Rebecca Schneider, “Performing Remains” (Performance Research 2014)
“Archivists Mary Edsall and Catherine Johnson described the problems of preserving performance, declaring that the practices of body to body transmission’, such as dance and gesture, meant that ‘you lose a lot of history’. Such statements assume that memory cannot be housed in a body and remain, and thus that oral storytelling, live recitation, repeated gesture, and ritual enactment are not practices of telling or writing history. Such practices disappear.” 101
It was at this moment that I finally understood why performance is so hard to preserve. Performance is so focused on the body and space, transmitting ideas from one body to another; whereas, archivists tend to preserve ideas and objects because it is a feasible process. With writing, the ideas are preserved in text and transmitted from body to text to body, written on manuscripts that can be preserved forever and be referred to as historical.
“The archive is habitual to western culture. We understand ourselves relative to the remains we accumulate, the tracks we house, mark, and cite, the material traces we acknowledge.” 100
This is something that has made me curious now for some time. Why do we archive things? Why collect objects and marks of things from the past? Who found value in hoarding old things that we now consider as historical knowledge?
Nicholas Birns, “Ritualizing the Past: Ralph-Lemon’s Counter-Memorials” (PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 2005)
“Yet Lemon’s improvisational memorial seems more powerful in emotional terms, even though now any trace of it ever happening is gone from the site. Like the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site in Duluth is now an uninflected, neutralized public space. But neutrality means neither unanimity nor transcendence. The vacancy of the present does not mean America has recovered from its past.” 21
Birns made me think of how memorials have the ability to archive history. Since performances pass and eventually disappear, in this case, powerful events that fueled the civil rights movement, memorials are set in place to immortalize the history of events that have occurred at historic sites. Without having memorials to document history, these sites will not hold the same historical importance.
“Lemon seeks to ritualize the past, but not to monumentalize it. America is a society without any palpable relation to history, a society particularly ahistorical when it assumes it is ultra-historical. The ultra-historicism of official memorials makes us think the past is finished, when we still have the power to construct it.” 22
What is the difference between ritualization of the past and of the monumentalization in a society that believes the past is terminal and disconnected to the world today?