems and analytics for control and tracking.
Archiving implies a sequence of events: live event, recording, placing in an archive, systematised storage, taking out of an archive, distributing or sharing, and often re-archiving (either the same object or a changed version). Archiving also implies what is not archived, the anarchive. Bodies can be seen to facilitate each part of the sequence.
In the field of performance studies there is a strong claim by Philip Auslander (1999) that liveness is an invention of technological reproduction. The live is immediate and transitory but is in a mutually defined relationship with the mediated (recorded). His stance is a response to influential arguments from the 1990s asserting that live performance is essentially transitory, ephemeral, fleeting, disappearing. The argument for the ephemerality of performance continues to be seductive, pointing to the fragility of all living things and invested in the immaterial dimensions of live presence. The never-to-be-repeated quality of an event has a strong affective pull, heavily coloured by nostalgia (“you had to be there”).
Rebecca Schneider’s valuable work on re-enactment points out that these competing stances (one invested in the preservation offered by media, the other in the ephemerality and unrepeatability of live performance) have a shared assumption: the live body does not record. However, as Schneider explains, the live is a record of what has past. Bodies record. They are archives — but not in the sense of organized repositories. Inconsistencies, lapses, inventions and re-creations are part of re-enactment.
“To consider the live a record of precedent material flips on its head the supposition that the live is that which requires recording to remain” (Rebecca Schneider 2011, 90)
Saying that the body records is not the same as arguing for a pure stratum of bodily memory in opposition to digital recording. Memory practices, like neural plasticity, are changing with the perpetual use of technologies but certain registers of archiving — digital and analogue — will always remain pre-reflective, latent, ambiguous — always in a state of becoming. Potential.
Here some of this latency is brought to life by 2 examples of re-enactments.
Joan Laage “Earth Tomes”
The 2016 butoh performance by Joan Laage was a re-enactment of Earth Tomes, first devised and performed for the Living Archives Somatic Archiving Symposium in 2015. The music changed, the location changed (from a very cold outdoor greenhouse in Slottsparken in central Malmö to a black box theatre at the Inter Arts Centre) but the basic choreographic structure stayed the same. Joan performed both pieces. Her body recollected the previous performance, but it was not identical. A video document of the previous piece was projected onto the wall adjacent to her performance in the subsequent year opening the present into the past. In a way consistent with much dance and theatre performance integrating live performers with recorded visual material over past decades, this revealed that the body records and the media performs. But more than a juxtaposition between live and mediated it became a play of memory and re-enactment, not just for the dancer’s body but the bodies of the audience: many present in 2016 had attended the performance in 2015. There was an affective residue from the previous year, but at the same time as recollecting the past there was a sense of incompleteness, of potential, in the slowly shifting movement of the moment.
the body records // the media performs
The second example of re-enactment comes from a period of collaboration with Haris Pelapaissiotis, a researcher and artist living in Cyprus. For several years Pelapaissiotis has been developing processes of affective mapping. It is an artistic project on walking. He selects people with insider/outsider status in relation to Cyprus (including having lived there, being forced to leave, returning physically or in imaginary states), and invites them to select a walking journey within the city or its outskirts. The location has personal resonance for the participating walker. Subsequent to the walks each person offers some form of artistic ‘residue’: sometimes visual but more often in written form.
Cyprus is currently still a politically and culturally divided island — between Turkish and Greek Cyprus — and Nicosia is a divided city, complete with walls, no man’s lands and checkpoints. Some families were forced to leave, some chose to leave, others wishing to leave were forced by circumstance to remain. All on an Island 240km long and 100km wide in the Eastern Basin of the Mediterranean Sea.
Pelapaissiotis invited me to be a visiting researcher exploring affective mapping, but my role shifted into one of re-enactment for the simple reason that I had no prior relation with Cyprus. But I do have my own experiences of insider/outsider-ness, my own forced and voluntary diasporatic trajectories in personal and familial histories. Frank Chouraqui, a philosopher, wrote a text following his walk. I visited the location that inspired his text, I re-walked his walk with Pelapaissiotis, but my re-enactment was to read and record his text, not to perform his steps.
Re-Enactment 1: Frank
If you perform my archive, what remains?
Am I the affective remainder or are you?
Listen to approximately 2 minutes of this:
This is Hildur Gudnadottir’s piece called ‘Reflections’ on her Mount A cd (2010). In this composition sound doubles back on itself, small cycles become prominent and then fade, only to return again. This doubling generates an affective tone that is uncertain or unstable, despite the repeating musical structure.
A consideration of affective doubling as a form of re-enactment requires an understanding of affect, one of the most intriguing, ubiquitous and elusive concepts of our intellectual climate. It is very much of the post-human era, and is so very hard to define because much of affect exists at the edges of language and reflection.
Affect accounts for the push and pull of the wide spectrum of intensities that we experience as physical beings. Often reduced to emotions, affects are more than one person’s feelings. Affects encompass a range of materialities, endogenous and exogeneous to one’s corporeal being. Affects exist in fields. They exist in part as potential, and are always in exchange. Affect radiates across climate and built environment, anticipation and memory, somatic states and inorganic matter. Affect decomposes the distinction between the digital and the analogue.
This transition from re-enactment to affective doubling has to be done concisely, so I have decided to do it as a choreographer, initiating a dance between Kathleen Stewart and Brian Massumi.
I will set the ethnographer (Stewart) and the philosopher (Massumi) in motion to open space for my own interpretation of affective doubling. This first step to understand affective doubling practically, through performance, has a goal of tying it quite closely to re-enactment but seeing if affective doubling might provide space for more ambiguity than re-enactment. Can one person’s affective qualities (and this person might be deceased) be doubled and performed by another?
Stewart (2007) combines ethnography with affect: she pays attention to pressure points, densities, … to what she calls jumpy attunements. She wants “to delay the leap to representational thinking” or evaluation. She reads affective trajectories in ordinary life. Massumi’s detailed philosophical account of affect expands Deleuze and Spinoza into an emergent politics of affect (2015). At present, he is one of the most influential philosophers of affect.
[ Stewart ]“Ordinary affects give circuits
and flows to the forms of a life.They can be experienced as a
or a shock, as an empty pause or a
dragging undertow, as a sensibility
That snaps into place or a profound
[ Massumi ]“every affect is a doubling.
The experience of a change,
an affecting-being affected,
is redoubled by an experience
of the experience.”
[ Stewart ]“They can be funny, perturbing,
[ Massumi ]“Affective doubling gives
The body’s movements a
kind of depth that stays
with it across all its transitions
– accumulating in memory, in habit,
in reflex, in desire, in tendency”
[ Stewart ]“Rooted not in fixed conditions of
possibility but in the
actual lines of potential”
[ Massumi ]“Affect as a whole, then,
is the virtual co-presence
[ Stewart ]“Affects pick up density and texture
as they move through bodies,
dreams, dramas and
social worldings of all kinds.”
[ Massumi ]“always entirely embodied, …
never entirely personal
that’s just a way of saying
it’s not just about us,
in isolation.”“In affect, we are never alone”
My second re-enactment for Pelapaissiotis’s Affective Mapping project is a re-enactment based on affective doubling: it reveals how affect can be set in motion as an artistic strategy, but sometimes it overtakes us. Hijacks us. This is what happened with me when I met with Yael Navarro, an anthropologist and also one of the contributing artists.
Yael took me on a walk through her Nicosia — in particular the abandoned dwellings proximate to the dividing wall.
Oddly, the intensity of the abandoned buildings did not create affective pressure points or density for me, her gestures did.
I absorbed Yael’s gestures. Not intentionally, this just happened over the course of a conversation in a café about her life in Nicosia. Her life is one of divisions and borders, navigating a divided city on a daily basis, attempting to repair a divided life. Her description was raw not merely because of traumatic events but due to her gestural vocabulary that maintained a vital and persistent counterpoint to her words: her arms, torso and legs were active, even while sitting, as she described her life and sketched her potential contribution to Pelapaissiotis’s project. I noticed diagonal slashing gestures (across the heart, from shoulder to hip, arm out with a bodily torque) and a particularly striking gesture to exemplify dismemberment (arm up, dislocated from leg). The slashing intensity made its way to my hastily scrawled notes.
By setting in motion some of the affective potential offered by Yael’s gestures I was struck by the ethical tensions latent to re-enacting another’s movements: ethics in relation to her but to myself too.
Re-enacting: but these are not my gestures.
My heart hurt.
This affect is shared but it is not mine. I have a choice to hold it or to perform it.
Performance is transmutation as well as surrogacy.
How not to get stuck reliving the pain of others?
As I began to experiment with performing my recollection of Yael’s gestures, the process integrated Yael’s and my bodies in a way that went beyond re-enactment. Affective doubling made sense for me because it accounted for both the philosophical and the performative dimensions of the way I could hold gestures that were not my own, along with their affective charge. It explained how could I be aware of performing the gestures of another but acknowledge that my heart hurt with the affective residue. I understood on a physical and phenomenological level what Massumi means when he said “affective doubling gives the body’s movements a kind of depth that stays with it across all its transitions,” (Massumi 1995, 4) in this case the transitions spanned bodies. I did not want to get stuck reliving the pain of another, but I wanted to give this archival ‘material’ the care and attention it deserved without simply appropriating it. In the short clip below of my re-enacting Yael’s gestures Jeannette Ginslov enters into the doubling of affect with her video editing, the affective exchange travelled further across bodies and media.
Re-Enactment 2: Yael
Bodies increase and decrease in vitality, by what happens in this very moment, by what has happened, and by what is anticipated or feared by groupings or clusters of bodies. In this sense the body is an archive. An archive of affect that does not just faithfully accumulate and register stories from the past but doubles back and forward on these stories, recompiling them in the present, and letting them move on, either flinging us or dragging us — fast-forward or slow-forward — into the future. And yes, I am alternating between the singular form (body) and plural form (bodies) because once we consider surrogacy the singular is already plural, and the body as refigured early in this article is non-bounded and dynamic.
I draw the concept of surrogacy from Joseph Roach, a historian of theatre, who frames performance as a matter of surrogation (Roach 1996): as one thing or one person standing in for another.
“Culture reproduces and re-creates itself by surrogation”
Surrogation can never be exact. The process of substitution cannot fulfil expectations. In terms resonant with affect the process of surrogation creates a remainder or a surplus. Schneider, anchoring this contentious cultural process in the field of re-enactment, rearticulates her argument that performance does NOT disappear: “it moves, steps, shifts, jumps across bodies, objects, cultures,” and I would add, performance uses technologies at the same time as having scope to critique techno-culture.
The ethical stakes of re-enactment, which increased through the consideration of affective doubling, climb yet further with surrogation — and this is not even taking into account the most commonly understood meaning of surrogacy which relates to one woman having another’s child. So I now circumnavigate carefully an example of surrogation, in part because this comes from research directed by another (Temi Odumosu) that has not quite reached the publication stage, and in part because visual reproduction needs to be handled carefully with sensitive archival material.
The context for performative experiments leading to surrogation, where one body stands in for another, was the Living Archives project’s contribution to the AHA Festival on Art and Science in 2015. Curated by Anna Maria Orru at Chalmer’s University in Gothenburg, our group’s artistic contribution was to provide a space for re-enactments. We bracketed a period of 24 hours for 7 researchers to enter a period of re-enactment, enclosing ourselves in a studio, following the temporal cycle of a full day, and attending to the somatic shifts that occurred as day gave way to night, night deepened, and then lightened. Each researcher worked with specific archival material, and small groups formed for collaborative performances. What I discuss here was a small collaboration, occurring from approximately ten o’clock at night until one in the morning. These experiments are based on research by Odumosu (in collaboration with Maria Engberg) into colonial representation and emerging practices of decolonisation. Various photographs from Danish archives depicting African and Caribbean people dating from the early 1900s became starting points. One in particular from approximately 1905 is of a woman who remains nameless in the official records. She stands in town of St. Croix of Danish Virgin Islands outside a low dwelling, wearing a long full skirt and balancing a bottle on her head. In the background is a chicken and a little boy runs past, in motion and partially blurred.
Re-Enactment 3: Temi
This short recording is a description of a video, that recorded a live performance experiment, that integrated an archival photograph of a woman from 1905. There are repeated transpositions (audio, video, live performance, photograph) which can be seen as successive surrogations where one form stands in for another. The performance described is itself a surrogation: where Temi stood in for and with the woman in the photograph, giving her agency and the ability to come to life within the photographic moment, eventually walking out of the frame.
Each archival performance described above (the ones I simply called re-enactments, the one that began to give performative materiality to the philosophical concept of affective doubling, and the one enacting layers of surrogation) does not claim to be “new”. This reflects Roach’s caution that newness “enacts a kind of surrogation, but it also conceptually erases indigenous populations” or, I would say, prior performances (Roach 1996, 4). This is a warning of the first worldness of the construction of the new with particular meaning when considering the formulation of The New Human, the name of the conference that prompted these reflections. Yet at the same time there is a reason for optimism, for “critical genealogies” may excavate the past, but they are “useful for conceiving alternatives to our present condition” (ibid., 24). And these critical genealogies can take the form of archival performances. Despite only just beginning to explore surrogation and its potential, it is already clear that there is an unfinished quality to these transpositions. As Massumi says, “the processes are larger than ourselves.”
And if you feel like it, listen to as much as you like of this:
This is the Kronos Quartet playing their version of Sigur Ros’s ”Flugufrelsarinn” which they call simply Kronos Version (2007).
The musical metaphor is present in Deleuze’s writing: bodies and communities exist in states of composition and decomposition, not point and counterpoint but more akin to what I have called sliding across registers. With relevance to re-enactments, he writes
“one never commences; one never has a tabula rasa; one slips in, enters in the middle; one takes up or lays down rhythms”
In other words,
all bodies are archives of our own experiences and those of others
As such the potential pathos of the realisation that “In the end, one is unable, even to encounter oneself” (Deleuze writing on Spinoza, 23) can be affectively re-inscribed as our having the assistance of others as they re-enact our performances and we theirs. The question remains, what will we do with this responsibility?
Jeannette Ginslow, Joan Laage, Haris Pelapaissiotis, Yael Navarro, Frank Chouraqui, Temi Odumosu, Maria Engberg, and Christian Skovbjerg Jensen of Inter Arts Centre. (Re-enactments are collaborations.)
About the author
Susan Kozel is a professor and a dancer focussing on the convergence between between bodies and digital technologies.
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