Performing Art History: Non-linear, Synchronous and Syncopated Times in Performance Re-enactment Society’s Group Show (Arnolfini, Bristol, 2012)

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paperpeer-review


This paper draws on Performing Documents a 3-year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, hosted by University of Bristol, Arnolfini gallery and In Between Time Productions. Whereas traditional scholarship appraises archives in relation to art-historical narratives and reads documents as evidence of past events, this project explores the use of documents by practitioners and the relationship of archives to the future.

For Performing Documents Clarke conducted his practice-as-research in collaboration with the art collective, Performance Re-enactment Society. PRS 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 Arnolfini’s archive and galleries, narrated the instititution’s history as fiction.

The presentation 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.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventPerformance Studies International 19: Now Then: Performance and Temporality - University of Stanford, Stanford, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 Jun 201330 Jun 2013


ConferencePerformance Studies International 19: Now Then: Performance and Temporality
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Archive
  • Performance
  • Reenactment


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  • Group Show

    Clarke, P. H., 14 Sept 2012

    Research output: Non-textual formPerformance

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