In performance, documentation is vital. Videos, photographs, music, even props and costumes, are all records of the time-based work. These mediums are also a tool for making, and are essential to the creative process. In this episode we’ll consider how artists, museums and organizations are utilizing documentation as an archive, tool and final product.




Take a peek at how you document what’s important or critical to you. What form does it take? What themes do you see in your daily modes of documentation?

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KIRSTEN WALSH  Hello again, and welcome! My name is Kirsten Walsh and you are listening to Podcasts on Process. This inaugural series takes a peek into the creative tool kit of choreographer Liz Lerman.

Today’s topic is documentation. In performance based work, documentation is vital. Videos, photographs, music, even props and costumes, are all records of time-based work. Today we will build upon the discussion from previous episodes and consider how artists and organizations are utilizing several forms of documentation.

Research can happen in so many ways. And In the previous episode, storytelling and non-traditional voices became an active form of research in the first-person. And in the next episode, we’ll talk about critique as a form of research.

As a choreographer, Liz’s process of exploring happens through movement, and that is one form of research for her. This is the foundation of her knowledge of the world around her. And to support her creative research, Liz documents.


KIRSTEN So what do I mean by “documenting” or “documentation”? Well, she is also an avid writer. Along with three published books, her blog “Field Notes from Liz Lerman”, includes essays on aging, intuition, and categories.

One these blog posts is called “Toolbox as Documentation”. Here Liz writes:

I am interested in how we observe our processes, discern them as repeatable actions, develop them to become tools for others to borrow and make their own. I believe that we can harvest our histories, make sense of what we did and describe them in terms that helps us understand the context, the decisions, and perhaps the wisdom and meaning surrounding the work.  At the same time we can delineate the data, information, formats, [and] processes that may aid others in their work.

During rehearsals and residences, Liz and the team use video to capture improvisational movement, and review work. In this episode we’re going to hear how writing, video, and reflection can become documentation for a working artist, for professionals, and for your own personal practice.


HOLLY BASS   My name is Holly Bass. I am a writer and performance artist. Thinking about dilemma the particularly as someone who does a lot of ephemeral art and how do you buy that or sell that or collect that. And so I have started to make that an ancillary piece to the like performance pieces. So maybe it's a video maybe its a series of photographs but it has to be really carefully constructed.

KIRSTEN   We heard from Holly in the last episode, Who Gets to Dance. She described her recent piece “Black Space” and her continuing work with DC Public Works employees in Touch Truck Ballet. We know her practice as a dancer, choreographer and performance artist, and Holly is also a writer and poet.

HOLLY   I think some of my early stuff is super interesting but that doesn't mean that I documented it properly. Or that I even own the documentation you know working collectively. And so at least for me when I was in my 20's—I don't know I figure maybe some of that stuff will float to the surface—or somebody's got it in there basement that l VHS tape. But moving forward I do feel like its a responsibility that I have documentation in various forms.

KIRSTEN   Speaking of various forms do you have documentation that's non visual? Are there other ways that you catalog or document your experience beyond video or film?

HOLLY   Well there is also writing too, and so I keep all of my own notebooks. Bu I was doing that like even in High School and college I'm just a notebook keeper.

KIRSTEN   Holly just described how she researches and archives her work through her own writing. As a curator peeking into an artist’s creative life, I was curious how a writer and a scholar can support the work and voice of another artist. So, our next guest is John Borstel.


JOHN BORSTEL   I'm John Borstel. I like to describe myself as an artist working at the crossroads of performance, photography and text. I also like to think about artistic practices embracing a number of other things I do which include: facilitation of various experiences, teaching, humane critique, advocacy for the work of other artists, and writing as it might manifest itself in blogging, interpretative writing, proposal writing— that kind of thing.

KIRSTEN   We’ll hear from him again in the episode on critique and feedback. But for the theme of documentation, I wanted to hear about John’s work as the Humanities Senior Advisor at the Dance Exchange.

JOHN   So I've practiced a lot of that sort of work over 21 years here at Dance Exchange. Starting as Development Director, evolving into a role called Humanities Director. And more recently since I've gone to part time, the laudable title of senior adviser as humanities as my portfolio. That's really entailed a variety of activities when I started doing it I put it under the rubric of documentation, dissemination and dialogue. So about documenting the aspects of the dance exchanges work, of Liz`s body of knowledge that were unique and specific and applicable in the world, getting that into the hands of people who could use it through things like our toolbox, and the propagation of critical response process. Then sort of the nature of the work was always sort that we were in kind of interdisciplinary conversations with people in other fields. So playing kind of a leading role sometimes.

KIRSTEN   It sounds like I'm hearing that you're an archivist your a scholar, your a maker in your own right, but you also make here at the Dance Exchange. That you're creating these things. So and I think I heard maybe what a daily experience for you might be or the things that you might touch on. But how would you role have shifted or how does it work when Dance Exchange finds themselves at Wesleyan University for something like Ferocious Beauty Genome? Where Whats your role like at those kind of points?

JOHN   There is no other dance company that has a Humanities Director. There may be similar roles. And I used to tell people well if we were a theater company, I might be the dramaturge doing some of the things that a dramaturge does. If we were a museum, I might be the publications department doing some of the things a publications and exhibitions department does. So the kinds of things I did are not unique to the arts or unique to even a dance company. It's just the way, the very specific kind of work Liz does: to engage multiple forms of expression, multiple forms of communication. To really engage partners, whether they are people in other fields, whether they are production artists, dancers, producing partners, presenters. Really engage them in a dynamic way in the creation of work.

All of that sort of created an ethos and environment that really created a role for someone like me. And it actually involved, evolved out of me being the Development Director and always sort of being involved in the programmatic scheming and strategizing. And then we would for instance get a grant or the opportunity to work with a presenter would come through and then who was going to do it. So it often took that form.

KIRSTEN   So do I hear liaison a part of that is.....?

JOHN   Sometimes, sometimes, particularly when it's around a particular piece of programming. The Humanities as those realms of study that have to do with human experience in its vast diversity, that are outside of the realm of actually doing the art. If your doing the art your engaged in art making. If you're examining the impact of the art, or the function of the art, or the efficacy of the art you're functioning inside a definition of the humanities.

Excerpts from Liz Lerman's The Matter of Origins.

KIRSTEN    Another example of John’s work with the Dance Exchange included training "conversation provocateurs" for Liz’s performance, Matter of Origins. In Act 2 science teachers, physicist, and artists—the provocateurs—carried on conversations with audience members, as an informal science education curriculum. Included in all of this was a survey experience. This experiment needed hard evidence, and John’s role became that of evaluation designer. In many ways, I see can see a lot of overlap between a Humanities Advisor at an organization like Dance Exchange, and a curator.





KIRSTEN   I learned about the next artist’s work when we enrolled in an interdisciplinary graduate course. In Podcasts on Process, we’ve had the opportunity to talk many established professionals. But I realized I was hungry to hear the voice of a colleague and peer! So I reached out to artist Maggie Schneider.

MAGGIE SCHNEIDER   My name is Maggie Schneider. And sometimes I identify myself by the actual media I use. Currently, my thesis business cards say "Mgggie Schneider",  or my website and then they say "Dance. Paint. Video." I make differently because I'm a dancer. I think and I don't usually say I am a dancer. I use movement often as like kind of a catch-all for what I do.

KIRSTEN   Maggie’s work in galleries is hard to miss, and my introduction to her practice was probably through her Projection/Painting series. It precisely embodies how Maggie just described herself. Dance. Paint. Video.

Full length video at https://vimeo.com/126077604

Full length video at https://vimeo.com/126077604

MAGGIE   But I also know that if I am diligent and work hard, and continue a regular physical training regime, I will accomplish the movements that I'm seeking to make. Projection painting, the body slowed down in time, capturing each frame understanding how video works. I mean very simplistically mind you.

Capturing one frame and seeing the body shift in each frame. Capturing that, registering it with a different colors of paint on a wall. A painting that is very much temporary because at the end of every show it has to be sanded and go back to white. That all kind of fit into each other. It's a process piece.  To describe the piece you kind of have to describe the process I feel like. Which I don't know if that is a good or a bad thing, I really struggle with it because people are like "what is it about?" and I don't have a five minute elevator speech for anything.

KIRSTEN   Why do you think you made that jump between—why was documentation important to you at that point, why was process important to you at that point?

MAGGIE   Process has always been important to me, partly because it reveals—the manipulation of materials through process reveals a new statement which to take up work further. And for me like this has kind of just become imbedded and its less about like the necessary re-usability of material but more about the sustainability of my practice so....

KIRSTEN   I’ve been fascinated by this work because, to me, it encompasses all of the forms of documentation I’m curious about -- archive, process and final product. The work is, of course, difficult to describe to listeners, but each gesture in this piece is articulated and separated by movement and color. Maggie's re-interpreting her body’s movement, back onto a wall through both paint and illuminated space. She’s showing archive and process, all while recreating it into a final product.
So we just heard from an emerging artist about her tools related to documentation. Let’s cast the net a little wider, and discuss how museums are examining some of these same ideas.

KELLY GORDON + Hirshhorn

KIRSTEN   The article “Dance Finds a Home in Museums”, published by the New York Times, discusses the Walker Art Center’s recent work with choreographer, Ralph Lemon. Philip Bither, Performing Arts Senior Curator there, said “The Walker and Mr. Lemon are developing another model for the acquisition of [Lemon’s] ‘Scaffold Room.’ The museum will not be claiming ownership of the physical production but rather "a collection of memories” of those who participated and those who watched it.” As an emerging curator working with an artist like Liz Lerman, I was ecstatic to hear this!

KELLY GORDON   My name is Kelly Gordon, I'm a curator for time-based media Hirshhorn museum and sculpture garden at the Smithsonian. I studied medieval art history, so in a million years I never expected I would end up specializing in the most contemporary aspect of contemporary art. My moving image background was really experimental film which I began here producing in an auditorium type setting. And then as the nature of those types of work and video sort of expanded the whole practice of media took a turn. Which kind of exploded in about 1999 when, instead of being a marginal thing in any contemporary museum it was something that really came to the forefront. And that was sort of the, about the time, we marked as the white box/black box kind of time that these works were really shown and collected and created more in the center of contemporary art making, rather than over to the side. And then since as you know it's been expanding and expanding in all sorts of ways ever since.

KIRSTEN   Are other museum’s actively collecting time-based work in the same way? This question led me to Kelly Gordon, curator at the Hirshhorn in Washington DC. We talked via phone about the museum’s novel approaches to collecting time-based work.

KELLY   It's kind of a case by case basis. I did a walk with Janet Cardiff that was created here. And while I knew that some of the places it stopped would mean that the work would be viable for quite a while. I knew also that once those were moved and it went into another building at the Smithsonian, and once we had or didn't have access to that, that it may be something that was you know it had an expiration date. And so in that regard while we commissioned the the hardware and the software to be able to make it available to people there were a couple things that I tried to do. And I believe it was the last walk that she did.

One was that she hadn't worked with what we would now think as like an iPod before and was delighted with the degree of sound distinction that could be reached. The way she recorded it has this surround dimension, so it really felt like it was going through your head. And it had voice and it had music and other sounds so that was one thing where over the course of the time that [work] was developing, we were able to help steer the artist to a kind of medium. Where preserving it again as a computer file in essence, and then also how we showed it with the public advanced because it was early in these kinds of technologies.  The other thing and it's interesting you mentioned the response, that was really important to me because again I guess somewhere in my heart I realized there could be a time where all you could do was listen to this thing but you couldn't walk around and use it in the way it was designed. Because the things wouldn't be there and also because I thought it was possible in the future it might be studied by someone who couldn't experience it physically. And when people came for the headsets they had to give us , I think it was a driver's license or a passport something like that, but before they got it back they had to respond  in a book.

KIRSTEN   ....like a written response?

KELLY   Yeah, yeah and what was delightful was people I mean we told them in advance, and people really made time to do it and took it very seriously. And really again, for me, its a really marvelous record for anybody who studies the work in the future to have not from me an analysis or description or a contextualization, but really from you know, the horses mouth. What it felt like? What was surprising? How it made people look or see or feel? And I thought that was a really important dimension of that particular project.


KIRSTEN   We’ve heard two artists in this episode describe several ways their document their process. One way is through writing, for a performance artist like Holly Bass. Another, Maggie Schneider, considers video and paint integral to the process and to the final product.  John Borstel described his role as Humanities Senior Advisor and how his personal toolkit served the Dance Exchange. And we also heard from Kelly Gordon at the Hirshhorn—a museum collecting not just objects or files, but a first-person experience around a single work. With all this in mind, I've been looking at how audiences might engage in their own documentation around a work of art or around an experience.

My research led me to the newly re-opened Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in New York City, and their development of “the pen”. This stylus lets a visitor digitally draw on a touchscreen. You can also scan labels for more information and access high resolution digital images from the museum’s collection while you are there. And when you leave, you simply drop off the pen, but in return receive a dedicated web address. This URL is personalized documentation of your experience at the museum.

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Museum

Not to diminish the potency of this innovative approach, but I see it as akin to scrapbooking almost. I’m certainly guilty of keeping far too many pamphlets, train tickets, stickers, postcards, and I may take too many photographs. But each of these is a document connected to a memory, they are souvenirs. In fact “souvenier” in French is the word for memory.

And this is what I admire most about the Cooper Hewitt’s approach. Why should a museum tell you what’s important to you out of their entire collection? Why can’t you pick and choose, and determine what most important from your experience first-hand. The best souvenirs are forms of documentation. They are reminders of an entire experience.

As I move forward with my career, I hope to keep this question in the back of my mind: How can I consider documentation for the artist working on the project, for the institution that I’m partnered with, and for the audience member experiencing the work?


KIRSTEN   For this episodes creative challenge I’d like for you to take a peek at how you document what’s important and critical to you. We archive our lives and post to public platforms regularly. So I would like you to consider what form does it take? Are they videos, photos, writing, news articles?and In the spirit of a synthesizer, what themes do you see in your daily modes of documentation? I challenge you to find a way to capture your answer visually. You can take a photo and on Facebook or Instagram, tag your answer with our #podcastsonprocess. Or you can also upload your photo by visiting the website. thank you so much for your response!

As we wrap up this episode, I'd like for you to consider Podcasts on Process in two ways: you are welcome to listen to the series as as a full narrative, from episodes 1 to 6 or you can listen topic by topic, one tool at a time.

This episode and the whole series would not be possible without the incredible team around me. So I have to say thank you to a few folks. Thank you to the faculty of Curatorial Practice, to my extraordinary mentors, and to my support team from The Contemporary. The music you'll hear in this series was composed and recorded by the remarkable Ruby Fulton and the band, Nudie Suits. And thank you to Estelle Kline and Sean Tubbs, my audio engineer magicians.  Thank you to my dear classmates and beautiful friends in Curatorial Practice and to my husband, my unwavering volunteer and MacGuyver on all of this. 

And last but not least thank you to Liz Lerman, the stunning artist who graciously opened up her life and process to me.