The Future of Documents: documenting performance

The Future of Documents: documenting performance

Northampton Suite, at City, University of London

31st October 2016


Twitter: #docperform



One of the major concerns of library and information science (LIS) is collection and preservation of the record of humankind. In order to preserve something for future access we need to understand what it is we are saving. LIS considers collection, preservation and access from the viewpoint of the document. This has prompted the question: ‘what is a document?’ The answer is far from straightforward, and has been debated at least since the end of the 19th century, when Otlet suggested that images, works of art and sculptures could be regarded in the same way as books, journals and papers, and later, in the 1950s, Briet suggested that even an animal might be considered as a document. The question has subsequently attracted the attention of other scholars too, including Buckland, Lund, Latham, Frohman, Gorichanaz and Robinson.

It would seem the question might be ‘what is not a document?’

Technological advances have given us digitization, which has added more complexity to the issue. Physical/analogue documents can be rendered in digital format, and the digital surrogates regarded as documents in their own right.

Further, the rapidly expanding and evolving trend towards digitization has led to a convergence of GLAM sector institutions, so that the work of galleries, libraries, archives and museums, in creating digital ‘documents’ has overlapped for some years now. This, irrespective of whether one considers an original painting or object in a museum, in any sense, a document.

Moving beyond coalescence within the GLAM sector, we can also consider the collection, documentation and preservation of performance.

Today all types of performance can simply be broadcast and made accessible to millions of people through their mediatization – be it theatre and performance art; rock concerts; political performances such as party conventions or the inauguration of the U.S. president; ritual performances such as funerals (e.g. Princess Diana’s) or papal blessings urbi et orbi; or sporting events such as the Olympic Games. A new dichotomy has emerged between live performance constituted by the bodily co-presence of actors and spectators and the autopoietic feedback loop and mediatized performance that sever the co-existence of production and reception. Mediatized performance invalidates the feedback loop.

Erika Fischer-Lichte, 2008

At some level, the event simply happens; at the same time, it cannot be defined merely as what occurs

Jill Bennett, 2012

Much work in this area has been undertaken, but often outside the LIS domain and in separate strands of the performing arts. Work in defining and documenting dance, visual art, performance, performance art and theatre has progressed in parallel, yet disparate projects, although the goals of documentation appear consistent.

To begin to pull together the separate strands of work in considering performance as a document and the documentation of performance, #citylis will host an interdisciplinary, one-day symposium, to bring together scholars, practitioners, artists and other professionals from the fields of Library & Information Science and Theatre & Performing Arts. The aim is to start a conversation, and to share ideas and theories around documentation, preservation and access for complex documents.

For further information, please see our website. Our hashtag on Twitter is #docperform


Lyn is on Twitter as @lynrobinson. Please see our main Departmental website, if you would like to study for your masters degree or doctorate at #citylis.

About lyn

Dr Lyn Robinson is Reader in Library & Information Science, and Head of Department at City, University of London. She established and directs the Library School, and co-directs the Centre for Information Science alongside Prof David Bawden. Contact:
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