Performance Research

Tabitha Dattinger and Astrid Sodomka, Nähen, 2015, performance Kunstraum Niederoesterreich. photo: - Lorenz Seidler


Can performance art be archived?

A research project by Marlies Surtmann in collaboration with Kunstraum Niederoesterreich

Benefactors: Centre for Museum Collections Management (Danube University Krems), Niederösterreichische Forschungs- und Bildungsges.m.b.H. (NFB)


What is an archive? A collection of historical documents? A place? A form of encounter? An accelerator of past particles? A storyteller?

(Eleonora Fabião, Performing Feminist Archives, in re.act feminism #2, 2014, Nuremberg/London)


Performance art is a relatively recent art form; it enjoys a special (reciprocal) relationship with its material manifestation and therefore with the way in which it is retold and archived. Within the prevailing knowledge system and the logic of the archive this art form by the very nature of its fleetingness and intangibility needs to be transferred to a material trace, a medium, a document, so it can be passed on and handed down. But is it not conceivable to think of archives in a way that is different from their significance as text- and image-based collections of knowledge? As a ‘form of encounter’, a source of narratives, a repository not just for knowledge itself but also for passing on and exchanging that knowledge?


In her dissertation project entitled Archiv für Performancekunst? Über die Archivierung, Tradierung und Vermittlung einer Kunstform in Bewegung [An Archive for Performance Art? On the Archiving, Handing Down and Mediation of an Art Form in Motion] Marlies Surtmann asks whether it is possible and sufficient to archive and preserve performance art in writing, images and objects or whether an art form that revolves around the physical presence of the human body does not also need performative and artistic methods for it to be handed down. Building on the research findings of performance studies, media studies and archival sciences, the studies carried out as part of the dissertation project are to focus precisely on the passing on of performative artistic practices. The aim is to come up with a concept for a performance archive and to incorporate the documentation inventories of the Kunstraum Niederoesterreich into the State Collections of Lower Austria. As part of the concept the archive is looking to transfer its archival material to both the exhibition space and a lively discourse and, as a result, promote the research, tradition and mediation of performance art.

The current performance inventory at Kunstraum Niederoesterreich stems from its intensive involvement with performance art for more than ten years and focuses on young, contemporary approaches to performance art. Besides hundreds of photo and video documentation material from performance projects organised in the past, an extensive collection of submitted concept proposals and portfolios was compiled for the H13 Performance Prize, the only prize of its kind in Austria for performance art, awarded annually since 2007. The joint venture with Kunstraum Niederoesterreich has enabled Marlies Surtmann to draw on a rich collection of documentation material for her research work, featuring contemporary performance art and providing a sound basis for fundamental research on the archival of this art form. The project is funded by the Centre for Museum Collections Management at the Danube University Krems and a dissertation grant from the NFB Science Call. The dissertation is supervised by Prof. Dr  Elisabeth von Samsonow at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.

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