chapter  9
The Place of Performance: A Critical Historiography on the Topos of Time
Pages 13

Since the 1960s, the ephemerality of performance art has been its most characteristic, potent and difficult attribute; prized for its ability to confound viewers’ aesthetic expectations, frustrate habits of vision and spectatorship and, consequently, derange our ideas about reality and the social world. This ephemerality was first characterized through the 1960s as creating a unique kind of presence, that an action taking place in the space of art thrusts viewers into an overwhelming superflux of experience: something is happening right now. Focusing more closely on an action’s relation to its mediated registration in photography, film or video, however, a later moment of performance practice and discourse (beginning in the mid-1970s), insisted that such presence is impossible; performance creates an insuperable absence; something happened just then but we will never again know what it was. This focus on ephemerality, whether rendered in the language of presence or absence has constricted the ways we evaluate performance-based work, generating a conceptual stagnation. The historiography that follows will detail just how mired we (and our interpretive and critical lexicon) are in this problematic of performance’s (temporary) temporality.