While being a collector of performance may seem a tangible impossibility, I think it's an interesting notion to consider in light of the recent surge of on-line funding campaigns. Yes, one can not store performers and access their repertoire whenever they wish. And while film, photo, and written documentation is important for documenting performance, the very act of documenting performance makes it into something quite different. But the notion that intrigues me, and that should be pondered, is this:
A donor to performance is also a collector of performance.
A collector of performance may seem out of the question, but a thought that should be considered in an age of dwindling financial resources for the arts. It also highlights a more reciprocal relationship between performer and collector. The question fundraisers might ask is, "How does one sell stake in an ephemeral act?" Yes, as you scroll through on-line fundraising campaigns, you'll be presented with a plethora of gift packages associated to different donor levels. A $10 donation may procure for you a "Thank You" on the organizations Facebook page. A $50 donation may offer a personal letter of thanks to accompany a mass produced t-shirt. While a fine way of giving thanks, these acts do little to support the act of collecting cultural capital.
And people enjoy collecting. So why approach fundraising campaigns as an opportunity for collectors. According to Jean Baudrillard, "(e)nthusiasts will insist that they are 'crazy about (an) object, and without exception... they will maintain about their collection an aura of the clandestine, of confinement, secrecy and dissimulation, all of which give rise to the unmistakable impression of a guilty relationship" (9). However, what the collector is investing in is, as stated before, ephemeral. The objects Baudrillard speaks of are replaced by moments, and don't allow for the "confinement, secrecy and dissimulation" that a room of paintings or antiques might produce. But I would argue that an aura is placed around these moments by the collector. They may not be able to touch or view their collection whenever they please, but they enter into a relationship with the performer through the act of purchasing stake. Supporting the arts and, in doing so, procuring for themselves cultural capital.
However, I can feel I must resist a pull towards the altruistic. Despite the altruistic feel-good emotion cast by purchasing stake and supporting the arts, the collector will have an urge to connect with their ephemeral moment. As stated by the title character in Bruce Chatwin's 1988 novel Utz, "private ownership confers on the owner the right and the need to touch," and this need to touch goes far beyond the kitschy gift packages delivered to donors. There needs to be a more enriching approach, one that supports the liveness of performance. A method that can offer a shared moment between collector-donor and performer. But what steps does one take to produce a connection between the collector and the ephemeral moment? How does one produce a feeling of ownership for the collector? How does one give them the feeling that they, in a certain way, have become agents in archiving performance history, beyond clicking the donate button?
To answer this, we must ask the question, "How does one archive?" And I'll make the acknowledgement, this is a question that requires far more than the one paragraph I'm allotting to it. But I will go very micro and highlight the work of Steven Dietz, who cites the following steps when referencing the preservation of digital media, "museums and archives follow five steps to preserve their digital media works acquistions: (1) refresh; (2) migrate; (3) print out all possible supporting materials such as artists' statements and/or source code; (4) document the context in which the work was created and/or initially exhibited; and (5) participate in a network of new media archival institutions to share information and best practices" (97-99). In this break down, Dietz is referring to digital media, not live performance, and one can see that it would become very difficult to instill in the collector of ephemerality the archivist mentality. However, I think there are some ideas that can be gleaned from this break down to produce potential methods for supplemental material, which may produce more meaningful tokens of appreciation. I propose that performers conducting on-line fundraisers ask themselves the following questions:
1. Refresh - How do you create, and continually refresh, a connection between the collector and the performer?
2. Migrate - How does your information get passed along to the collector? Is there an on-line platform (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) for the sharing of documentation and thoughts?
3. Supporting materials - What supporting materials are you creating to support the performance? How can these be provided to the collector as a supplement to the ephemeral event they are holding stake in?
4. Document - How are you documenting the event? In which ways are you providing the context of the performance for the donor?
5. Participate - How can the collector participate in your process beyond given financial support? Is there a post-performance exhibition of the process? How can the collector be involved in a potential exhibition?
While my first venture into on-line fundraising was a success, there is much I reconsider in retrospect. Although A PerFarmance Project documented the performance and process, the dissemination of this documentation to the collectors was slow. In some cases, the documentation never reached the collectors at all. Although this was a missed opportunity to give the donor agency to collect and, in the process, create a personal archive of performance history, it provided a space for critical reflection. As previously state, consider thinking of a donor to performance is also a collector of performance. If acted upon through documentation, participation, and supporting materials, an opportunity to archive is give to the collector. And as the artist, you're giving your project sustenance that reaches far beyond the final performance.
Baudrillard, J. (1994). The system of collecting. In J. Elsner & R. Cardinal (Eds.), The cultures of collecting (pp. 7–24). (R. Cardinal, Trans.). London: Reaktion Books. (Original work published 1968)
Chatwin, B. (1988). Utz. London: Jonathan Cape.
Dietz, S. (2005). Collecting new-media art: Just like anything else, only different. In B. Altshuler (Ed.), Collecting the new: Museums and contemporary art (pp. 85–101). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.