Archive for performance art? Dealing with archiving, transmitting and mediating artworks created through actions

Performance art lays the focus on the process, the immediate present and the appearance the human body passes through. The body emerges from the here and now into artistic expression. Artwork regarded as an object of commodity is questioned while the artwork’s objectness and its durability recede into the background. Institutional standards of archiving adhere to rigid rules and are aimed to perpetuate an instant moment unchangeably and in detail (preservation). What to do, when the art work is in constant movement and engaging with the audience is the one and only creating moment? In what ways can a period of time, a location, an area with bodies moving and relating to each other be archived?

The “Kunstraum Niederoesterreich”, the only exhibition space among the cultural institutions of Lower Austria situated in Vienna, was founded in 2005 as part of the “Niederösterreichischen Museum Betriebs GmbH” and the “Niederösterreich Kulturwirtschaft Holding”. The main focus of the exhibition center is on the young, experimental contemporary art with its focal point on performance art. An extensive collection came into existence containing numerous documentation materials on image and in video reporting performance projects, next to submitted conceptual proposals and a portfolio for the “H13 Lower Austria Prize for Performance”, the only award for performance art in Austria, which has been awarded annually since 2007. Kunstraum Niederoesterreich’s collection focus results from performance art following-up over the years.   

How to basically archive performance art is planned to be conducted as a dissertation research project carried out on the bases of Kunstraum Niederoesterreich’s performance art stockings and the collections of Landessammlungen Niederösterreich. Various strategies on archiving are expected to be collected, evaluated, analyzed on an international comparison, and new methods to be developed, all together in peer-group workshops and interviews. Cooperation between artists and art mediators and artistic research are supposed to develop and analyze methods rendered to hand-on performative (practical) knowledge. Theories drawn from cultural studies, performance studies, philosophy, and archival science are the starting point for highly scrutinizing the current standards for archiving performance art. Due to the fact that performance art is a fairly young art form the opportunity arises to interview performance artists and theorists from the very first days on. From today’s point of view it is obligatory to our generation to take care of the premature legacy and bequests of the performance art pioneer’s, to analyze and research their strategies and archiving methods reaching from the past to the present, and to develop new, alternative strategies and best practice examples derived from these findings. This research contributes to the current basic research and the development of relevant standards in the areas of regional and international performance and archive sciences. As video being the most frequent media used by the performance artists, research findings are due to be exchanged and utilized for archiving time-based media as well in the county collections’ field of media art.

A concept comprising the evaluated and analyzed research findings is supposed to establish a performance archive to register both collections those of “Landessammlungen Niederösterreich” and “Kunstraum Niederoesterreich” following the current research criteria with the potential to make it publicly accessible.


Duration 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2021
Funding Bundesländer (inkl. deren Stiftungen und Einrichtungen)
Program nfb

Department for Arts and Cultural Studies

Center for Museum Collections Management

Principle investigator for the project (University for Continuing Education Krems) Mag. Sandra Sam
Project members
Mag. Marlies Surtmann


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