This guest post by Big Red & Shiny editor Leah Triplett Harrington is the fourth and final essay in our collaboration with Big Red & Shiny and Alter Projects exploring topics of socially engaged artworks, who they are for, how to assess them, and now, methods of documentation.
The question of documentation is rooted in the history of the avant-garde. Think of Dadaist or Surrealists recording their work via sound or the nascent technology of film. Think of Hans Namuth filming Jackson Pollock as he dripped his paintings on the studio floor. Documentation assumed a new urgency as performance and body art emerged as powerful practices in the late 1950s and 60s.
By the 1970s, Mobius founder Marilyn Arsem very consciously considered how her work would be documented. Early in Arsem’s career, writes Edward Saywell in his essay included in “The Performance Art of Marilyn Arsem,” she focused on how “you capture for review at a later date the layered complexity of the work in the moment of its live performance, both in regard to the actions of the performer as well as to the varied nuances of feeling and reaction from viewers present during the work’s live enactment?”
Art in Service began as a conversation on how we can better understand and cultivate socially engaged practices. Three facets emerged through which to explore these practices: audience, quality, and documentation. As an editor of this publication, which strives to serve as a “living document” of art making in Boston, I am particularly interested in how art and time-based work can be recorded or documented. So I asked four people engaged in documentation in various forms, Sue Murad, Bonnie Bastien, Sarah Rushford, and Risa Horn, about their approaches. What follows are their insightful, generous responses to my query:
How do you each approach the act of documenting an artist’s work? How do you understand the relationship between that artist’s work and your approach to chronicle, archive, digitize, mediate, or describe it?
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Image: Samantha Fields, from Meditations on the Tide. Courtesy of Sue Murad.