CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


SCHAFER, Friederike
The Display as Afterlife: On the Reconstruction and R epresentation of Ephemeral Works of Art through Performative Documents

Session 17 Display


This paper discusses the display as the most apt medium for retrievingephemeral works of art that belong to the genres of installation art and performance art in order to make them accessible to a public. I will trace the transition of a selection of works from the 1970s via their derivatives into displays, and discuss the potentialities and implications of this medium in the context of the current debate on the “performative document.”

Unfolding in time and space, the full impact of installation works and performance pieces canonly be experienced on site, and theirdocumentation inevitably decreases the level of information to the extent that reconstructing the original situation seems to become an unsurmountablechallenge. Yet it is common practice to deploy one single“iconic image” as the embodiment of the “original” work. As both art historians and exhibition makers reenact these“vanished”works notionally, this very process should be met with a fittingform of representation. It is the medium of the display that offers an opportunity to create constellations in specific settings, enabling the assembling and contextualizing of various items related to the work, such as images, residual objects/relics, scores/scripts, notes, and audiovisual material, for example.

Instead of representing a contained work of art to an audience, the display of these materials creates an entirely new situation that engages viewers, calling on them to become their own navigators and to form a subjective approach to the work, which results in concurrent narrations. The display thus functions as an afterlife of ephemeral works – or rather as an instigator for various afterlives.

SCHAFER, Friederike

Friederike Schäfer is a fellow at the Cluster of Excellence of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin “Image Knowledge Gestaltung,” where she is working onher PhD project “Claiming Spaces. On the Artistic Production of Places in Flux”. She studied Art History and North American Studies (with a focus on Sociology and Cultural Studies) at Freie Universität Berlin and the School of Art, University of Washington, Seattle, and spent a research semester at Bard Graduate Center, New York City, in 2015. Between 2009 and 2013, she worked for the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, onthe independent European project “re-act.feminism – aperforming archive,” and for dOCUMENTA (13), and co-curated the interdisciplinary research and exhibition project “The Swarm Principle. Performative and Political Swarms in the Arts” (2012 at NGBK, Berlin and 2013 at KunstvereinHarburgerBahnhof, Hamburg).

She spent this summer at the Terra Summer Residency in Givernyas a recipient of a doctoral fellowship.