eCite Digital Repository

Picturing performance art: an exploration into the logic of performance documentation


Curran, T, Picturing performance art: an exploration into the logic of performance documentation, Fusion journal, (7) pp. 1-20. ISSN 2201-7208 (2015) [Refereed Article]

PDF (Published version)

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2015 the author. Published in Fusion journal under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial – No Derivatives 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) Licence. (

Official URL:


In the canon of western performance art it is those works that have been documented for posterity that are remembered in the canon of high art. For many performance artists it is the documentation of their work that has enabled them to be included in journals as well as historical surveys of performance art. This gives the documentation of the performance a profound importance as can be seen through the cases of relatively forgotten careers of many early performance artists who chose not to have their work documented.

This paper investigates the relationship between performance art and its residual documentation, looking specifically at different strategies that late modern and contemporary performance artists have used in order to document their works – from photography, video and drawing to ensure that the event can be preserved. From a survey of these approaches used by artists, this paper then discusses the documentation of the author’s own recent performance, undertaken over 33 days at the National Portrait Gallery in a work titled As Long As You’re Here (2013). In this performance, the artist, using an iPad, continuously drew participants who sat in the chair opposite for 33 consecutive days. Using software that recorded every mark made throughout the performance the work was then able to be exported as a video, which ran for 4 hours and 11 minutes and documents every observation the artist made throughout that sitting. The result is a non-photographic form of documentation – a hybrid drawing and video work.

The role that documentation plays in generating studio revenue is considered here, as limited edition prints of specific photographs selected by artists are often sold in commercial galleries in order to make the artists collectable and commodifiable in the global art market. Artists like Marina Abramovic exemplify this model, however there are other artists who seek to manage the authenticity and authorship over their documentation. For example, Carolee Schneeman painted over her documentary photographs, for her performance Interior Scroll (1975), in an expressionistic aesthetic ensuring that each print is a one-off image, authored with the hand of the artist. Conversely, Mike Parr has been shown to forego photographic and video documentation altogether in favour of drawing. His many drawing performances have blurred the lines between the relationships of performance to the larger traditions of image production and portraiture.

As Long As You’re Here offers a perverse perspective on performance art documentation by situating itself as both performance documentation and as a series of moving portraits. It is perverse in the sense that it blurs the boundaries between event-based dematerialized art practices such as performance art with traditional image based forms of art like portraiture. This paper concludes by suggesting that all performance, if documented, shares the common goal of figurative drawing, painting and photography. If this is true then it means that the image is no longer in service of the performance but rather, the artist performs so that the image can be made.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:performance documentation, drawing, painting, participatory art, digital painting
Research Division:Creative Arts and Writing
Research Group:Visual arts
Research Field:Fine arts
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Arts
Objective Field:The creative arts
UTAS Author:Curran, T (Dr Anthony Curran)
ID Code:148557
Year Published:2015
Deposited By:Art
Deposited On:2022-01-24
Last Modified:2022-05-20
Downloads:7 View Download Statistics

Repository Staff Only: item control page