Raimundas Malašauskas, a curator who has co-written an opera libretto, produced a television show, and served as an agent for dOCUMENTA (13), is a co-curator of the 2016 Liverpool Biennial.
The first time I saw the word reenactment was in a crime documentary—it was blinking on the TV. It referred to the procedure of a detective trying to unravel a crime. According to John T. Irwin—whose book The Mystery to a Solution analyzes Jorge Luis Borges’s reverential doubling of Edgar Allan Poe’s detective fiction a century later—a detective always tries to double the workings of someone’s mind: “The usual method of apprehending the criminal involves the detective’s doubling the criminal’s thought processes so as to anticipate his next move and end up one jump ahead of him.”1 In the case of deliberate reenactment or repetition, one can assume that staying "one jump ahead" entails speculating about various possibilities and scenarios that could happen under other circumstances—whether in the future, the past, or alternative versions of the present.
A fixed yet mutable score or a genotype enables futures and pasts to proliferate. An artistic reenactment may treat a score rather liberally in contrast to a replica (which is based on an appearance) or an interpretation of a music score in a concert hall. Usually a reenactment reflects specific choices made by the reenactor. Think of Jeanine Oleson and Ellen Lesperance singing to a rat in New York (We Like New York and New York Likes Us, 2004) or Sharon Hayes uttering the words of a hostage (Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) Screeds #13, 16, 20, and 29, 2003).
I restarted to think about reenactment after an encounter with the work of Eran Schaerf, who has drawn on the culture of the so-called hobbyist reenactors.2 It seemed a good method to reveal the mechanisms of the production of history and so indeed to make things visible. But what happens when you make visible something that does not exist and say it is a re-creation of the past? Fun, no? Imagine having photographs of the Black and White Ball, which Truman Capote hosted in 1966 at the Plaza Hotel in New York, and printing them in Wallpaper magazine today and saying that it is a reenactment. Would Frank Sinatra or Jackie Onassis object? (Actually Christie’s organized a reenactment at the Plaza in 2006!)
Wasn’t reenactment, in a certain way, one of the issues that the Argentinean artists Eduardo Costa, Raúl Escari, and Roberto Jacoby addressed in their 1967 Art of Communications Media manifesto? They aimed to send the press a detailed report of an art event that did not happen but would essentially be “performed” in its publication, and the reader/spectator would do the rest.3
These days, thinking in this direction (and it’s the direction of a labyrinth since a repetition always builds up a labyrinth instead of a line of succession, doesn’t it?), I find myself in the realm of the economy, where competition and collaboration go hand in hand. I can see reenactment as a way of merging social capital. But perhaps the most important point is that repetition basically functions as a producer of change, and thus difference. What is re-created hardly coincides with what it is intended to reproduce—there is always an excess of consequences. And when reenactment coincides with something other than what was intended, it makes one think of time and truth.
In the early 2000s, Mario Garcia Torres began a series of “Never-to-Be-Seen” artworks, which comprise contracts with patrons, without having heard of the work conceived by Robert Barry’s 1969 “project class” at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, which was declared to exist only as long as it was kept secret from the instructors and everyone else. Interestingly, in this case I think it’s impossible to imagine one or the other artwork as being the original. Does it matter that Garcia Torres’s piece emerged in the world decades after Barry’s? I think repetitions occasionally implicate something else in the present, something other than the past event. We call those unexpected implications coincidences, but that is just an easy way to articulate an effect that we don’t fully understand. Maybe we should be thinking not about time, about what came first and what second, but about reenactment as a transversal event, touching two or more presents at once.
In this matter, Daniel Buren comes to mind. One might say that he has done the same work again and again throughout his career. His activity does not rely merely on painting colored stripes but on initiating the meaning of that gesture in very different forms. (“My main activity is tied to the ambition of making visible the ‘not-yet-seen,’” Buren wrote.)4 He has made us understand how things work by repeating the same strategy again and again, staying one jump ahead of himself, as a great detective would.
John T. Irwin, The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytic Detective Story (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 5. ↩
I came across the term hobbyist in Maxine Kopsa, “The why nudged between two tellings,” Metropolis M (http://metropolism.com/magazine/2004-no4/het-waarom-opgesloten-tussen-twe-1/english). ↩
Eduardo Costa, Raúl Escari, and Roberto Jacoby, An Art of Communications Media (manifesto) (1966), originally published as “Un arte de los medios de comunicación (manifiesto),” in Oscar Masotta et al., Happenings (Buenos Aires: Editorial Jorge Álvarez, 1967). ↩
Daniel Buren, “Preface: Why Write Texts or the Place from Where I Act,” in 5 Texts, trans. Patricia Railing (New York: John Weber Gallery, 1973), 4. ↩