Archive Materials Outside Archives

Archive Materials Outside Archives

Tea Kantoci

  Much has been said about the all-encompassing crisis that has left dire consequences on the cultural sector and will surely be felt in the years to come. However, precisely because it is still very much present, it needs to be rearticulated and new working models need to be sought, despite the crisis. For cultural workers in Zagreb/Croatia the past year (2020/2021) was definitely particular: in addition to the coronavirus pandemic, we were struck by earthquakes which closed down theatres, museums, galleries, cultural centres and other spaces inhabited by art. After the initial shock subsided and the buildings were inspected, we found ourselves in a situation that some important cultural and artistic venues became until further notice unavailable to their primary users and audience.

This situation has forced many to modify their projects and programmes and often reduce their presentation formats, especially regarding audience participation. In a short period of time life has moved to digital and virtual spaces which, in some cases, opened up new horizons and opportunities, but a very large number of art programmes experienced a discrepancy in matching with online presentation formats. These unsurmountable obstacles now seem to be left aside and, subsequently, forgotten as soon as the epidemiological restrictions have been relieved and life continued (at least to some extent) live. Still, the changed infrastructure has made work harder to many cultural workers, displaced them from their working spaces and showed that there would be no turning back. Collective experience generated new questions and reminded of the old ones, still unanswered.

As far as ANTISEZONA 21 event is concerned, the relocation from the currently unserviceable Gorgona Hall to other spaces of the Museum of Contemporary Art demanded demanded reprogramming and a consideration of issues reflecting the current state. In the first WHITE BOX SESSIONS block (22-24 April), the settings reverted to original and the programme, instead of the usual black theatre box, took place in empty spaces across the permanent exhibition which yet had to be marked. In the wake of the first block which focused on ongoing collaborations and multi/interdisciplinary approaches to work, the second block furcated under the title SATELLITE SESSIONS (23-25 May, 26 June, 3 July), “comprising works launched through space and time, distant, but closely bound by dynamic forces attracting them to orbit around one another” (from the programme booklet). The collaborative work model in this situation gains importance, either by being set as a (material) necessity, or as a preferred art practice, which is also evident on the broader social scene preoccupied by the revision and establishment of new collaborative principles. These trends are marvellously described by the author of the essay Fantastic Species, concluding that, finally, “mutual help is the auxiliary key principle of evolution”.

Designed as a series of gatherings in three different temporal (throughout May, June and July) and spatial (Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb Dance Centre and Cultural Center Travno) dimensions, the second block of ANTISEZONA 21 already partially occurred; the first satellites have already been launched. A capsule programme began with artist Sonja Pregrad and DISKOlektiv’s lab under the name of Archive as a Sensual/Experiential Object, focusing on the following questions: How can we (experientially) study, i.e. set in motion the notions of document, archive, performance? What is the mechanics, process or choreography of an archive? What can be a document? What (already) is an archive? The experience of taking part in a workshop and the ideas exchanged there blended into a filter through which I observed the rest of the programme. In my case it is the point of view of a museologist with a chronic curiosity for the act of archiving and musealisation, i.e. the conditions in which these processes take place. Therefore, to the questions raised at the lab I’d like to join a few of my own: can a performance become an object? What does the reification/objectification of a performance look like? What kind of object is this? How would we archive Fantastic Species by Ana Kreitmeyer and Contemporary Dance Studio? Is a conversation after the performance also a sort of archiving (in which existing knowledge and experience take shape as conclusions/information documented in an audio recording)? Are Hangover sessions in fact ephemeral, oral archives? The list continues. By including the film Amoroso (2014) in this block’s programme, in which Sabina Mikelić’s perspective takes us into the intimate process of work of Sonja Pregrad, pavleheidler and Silvia Marchig, viewers are tacitly invited to reflection. Analogously to the principle typical of archive practice, in the film the present invites the past to talk about the future. The following questions are being raised: What does it mean to observe a work made seven years ago, in a time when works and performances have no reruns? What can we conclude from the relationships stemming from this work? What can we build from it? Can we claim that film is an archive material outside an archive?

The times of crisis which comes suddenly and in which dance is not being performed before a live audience faced us with the question what is performance without contact with the audience. What happens when there is no live dance and there is no internet connection to connect us online? What is left? This unpleasant hypothesis steered me towards two notions – the now already obvious notion of archiving and the complementary notion of musealising. None of these two should be approached casually; although they assume simple, almost mechanical actions, both processes are in their essence political. This quality belongs to them because responding to the questions what, how, whose and under what conditions we archive/musealise inevitably establishes power relations, especially in the context of institutions. In other words, the choice of who or what has the right to be archived/musealised and whose work will remain recorded, kept or presented in institutions is based on criteria beyond quality and representativeness, as well.

The need and possibility of archiving contemporary dance is so far discussed and acted on within the boundaries of individual efforts or on margins of independent culture which doesn’t have resources for systematic and active archiving. The idea of performance archives has existed for years now and has been communicated through panels, presentations, texts, magazines, works of art and other formats.

As part of Croatian Dancers Association’s advocacy project Autonomy to Dance 007-017 Iva Nerina Sibila, Selma Banich and Sandra Banić Naumovski focused on collecting individual memories from the history of contemporary dance scene. One specific trait of this project was its bottom-up approach which opened up a space for representation of individual expressions chosen according to the participants’ personal criteria, which then became an equal component of the collective past. IInterpreting the history of dance in Croatia in the 20th century and its prominent figures, Maja Đurinović publishes works functioning as archives in motion, browsable at any given moment, either physically or online. The website or Movements dance magazine, whose first issue was published in 2002, also act as databases containing information about current trends on the dance scene, performances, artists, programmes and projects. Katja Šimunić and Ivana Slunjski in their considerations strive to integrate dance and institutional practices, so a few years ago they proposed for the establishment of the Institute for Dance Research and Archiving, which would act as a theoretical and archival backbone for dance art. As part of the llinkt! dance project in 2007, Katja Šimunić set up a Temporary Museum of Dance Memories, which exhibited objects, installations and performances by dance artists and other authors, related to memories of their performances. An example par excellence in which an individual initiative (impulse) was transformed into an institutional one is the archival practice of Rok Vevar who established the Temporary Slovene Dance Archive in 2012. Vevar had been building a private archive in his own home, which would be open to public two days a week and instead of a membership fee he asked for the used materials to be digitised. Six years after its establishment the archive was merged with the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova in Ljubljana, where people can visit it and witness the living process of archiving performed by Vevar. This particular example indicates that there are many personal, invisible archives in the making, built by artists themselves. Other participants in the community, i.e. audience, also take part in archiving, by taking photographs of the performance and sharing them, and by collecting informational materials such as brochures. This might be the first step towards a common archive which should definitely not be the sole care of an individual. Without serious institutional infrastructure and constantly demanded support, neither dance nor archiving are sustainable.

On a conceptual level, archiving contemporary dance can be very exciting because it potentially takes place on several levels. The first level is in line with what Archive as a Sensual/Experiential Object laboratory dealt. The starting point here is physical – the archive is in the body, the archive is embodied, comprised of previous experiences stored inside the body. Such archive needs to be constantly performed, and the data is constantly changed and upgraded. The next stage or dance archiving is extracorporeal, and it can be approached by applying the ethnographic method of breaking down a performance into units such as choreography, costumes, set design, sound and lighting, which are then listed, described and documented (photography, video and/or audio). This way is the closest to the established archiving practices in institutions, and it can be presented in a physical or digital form. The third archiving stage is post-physical, it includes new media as mediators and exists in a simulacrum (VR, AR). Because of the seemingly elusive nature of contemporary dance, the consensus regarding the optimal archiving method doesn’t exist because each of the ways has its limitations. This doesn’t mean we should seek the ‘correct’ archiving method or that there even is such in the first place. In addition to making it possible to safekeep and accumulate information from the domain of contemporary dance, the key definition of archiving is to underline the interpretation of existing and production of new knowledge and art practices.

Identifying and articulating collective or individual (cultural) identities in an unstable society is the essence of the urge to archive and musealise. The formulation of musealisations (term 1) of contemporary dance (term 2) are not comprised of opposite terms, as it might seem at first glance, but they do need to be reconciled to a certain extent. Musealisation is in its essence a displacement of work/object from the context it was made in or which is functionally intended for it into a museum or a heritage context. This process also assumes a semantic change in terms of communication, interpretation and presentation conducted by a curator. Depending on the type of work/object, the displacement can be simple since individual works are made with a museum as the end goal in mind. However, when it comes to dance, performance, or other sorts of ‘live’ art, a certain compromise must take place because in this transmission the original format of the musealised work is changed. Unlike a painting or a sculpture which will probably remain unchanged in their essence or reception when they enter an institution, performance art enters an institution in its non-original form. Given the fact that it cannot be performed ad infinitum, what enters an institution is documentation (audio, video, photo or other materials) and objects used in the performance (costumes, props). The performance no longer takes place live, there is no immediate contact with the audience, but rather one-way communication via a screen, with the performer and the observer in different temporal and spatial dimensions. This brings me back to the question how we want to archive contemporary dance, how we objectify it and which object can represent it, if such an object should even exist. Certainly, all these are questions to be raised not only in the field of independent culture, but also inside the institutional framework. Asking questions about the musealisation of dance and possible conceptual uncertainties regarding the conditions within that process points to the crucial limitation: the fact that no museum collection in Zagreb focuses on collecting and interpreting contemporary dance. Besides, there is a disconnection between artists/performers and the museum profession which is mostly caused by the latter’s lack of interest in dance. Can we expect a paradigmatic correction to the benefit of all the stakeholders?

Clearly, a reference point in the existing or a newly established institution would encourage the affirmation of performing arts, especially contemporary dance, in the broader social sense. A model for imagining such a place could be the former Museum of Dance (Musée de la danse) by Boris Charmatz, today Terrain, which exists as a physical place (Rennes, France), but also as a concept. This is a hybrid in which museum activity (conservation, collection, interpretation and presentation) and production of dance art coexist. It is the interdisciplinary approach, which respects the needs of both dance and museum profession, that should be a backbone of such a place. Connecting professions in a physical and symbolic space, and not their separation, should result in empowering the community members.

The idea of this text was to synthesise different information and trends regarding the dance community and shaping them into proposals for integration of different art practices and organisational memory into institutional frameworks. However, this synthesis also generated many questions addressed to a broader cultural community and government structures funding it. In that regard, perhaps the key is in changing the perspective to a crisis roaring on all the levels of our reality. So in addition to stimulating a discussion on the ‘cramped’ situation that has befallen our scene, we might decide to challenge the transformative potential of the crisis which exists in the processes of archiving and musealising dance, and whose establishment in appropriate places would pledge a better future.

TRANSLATION: Ivana Ostojčić


Tea Kantoci works as a curator and project manager. She graduated Museology and Heritage Management (FFZG), Theory and Culture of Fashion (TTF) and Journalism (FPZG) in Zagreb. She is a member of several museum associations.