Are we documenting our art to death?

Camera signWe all take pictures, don’t we? Keepsakes to remind us of happy times, landmark events, loved ones? And with our phones always on hand and Facebook always online, we’re sharing astonishing amounts of photos and films with each other every day.

The same sort of thing is going on in the performing arts, of course.

We can film and photograph pretty much everything, so we do – because we need rich content for our social media marketing campaigns, because we need evidence for funders, because we want to sell DVDs of performances as part of a diverse income stream, because we want to make souvenirs for participants, because we need to show something new on the plasma screens in our foyers…

… because because because…

When this particular marketeer started working in theatre in the mid-1990s, much of the value of live performance was ascribed to its changeability. In a run of 60 performances of the same show, no two nights are quite the same – each audience would have a subtly (or not-so-subtly) unique experience. Therein lay one of the strengths of live performance versus, say, television.

And now we capture a ‘definitive’ version. We can edit out its imperfections. It becomes a hermetically sealed version of itself, available to everyone, for all time. It stops being something we remember, and becomes something we almost re-experience.

This is all great for the marketing department with their campaigns and income streams, but what are artists to make of it? What do YOU make of it?

As Wendy Houstoun, Alexander Kelly, Vivien Wood and others prepare to discuss Memory, Archive and the Act of Recording for Juncture 2014, we’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

Are we saving our most precious cultural experiences from vanishing? Or are we in danger of documenting our art to death?

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2 Comments

  1. Zoe parker, 3 years ago

    I think that documenting by amateurs is very different to documenting by professional photographers in terms of what is seen and what is captured. I enjoy the process being shared so long as it offers me something – good images, interesting concept, something fun or entertaining.

    Is it over sell? Only if it is only about sell – in which case the content adds little value to the viewer and I guess becomes another form of SPAM in our inboxes/social media feed.

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  2. Stuart Barker, 3 years ago

    I think it does come down to who is documenting. When the audience seek to document often the performance is lost. There is debate on the fact people now view a live performance through their mobile devices screen as they seek to record and actually miss the living in the moment and experience. Viewing a sunset through a camera screen, or rainbow to capture and post to our friends when what is missed is the very essence of the moment. This is the same for art. Art has to be experienced and lived, not documented and whitnessed through our screens and then posted to Facebook to demonstrate how cultured we are.

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