Performance: Conservation, Materiality, Knowledge @ HKB

01.10.2020 – 30.09.2024

This project focuses on the question of conservation of performance-based artworks. Being of intrinsically short duration and involving the human body, performance-based artworks challenge the common assumptions that a work of art can be fixed, static and “conservable”-an object easily constrained by the established systems of documentation and archival order. Because performance materialises only in a short temporal frame and thus refuses any enduring, material manifestation, its conservability seems beyond the bounds of possibility. As this project will demonstrate, these temporal specifics of performance-based forms are additionally complicated by the very notion of traditional conservation which too often disregards the intangible aspects of heritage conveyance: the transmission of memory, skill, technique, and tacit knowledge. Unravelling the complexities involved in the conservation of performance-based forms, this project aims to expose the theoretical and practical apparatuses of conservation, its attachment to traditional paradigms, and the resultant shortcomings in the sphere of the intangible. Taking as a starting point the necessity for conservators to access and deepen this area of study, the proposed project sets out to accomplish three principal aims: (i) Using selected examples of institutions and artworks, the project will review and systematise emerging approaches to the newly established subfield of the conservation of performance-based artworks.(ii) In order to ensure that these works are preserved and accessible in the future, this project will also explore new methods for conserving performance-based works through (a) forms of documentation and archives, (b) material residues and (c) the transmission of knowledge. (iii) Building on such a focus, the project will reflect on conservation as a knowledge-generating activity and test its potential contribution to broader discourses in performance studies, anthropology, art history and aesthetics.

Hanna Hölling project lead, 

Jules Pelta Feldman and Emilie Magnin fellows,

Joanna Lesnierowska artistic collaborator

(since Sept 2023) 

Charles Wrapner project assistant.


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