September 24, 2004
Performance as Absence: Shayoni Mitra
Performance as Absence: Voiding Time and Space
��an ecology of interpenetration between past and present, with the visit treated as a performative event which witnesses absence.� (Pearson and Shanks, 2001: 154).
The definition that I start with above, synthesizes the various elements of Pearson and Shanks�s argument. It indicates the balance of simultaneous existences that constitute heterotopia in the usage of the word �ecology.� It stresses the non-paradigmatic nature of time where the past is also always in the present. And it posits a theory of ruin as the central tenet of both theatre and archaeology.
Performance then concerns itself firstly with place � it is a site of human action and interaction, which elevates it from its mere coordinates in space. Here people and things are in a complex stratiography and have a certain animating function to the geography they inhabit. They constitute the traces, deep maps, scenarios of the performance. The behaviors that mark it are as much a part of the theatrical landscape as the (not passive) vision that is required to discern it. A living, breathing ecology surrounds the staging of a performance.
A performance is also a function of time � it takes place over an interval of time, its recollection happens over times, and its value is also a function of time. To talk of a performance is necessarily to acknowledge the subjective reconstruction of the past in the present. Pearson and Shanks problematize the notion of discrete temporal segments in various ways. They aver that theatre and archaeology are the study of �the things left of the past translated through the cultural and political interests of the present,� (50) or the framing of the question �what the past can do for the present,� (115). We are therefore left with a new continuum that can be denoted as �past/present� (116), or what they elsewhere call actuality, which is �the primacy, but not the superiority, of the present over the past. This is to acknowledge that the soluble present is the medium of seeing and knowing the past,� (42).
But performance is ultimately about absence. Its documentation is the deliberate voiding of space and time in the creation of a record of that which never really was as it is told now. Any specificity that such a description achieves has its value only in the passing moment and all attempts to retrieve it are necessarily recreations. This is why Pearson and Shanks tackle the question of authenticity by making it not a question of inherent value externally apprehended, but a subjective negotiation on space and time � �To think of authenticity as essential and intrinsic obscures the relation of exchange which exists between the past and the present. It is to forget that the object�s value is decided in moving from past to present through the work of desire,� (114). This passage is what makes the authors plead for a theory of ruin for after all �Decay and ruin real the symmetry of people and things. They dissolve the absolute distinction between people and the object world. This is why we can so cherish the ruined and fragmented world,� (98).
Performance documentation then is the ultimate awareness of a passing. It is an act that is self-conscious, in the best sense of being aware of its own limitations. And because it is personal it is always at once political. What is retold, how and for which reasons is the deliberate exercise of choice, never devoid of bias. Yet it is in this stated predisposition that the radical possibilities of performance and archaeology lie. The recounting of the particular that is not permanent or fixed defies all notions of a uniform, interchangeable currency in cultural production. Theatre/�Archaeology�s focus on obdurate remains suggests the possibility of a material resistance to the ideologies of a homogenous world uniform in its accommodation to the commodity form and principles of the global market,� (37).
To recount, time and space are defined, perceived, negotiated and modified through the duality of thought and action that constitute being. An encapsulation of the two creates a heightened event (�inciting incident�), a performance that is accessed, in absentia, through archaeology. Theatre/archaeology is then in a sense the ontology of consciousness � it is at once an apprehension and a remembrance of the sensorium that it inhabits. It is a mode of the continuous subjective recreations that are essential to the experience of life.
Posted by at September 24, 2004 6:04 PM