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Durational performance, Durational Work, and the pleonasm: Long Duration

If I don't think about time then I know what it is, but if I'm then asked I don't know anymore. Norbert Elias (recalled mood)

„Durational performance is mode of live art where the artist works directly with the medium of time. Over the course of hours, days or longer the performer and the audience can experience a physical, mental, spiritual and/or emotional transformation. Durational performance functions to bring the performer and the audience into the moment; time is made palatable and visceral.” Kate Barry

This description of the term “Durational Performance” could be seen as the paraphrasing with the lowest common denominator.

Furthermore, writes Kate Barry, “How durational performance art can use mental and physical endurance to challenge the commoditization of art persist in the offering an experience of art that is ephemeral by nature.”

This opens a new area of questions, which I will approach in the following without any full certainty; instead of seeking answers, we will examine some of the differences.

But first some questions: − What is “Durational Performance” and how does it unfold?
− What unfolds within space and time, and which duration is manifested?
− What occurs with the person who conceives time and spaces, and what occurs with those who accompany this conception?
− What is meant by the statement “ephemeral by nature” (seeing as every concept of time is a human construct with its locus in the consciousness, and every argument for the localization of time acting out from nature seems impossible)?
− Can nature, or that which man as a genuine, natural being calls nature, unfold projections, which create time (i.e. via perception)?
− And as a further and central thought, what does man do to himself when he: a) speaks of time and duration, or b) exposes himself to time and duration?
− Further, if time does then exist: what are the differences between the various concepts of time, which have been invented? And what are the variable perceptions of these different “times” like?

Each performance, which is conceptually different, has an imminent pattern of motion and time. What kinds of patterns of duration are there, and how are they manifested?

The physical, biological and social compulsion to address the question of time – something which occupies everyone – led to the desire to create a sort of “science for the people”, and this in the tradition of H. Helmholtz. His idea for the 19th century was similar: to found a “science of life”. (These ideas accompanied his biological and physical experiments, as he programmatically transformed his observations on the level of general humanities.) This was a program, which cannot and will not be presented in this short essay.

Duration, Notions of Duration and Condition
To expose oneself to life, to participate in the social and cultural process of life – for me, this means dynamiting the activities in which I take part and finding suitable technologies and models for them.
Gestalts. The careless focus on acceleration as well as deceleration. The view hones in on the various forms and implementations of duration. Duration – the differentiation between outer parameters and inner operations, which throng toward externalization and emerge as images.
Either as images of acceleration or as images ranging from deceleration to suspension (Bergson). In both cases, the product – the instrumentalization of time – is pushed into view; the usury of new and the usury of eternal recurrence.

Duration occurs. What does “duration occurs” mean? If we operate on the hypothesis that time is no absolute medium, that it is always relative to its external parameters and that it itself is always in transition alongside these changing parameters, the question arises: How can the various concepts of time be perceived? What are the figures of thought of time and duration like in cultural conventions? And: how does duration show itself if the biological processes, processes of life and everyday processes in their innumerable continuities sink into a flowing yet imperceptible continuum?

Time as a figure of thought implies:
- the “eternal entity” cannot be experienced as impermanence until in retrospect.
And the fact that these experiences lead then definitely to the construction of various perspectives and various architectures of various form of history.
- the moment, the now, the invisible instant (as Ulrich Raulff describes it) which has already disappeared into evanescence before it is perceived.
- this is followed by the irreversibility of becoming (which is also always the “now” which no thought can follow).

Time, as a figure of thought, both constructs and structures the orientation of thought along the process of continuously appearing events.
Norbert Elias described this kind of time with the metaphor of “mobility of thought”.

Here, fractures and fissures, paradoxes and time-traps as well as falling in time become apparent.

Just such a thing happened to me once – a case of irreversibility, a paradox that I fell into – which I experienced as “time in between”.
In the years from 1978-1983 I was in charge of a gallery, which had continually hosted performances and action art since 1979. Structurally speaking, the events were set up so that the visiting artists arrived several days before the performance to get used to the conditions of the space, collect the needed materials and to install the environment for the presentation. On the weekend, either Friday or Saturday, the event took place and then one or two days later the visitors would take leave. Occasionally this format would be changed so that the visitor or visitors would be present for up to three months.
The time between the arrival and the presentation acquired a quality quite different than the presentation of the work, the performative installation or the performance. For me, the time spent with the visitors, the conversations, our mutual work on the material, the development of ideas for a performance or installation and the ideas themselves – this was more substantial than the final work and its representation. (Context of observation and context of reference to past, art-historic presentations).

I stumbled upon a wonderful sentence by the Fluxus artist Georg Brecht: If you want to know something, spend time with someone who knows something. This was a perfect description for the breadth and vastness, the transcendence of the thresholds of everyday life and the entrance of spaces yet unimagined. For me, the qualities of being and existence were unfolded to unknown inner expanse and duration.

The time in between
Several features were not evident in this time in between. Alongside time and the progression of time, the phenomenon which define and structure time such as the everyday, life, art and time-bound symbols such as money were no longer perceptible.

I could also experience the paradox: how heightened awareness and perception gave rise to a kind of loss of perception (as intensity) and thereby also timelessness. A timelessness which made itself evident in inner participation, not in an anchoring, distance-creating face-to-face.

I began to develop projects and design the frameworks for open-ended visits without constructing them. This went along with the obligation that both I and the invitees were present for at least 10 days, and more preferably for 30 days, with each day spanning a full 24 hours.

Between these atemporal requirements and the willingness to submit oneself to them, time in between was set to arise.

I began transforming invitations from institutions by suggesting concepts due to “encounters”. Requirements such as exhibition, installation and performance were to become obsolete. Encounters with others who were invited, encounters with spaces (interspaces, extreme spaces) and encounters with time in between.

They were to be long periods of time without any temporal structuring. (Which were nevertheless always interrupted by the conditions of everyday parameters, as the everyday lives of these people were under constant stress. Galleries and exhibition spaces can only partially allow for the openness of times in between).

A further feature is evident in the difference between the technologies of dynamisation and the technologies of efficiency; the former does not present or intend for any results and introduces the conditions for inner externalization while the latter must fulfil predefined social, economic and cultural goals and models.

Even if one avoids production or products, traces, objects, relics, products and works arose. These had their own unique and ambivalent quality.

The materials and actions, which arose in the time in between, lost the specific characteristic of representation. They were in a constant state of flux between presentation, availability, change and notion of being.

Its lack of identity opened a wide spectrum of possibilities of producing unintended effects. Continuous encounters with this material were manifested as a self-conceiving action for all participants in-“between”.

When time in between collapsed (which indeed was often the case), when work was localized, when time entered into an economic relation with money and conditional representation, i.e. when an intentional, optimal location was produced and when time was altered in the acceleration – this was when identity emerged.

The people are confronted and face to face each other. Same with all the things, which is the world. Difference became power.

The identity between money and power and the identity of the individual person with time, with various times he submits to and surrendered to, became symbiotic.

The council
From the 1st until the 30th of September of 1981, the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart and Künstlerhaus Hamburg hosted a thirty-day meeting. (No term can really adequately describe this thirty days event). 40 artists were officially invited, yet approximately 70 participated during the month. Certain premises and parameters were determined in advance by the organization:

The activities should be open in terms of progression. The handling of materials and subject matter should not result in the destruction of a thing, situation or work. The technologies of artistic production should be avoided as much as possible. Subject matter and material should be free and open for use by any participating artist. Each of the invitees (as not only artists were addressed here) should show his or her primal desires, the gravitation that moves them, the fractions that oscillate between thought and action.

The unforeseen processes, activities and the abundance of offers opened up thematic fields which would reach far into the next years, acting as catalysts for further projects.

At the end of the month (which was more like an abrupt interruption) almost all participants had extreme difficulties returning to their “normal lives”.

Life as an experiment. Designing models and instruments, intensifying emotional impressions, generating knowledge and inducing specific experiences became the constant desire and stood in defiance of the production of artificial, artistic works.

“Permanently unknown to oneself” – so described H. Helmholtz this active nature, this commitment to experimentation as an experiment with oneself. H. Helmholtz, G. Th. Fechner, J.W. Ritter et. al. were not the only ones to describe this absorption into the intermediary spaces and times in between where the individual finds himself in some kind of “openness”. It was Hannah Arendt who found more pleasing words for this: Vita Activa.

Jump. Leap and closing sentences My thoughts meandered around time, duration, and figure, giving a temporal quality to living processes, time in between and much more. A fact is, a factotum is: how can time be instrumentalized to appear as duration within a work?

The might of concepts.
Opposing this stands imperceptible time, uninstrumentalized time, experiencing the condition of being which makes no references to daily, everyday institutions or orientations.
An existence as constant present within continual becoming, which is just as well continually passing.
Wishing for a difference existence only to realize that any reality, no matter how it may be termed, cannot be left behind. The inability to avoid is a fundamental, glowing feature of perception.

A difference becomes apparent: works of life art, durational works and the ultramodern term durational performances have formal, stylistic and art-historical references. They are glaringly different from the positings of existence, which also possess a length of time but no reference to work.

Self-functioning time has a tendency to distort our view of the fundamentals.

A different duration
A stone, roughly twice as large as my head is hanging in front of my face. The rope, which holds the stone, is approximately 3-6m – usually.
I stand before the stone and begin to breathe on it, lightly puffing air on the stone. Eventually, the stone starts to sway, very minimally. And I am swaying with it. In breathing in, my body sways slightly forward, and in breathing out backwards. The duration ends as my legs begin to give way from standing too long.

The nature of duration has not become accessible to me from my weakness at the knees nor that of time.

The invention of performance beyond its term and concepts

Boris Nieslony 2014
Translation: Nick DiSalvo

Boris Nieslony, Koan, Daily Life Plot: NatureStudy - Breathing Photo by Stein Pustend