Performing Art History

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paper


In 2012 Performance Re-enactment Society presented an intangible exhibition entitled Group Show, shown across all four of Arnolfini’s galleries, which were empty of objects. Group Show was selected from an imagined Arnolfini collection of visual art and performance and brought together works from different times, by artists who were not originally shown together, as a new event. Displayed through performance, this intervention into the Bristol art centre’s archive and galleries narrated the institution’s history as fiction.

This paper will focus on one part of Group Show, which was performed by Arnolfini stewards. Rather than fulfilling their conventional role of interpreting the art, the invigilators described artworks previously shown at Arnolfini (Ekphrasis). Their acts of speaking the art were performative, making these past works appear, remade differently in each visitor’s imagination. The strategy for curating the descriptions traced associative motifs, rather than critical or chronological art-historical narratives, locating the works in a spatial or mnemonic essay.

This was an impossible exhibition of immaterial art objects and virtual performances, which accumulated in visitors’ memories, overlaid in the gallery as palimpsest. In the event, different moments in Arnolfini’s institutional history became synchronous, works reverberated across periods, different points in time touched and encountered one another in the spoken text. Group Show undid the gallery’s chronology and wove together fictional threads told by the stewards, whose visibility, agency and centrality to the work’s realization, performed an institutional critique.

PRS imagined the galleries haunted by traces of past Arnolfini exhibits and selected a collection of these absent works to make present again. Like the figure of the spectre in Derrida, which comes back and no longer “belongs to time,” these acts of performing the archive have the potential to interrupt linear succession, temporal progress and art-historical periodicity, establishing new relations between “present-past, present-present and present-future.” As Rebecca Schneider writes, “In the syncopated time of reenactment, […] then and now punctuate each other” and resonances take place across times.

This presentation will explore what Elizabeth Freeman calls “queer archivalism, [which…] turns bodies into living museums” and the implications of “temporal drag” for the chronopolitics of art history. Clarke will address performance’s potential to intervene in the conventional temporal practices of the exhibition and logics of the art institution, along with the developmental time of art history and the market.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2016
EventÜberReste - Strategien des Bleibens in den darstellenden Künsten (On Remnants and Vestiges: Strategies of Remaining in the Performing Arts) - Sophiensaele, Berlin, Germany
Duration: 28 Apr 201630 Apr 2016


ConferenceÜberReste - Strategien des Bleibens in den darstellenden Künsten (On Remnants and Vestiges: Strategies of Remaining in the Performing Arts)


  • Performance
  • Archive
  • Reenactment


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