Visit to the BnF: Documenting & Archiving Performance

Students from AMT, SDM and Fashion Design in the “Bodies in Space” course taught by Emmanuel Cohen went to the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF, French national library) yesterday. They visited the Rotonde des Arts du spectacle (Rotunda of Performing arts), a section dedicated to the exhibition of the archives of performance. The BnF on rue de Richelieu hosts a specially curated collection of archives related to performance, theater and dance, among other collections. Temporary selections of this outstanding collection initiated by Auguste Rondel, a private collector who donated his archives to the French national library, is showcased in a freshly renovated gallery designed by Henri Labrouste, a famous French architect responsible for the modernization of the building in the 1870s. As the students approach the end of the semester and think about their final projects, this visit helped to address technical questions of documentation, archiving and preservation of ephemeral events such as performance.

While they could enjoy a variety of documents, from posters, sketches and costumes to audio and video recordings of ballets and songs, this exploration of a snippet of the rich collections of the BnF offered a first hand experience to think about the type of information each document contains: a sketch of a costume reveals, through its structure, the type of movements the performer might have accomplished;  its materiality informs on the way its textures reacted under the spotlight; a live audio recording, while distancing the body of the singer, might reveal the way the audience reacted at the time through the background sounds.

The visit offered the group the opportunity to think back on the material they were exposed to during the first section of the course on the history of performance. Drawing from this experience, students are now ready to choose from audio and video documentation, testimonies, documentary and staged photography to document their upcoming performance projects and contribute to the rich discussion happening today in the art world and in museums on performance and its documentation!