“Rather than confirming the ontological coherence of the body-as-presence, body art depends on documentation, confirming-even exacerbating-the supplementarity of the body itself. Predictably, although many have relied on the photograph, in particular, as “proof’ of the fact that a specific action took place or as a marketable object to be raised to the formalist height of an “art” photograph, in fact such a dependence is founded on belief systems similar to those underlying the belief in the “presence” of the bodyin- performance. Kristine Stiles has brilliantly exposed the dangers of using the photograph of a performative event as “proof’ in her critique of Henry Sayre’s book The Object of Performance. Sayre opens his first chapter with the nowmythical tale of Rudolf Schwarzkogler’ss uicidal self-mutilation of his penis in 1966, a story founded on the circulation of a number of “documents” showing a male torso with bandaged penis (a razor blade lying nearby). Stiles, who has done primary research on the artist, points out that the photograph, in fact, is not even of Schwarzkogler but, rather, of another artist (Heinz Cibulka) who posed for Schwarzkogler’se ntirely fabricated ritual castratio.
Sayre’s desire for this photograph to entail some previous “real” event (in Barthesian terms, the having been there of a particular subject and a particular action)leads him to ignore what Stiles describes as “the contingency of the document not only to a former action but also to the construction of a wholly fictive space.”23 It is this very contingency that Sayre’s book attempts to address through his argument that the shift marked by performance and body art is that of the “site of presence” from “art’s object to art’s audience, from the textual or plastic to the experiential.”24 Sayre’s fixation on “presence,” even while he acknowledges its new destabilized siting in reception, informs his unquestioning belief in the photograph of performance as “truth.”
Rosalind Krauss has recognized the philosophical reciprocity of photography and performance, situating the 16 two as different kinds of indexicality. As indexes, both labor to “substitute the registration of sheer physical presence for the more highly articulated language of aesthetic conventions.”25A nd yet, I would stress, in their failure to “go beyond” the contingency of aesthetic codes, both performance and photography announce the supplementarity of the index itself. The presentation of the self-in performance, in the photograph, film, or video-calls out the mutual supplementarity of the body and the subject (the body, as material “object” in the world, seems to confirm the “presence” of the subject; the subject gives the body its significance as “human”), as well as of performance or body art and the photographic document. (The body art event needs the photograph to confirm its having happened; the photograph needs the body art event as an ontological “anchor” of its indexicality.)”
in “Presence” in Absentia: Experiencing Performance as Documentation by Amelia Jones
Source: Art Journal, Vol. 56, No. 4, Performance Art: (Some) Theory and (Selected) Practice at the End of This Century (Winter, 1997), pp. 11-18
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