MATERIALS THAT LEFT BEHIND
Jane Collins reflection on Fragments Exhibition that was part of the Prague Quadrennial 2019
Curator of Fragments Exhibition: Klára Zieglerová
6th -16th June Lapidarium of the National Museum, Prague Exhibition Grounds
Fragments was an exhibition of ‘performance remains’ to borrow Rebecca Schneider’s provocative term.* Materials left behind long after a production has passed were presented as artefacts, installations and videos, to be contemplated as performative materials in their own right. For the viewer they evoked not only the materiality of work from the past but also, particularly in the model boxes, the intention of the designers for work not yet realised, offering a curious reversal, the future and the past, precariously balanced in the present. The curatorial team led by Klára Zieglerová asked participating countries to select a designer; set, costume, lighting, projection or sound design, who they considered to be one of their most celebrated living artists. The response represented a truly international and eclectic mix of exhibits, including familiar names like Ming Cho Lee from the United States of America to lesser-known designers like Tumurkhuyag Burmaa, from Mongolia and Ali Raffi, from Iran. The works were situated amongst another set of remains, that of the stone relics of the Lapidarium. Responding with great sensitivity to this site the works were lit in multidirectional ways that sometimes harmonised with and at other times worked in tension with the shadowy stone fragments around them. The effect was completely compelling and absorbing for the viewer.
The exhibition was important on a number of levels. The accompanying series of gallery talks by many of the contributing artists offered unique insight into the original context of the works and the working process of the designer. On another level the exhibition raised important questions about how performance design is documented, what aspects of performance design should be archived and what means are available to do this? These are pressing problems for the field of scenography because designers, even internationally recognised designers, rarely have the space to archive their own work. Storage space in theatres and opera houses is also at a premium and these institutions cannot accommodate model boxes and other materials of the pre-production process after the event. This problem is even more prescient with the expansion of site-specific work were the onus on documenting process falls back on the performance designer. However, photographs of productions and even detailed accounts of productions in books with images and fragments from designers’ sketch books, rarely have the vibrancy of the actual artefacts themselves - they don’t ‘perform’ in the same way if you like. Thus it was a real treat to experience the ‘aura’ of these original materials, to walk around them and observe their textures and surfaces from different angles, to understand how they were constructed and to reflect on the intentions of their makers. Thus Fragments also raised questions about the future of these artefacts when the exhibition comes to an end? Will they be conserved? Crucially do they have a value and use beyond that for which they were originally conceived, another future? Other media readily and regularly engage with the past through citation – archives are seen as sources of new work and hence valued. This exhibition could be seen as a call for performance design to value its’ own past, including its material performance remains, in a similar way.
* Rebecca Schneider, Performing Remains, Art and War in Times of Theatrical Re-Enactment, Routledge, 2011, London and New York
Professor of Theatre and Performance
Wimbledon College of Arts, University of the Arts, London.
Co-editor Theatre and Performance Design