Version Control, a large-scale exhibition just opening at Bristol’s Arnolfini, is concerned with the notion of appropriation and performance in contemporary artistic practice. It looks at performance not as a live activity but in terms of its documentary traces or, to put it another way, in the way performance inhabits documentary forms like archives, texts and other objects. In this, it’s perhaps symptomatic of a wider tendency that’s also seen in developments like the Tate Tanks project, which extends Tate modern in a distinctly performance-orientated direction.
More specifically, Version Control asks questions like these:
What happens when apparently stable information shifts and transforms according to context and perspective? How do our actions and thoughts correlate with the material world of ‘things’? The artists included stage their work through mediation, appropriation and representation of established material, thus touching on questions of historiography and ownership. Through a series of interventions and “performing objects”, the exhibition will be itself performative and change over the course of the show. As part of the project, an extended series of live events will be presented in the galleries and the auditorium.
There’s a conscious focus here on ‘performance… as a method of making the past present. Performativity, in this way, explores the conscious moment of staging, appropriating, archiving and re-visiting images and other forms of representation, touching on questions of historiography, mediation, subjectivity, and ownership’.
So is this performance studies or visual culture? That is a key question not just for this project, which emanates from the AHRC-funded research project Performing Documents, hosted by the University of Bristol in partnership with Arnolfini, In Between Time and the University of Exeter, but for those disciplines too. The dividing line between disciplines has never been more thrillingly blurred and, arguably, visual culture and performance studies have in common the kind of dynamic reaction by which they emerged from art history and theatre studies, respectively.
Version Control is at the Arnolfini, from Saturday 2 Feb until Sunday 14 April, 11am – 6pm (except Mondays). Entrance is free.