by EL Putnam
When watching performance mediated through the camera (either as a film, video, or photograph) means watching it through someone else’s eyes. The camera has a special relationship with performance art, commonly used to document the traces of ephemeral actions. However, this tool is not an objective observer. It is a machine capable of capturing time, which it can manipulate, frame, and modify, only to present it in another space. Such a mediation is referred to as post-phenomenological, which Don Ihde (2010) describes as the recognition that the perceivable extends beyond the bodily senses and thus can be mediated through instruments. I am fascinated by the relationship of the camera to the physicality of performance, not so much as a documentary tool, but how it extends the experience of a performance through the interplay of technological and corporeal gestures.
I recently watched Paddy Cahill’s film Amanda Coogan: Long Now, which contains footage from Coogan’s RHA exhibition, I’ll sing you a song from around the town. I had visited the exhibition regularly — at least once a week or sometimes more, staying several hours each time, as I let myself get sucked into the passing of durational performance. Therefore, I felt well versed in what the exhibition offered. However, as I watched the film flickering on the screen of the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork, I was captivated by what Cahill composed of these same experiences, and how his use of the camera brought new depth to performances I already thought I knew. The camera allowed him to obtain a closeness to the subject, presenting an intimacy I otherwise did not experience, emphasized by the caress of the camera lens as he shifted focus, presenting details just outside the limits of my ocular perception. With the camera maintaining a steady gaze, I took in the subtle details I previously overlooked, such as the wrinkles on Coogan’s fingers from being immersed in water for so long when performing Yellow. The camera elongates gestures, allowing them to linger beyond the threshold of live perception. The camera directs me where to see, valuing Cahill’s attention to details, which is difficult to focus on when witnessing multiple performances simultaneously within a gallery. Cahill also took the liberties to change the speed of documentation. For example, when presenting a time-lapse sequence, I am taken aback by the different pacing of the performers in contrast to gallery observers, who seem to be moving in distinctive timelines; passersby scurry about as the performer indulges in the present.
Such utilization of the camera in relation to performance exceeds the role of documentation, emphasizing what is possible when bringing together this technological machine with bodily action. The relationship of performance to the camera is one of translation — the live action and the captured trace are never quite the same. However, I do not qualify this relationship as one of loss, since the camera also opens new forms of perception and participation for a viewer while extending the space of creative potential for the artist. The camera produces something different than a live performance, but it also opens the membranes of engagement, drawing out the folds of experience into other times and other places.
Ihde, D., 2010. Heidegger’s Technologies: Postphenomenological Perspectives. Fordham University Press, New York.
Paddy Cahill’s film Amanda Coogan: Long Now was screened at the Triskel Arts Centre on June 20 2017, as part of the Perforum Conference, “Body Activities,” organised by Inma Pavon and hosted by the Drama and Theatre Studies Department, University College Cork.