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Precarious Movements: Conversations – Session 3. Preservation Through Knowledge Transmission: From Artist to Institution

Tuesday 3 November, 8pm

Stephen Gilchrist
Good evening, and good morning to some of you. My name is Stephen Gilchrist, and I'd like to welcome you to the third session of the Precarious Movements, which has featured conversations with artists, curators and conservators to reflect on what happens to choreographic works when they enter a museum space. Got a great program for you tonight, so thank you for joining us. And tonight, we're going to be thinking about knowledge transmission through the particularities of conservation. So, what is the afterlife of liveness in the museum space, and what is the matter that matters for artists, for curators, for conservators. My name is Stephen Gilchrist, I'm Yamatji people of the Inggarda

language group of north-west Western Australia, and I'm Lecturer of Indigenous Art here at the University of Sydney.

I share a deep commitment to making visible, audible and tangible the indigenous knowledge embedded in and safeguarded through place. So, I'd like to acknowledge the Gadigal people, on whose land I'm now on. This place was named by the Gadigal, for the Gadigal and because of the Gadigal. And I pay my deep respects to their ancestors of the past, present and future, who have been keepers and couriers of this knowledge. I'd also like to acknowledge the Kulin nation as the sovereign custodians of the land on which MUMA stands, and I pay my respects to their ancestors, and acknowledge all the lands that you're joining us today.

We're very pleased to have this session Auslan interpreted by Tyson and Dave, so thank you very much. This session will be recorded and available via Monash University's Museum of Art's website in the next few days. Before I introduce the panel, I'd like to provide a visual description. I'm speaking from my office, surrounded by my little library, which I hope has offered me little titbits of knowledge transmission. I've got dark hair, a little bit of grey hair, brown eyes, and I'm wearing dark glasses and a white T-shirt.

I'd like to introduce our speakers tonight - Louise Lawson, who is Conservation Manager of Time-based Media Conservation at Tate, who'll be speaking about Tate's prioritisation of performance-based work. While many performances in museums are often programmatic, the Tate has really advocated for the acquisition of performance-based work. And so, we're going to be hearing from Louise about how conservators need to be really attuned to the complexities of choreographic work and thinking.

We're also joined by Robert Lazarus, who is Lecturer at the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne, who studies the intergenerational documentation of culture through technology and performance. His research is centred on persistent documentary practices in a range of mediums and cross-cultural spaces. And he's also grappling with this active question of knowledge transmission in museums and educational training programs.

So, thank you, both of you, for joining us tonight. And I could ask Louise first to give us a visual description.

Louise Lawson
My name is Louise. I have bob-length brown hair, brown glasses with a little sparkle in the corner. As it's cold here in London, I have a black polo neck on and a green jacket.

Stephen Gilchrist
Thank you very much. And Rob.

Robert Lazarus
I've got curly brown hair. I'm just wearing a black, short-sleeved shirt, sitting in front of quite a hectic bookcase in a white room.

Stephen Gilchrist
Thank you so much. As you might expect from two conservators, we have an immaculately prepared PowerPoint presentation that we're going to be using as a way to identify some of the key case studies, and as a way to map and share our thinking around some of those issues. So, if we could have the presentation up, and I'd like to invite Louise and Rob to take us through some of the thinking around these issues. So, thanks very much, Louise - I think you're starting.

Louise Lawson
Thank you. As I'm not controlling the slides, I am going to say, "Next slide" each time, and every time, if I don't say please or thank you, I do truly mean to though.

As part of this conversation, my focus really is going to talk about some recent work within conservation, specifically time-based media conservation at Tate, where we've been working to develop our approach to the conservation of performance, considering live, changeability, how works can evolve and unfold, considering networks that support care or the artworks themselves, and our work over recent years in terms of developing our documentation tools and strategies about how we can support these works in the collection.

Next slide.

I've selected works as part of the discussion today, that will hopefully lend themselves to how we think about choreographic works, thinking across the notions that Stephen has described, of knowledge transmission, how we might capture activations, and also, our continued and emerging areas of learning. My perspective is very much rooted in practice, and I'm hoping in our conversation with both Rob and Stephen, we hope to draw out some of those key concepts for discussion. Before I hand over to Rob, I do just want to acknowledge Ana Ribeiro and Hélia Marçal, who I work closely with in this area of conservation, as I think it's really important that I reflect the whole team. Rob.

Robert Lazarus
Thank you. Well, I want to start by drawing attention to the fact that we're focusing on Tate, so Louise is definitely the expert here. What I want to think about is thinking alongside Tate and Louise and all the work they're doing over there.

If we could go to the next slide, please.  Thank you.

So, the acquisitions that Tate have been making since 2004 around performance art is pushing conservation in new directions - continuous ones and ones that are shifting different practices. And I want to specifically focus on conservation practices. So, we could be talking about artistic practices and institutional practices, but today we've got two people interested in conservation here, so that's what we're going to focus on. And we're going to shift between museums and artists and performance and conservation stuff, but I guess what we want to think about in a broad sense is what's happening in museum spaces around performance acquisitions.

Some of the questions we're thinking about is how important are museums to conserving contemporary performance art? And how do they support performance-based works through the acquisition process, through their staff? So, I'm thinking primarily about conservation departments. We also - obviously, we're always thinking about artist intent when it comes to conservation, and it's really important to ask how artists are thinking about when their works are acquired, and whether they need to twist and turn what happens in the museum, and if so, how does this modification of established museum practices support acquisitions and the ongoing legacy of their work. And obviously, the simple question that needs to be asked for these acquisition processes that are still emerging and developing, and research growing around this area, is: Can museums look after future performers?

For collecting institutions and performance artists, these questions lead to shared concerns around how performance is engaged and sustained by the museum. Like I said, we're locating these questions within conservation practices for performance-based acquisitions. So, specifically works that have been acquired. In terms of contextualising where I'm coming from, I work at the University of Melbourne. I research and teach performance as a conservable form within the Grimwade Centre, and within the Masters of Cultural Materials Conservation program.

Next slide, please. Over to you, Louise.

Louise Lawson
Great. So, firstly, I wanted to start by reflecting on our most recent work around knowledge transmission and thinking about how conservation can be used as a tool to transmit knowledge to activate a performance. I'd just like to ask to have a clip played of a work by Tony Conrad, which is Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain, which is going to be the focus of the next part of this presentation.

VIDEO CLIP

Andrea Lissoni (from video clip)
Where the great artwork begins and ends is one of the great questions that we have to engage with when working in a museum. Is it about props, instruments, practices, or is it about the pure experience? I would say in the case of Ten Years on an Infinite Plain, it is both. What will be continuing in the next days and weeks and months, perhaps, is the beginning of a ripple effect that we hope will be lasting forever and allowing the work to be alive on an infinite plain.

Louise Lawson
If we can have the next slide, thank you.

So, that was a short clip with our previous Curator, Andrea Lissoni, talking about Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain, which is a complex performance a multimedia artwork that includes, as you could see, a live performance of a musical ensemble, and 4 x 16mm projections. This work was created in 1972 by Tony Conrad, and it was directed and performed by him multiple times until his unfortunate passing in 2016. When this work was proposed to enter Tate's collection, we were determined to keep open the possibilities for the work's future activations. This artwork first came to our attention when it was proposed for acquisition in late 2016,and this was, unfortunately, after the artist had passed away, although the Curator, Andrea, had been working with Tony to propose this work for our collection.

Our first real encounter with this work was when it was to be performed in the South Tank in Tate Modern in January 2017. With Tony's passing in 2016, the performance at Tate Modern at that time would be the first time Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain was going to be performed without the artist acting as both its artistic directors and one of its performers. To activate the work, Tate at that time worked with a group of people who had been involved with Tony's previous activations of the work as performers, and who were also close collaborators of Tony. This moment working with Tony's previous collaborators, was used to initiate a discussion - a first discussion - around the artwork's significant properties and its contacts. And it was the start of discovering the relevant information needed to activate this work in the future.

One of the main conclusions from this very first exchange was that the artwork had no specific score, with performers relying on their past experiences of playing the piece to make it happen, with Conrad's violin being replaced by an audio track of a previous performance. This had happened in previous performances, so this wasn't entirely new, but we knew we were starting to witness some changes and evolvement of this artwork as it started to enter the collection. Following this exchange, all of the stakeholders left with aim to pull together information that would inform our understanding of the artwork, and how it could persist and sustain within the collection.

Just going to hand over to Rob.

Robert Lazarus
So, what's really interesting about Louise's summary there is that the work of Conrad's challenges the museum's internal care practices. So, to address the ongoing issue of artist intent, conservation research needs to be open to interdisciplinary discussions with the performers with different backgrounds and expertise, but also open to experimentation, because what the Tate is having to do is explore ways of looking after the work for a long period of time. And of course, no longer having access to the artist is not a new problem for Tate, but due to performance acquisitions only beginning in 2004, it is a new terrain for live works. So, the establishment of a knowledge management system for performance will subsequently inform future care practices. So, it's obviously a really interesting time for Tate to be doing this research, and for us to be thinking alongside the work they're doing.

I'm interested in how to address the intent that anchors Conrad's work and the openness that defines it. And, as Louise touched on, it's worth reflecting on a more collective and outward looking conservation plan that engages past performances, but also thinks in a reflective way about future performance.

Next slide, please.

A key question, I think, to frame future activations is: How does a museum's internal knowledge management system - it's complex even just to say - how does a museum's internal knowledge management system shift from transmitting a singular artist intent to the many determinations circulating in a network of performers? And I will pose the question to Louise.

Louise Lawson
These are all great questions, Rob, and I'm hopefully going to try and respond to some of those as we move to the next slide.

So, how did we start to try and think about this? I will say, there's an enormous responsibility, and one that isn't taken lightly, when starting to think about this. And so, we started by working to mark the artwork's multiple instances - so, mapping its material history. And I do just want to acknowledge [Hélia Marçal], who coined that phrase for us in terms of mapping material histories. And what this means is, it's a process that allows us to identify the material conditions of various activations. So, with this work, going back to its first performance in The Kitchen in 1972, to its very last activation with the artist at the Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre in 2016.

In considering all of those multiple instances of variation, and given the absence of the artist and the lack of an authorised score, we began to examine our current conservation methodologies for transmitting the work, and really asking ourselves, would they be enough? And timely, though, our work to acquire this artwork coincided with the research project Reshaping the Collectible: When Artworks Live in the Museum, which is a project that's funded by the Andrew W. Mellon fund, for which this artwork would then form a case study. This allowed us to think with the project team further on the complexities that this work presented. This resulted in a second activation of this work in Tate Liverpool in 2019, where we would significantly move forward our work, and it allowed us to further consider how to transmit the work without the artist. This is really the section that I want to talk through and focus on the most - those moments in the run up to, and our time in Liverpool.

Next slide.

We already had procedures in place within conservation, so our strategy for the documentation and conservation of performance, our associated documentation tools that we had developed over the last five years, but the main problem would be capturing all that cannot be said or written, but also the things that were just not said at all at the time. We had identified the challenges in the role of documentation and knowledge transmission, and we started to think about, what would these be and what would we perhaps encounter.

The challenges we thought about would be how to represent each performer, each who had a different complex task within the performance. The artist relied on the curator and producer roles to instantiate the work in various locations, particularly in the late stages of his life - so, what would this mean? How could we capture complementary, but yet different, approaches to the work? The knowledge embodied by the performers who worked with Conrad would be essential - so, how could we capture these many voices? And with Tony himself being absent, what would this ultimately mean, and how could we bring in his voice? We realised that many of the features of the work would depend on the ways of playing, with either the musical or projection technology, and were we able to describe this successfully in our documentation? As part of our process, we were really keen to see how we could create new communities of practice, developing networks outside of the institution that would support this work as part of our work in conservation.

Next slide.

Robert Lazarus
So, I want to have a think about external care networks, and how important they are to performance acquisitions. Firstly, performers deliver a large variety of economic, social and culturally valuable services for collecting institutions. Initially, a group of performers help museums secure ongoing access to live works - so, performing the work in gallery spaces. After this, the specific performance knowledge required for Conrad's work enacts a process for interfacing performers who can transmit the work across many physical stages and historical phases. So, we're thinking about a work in different locations, but also moving forward in time. And, in this process of forward facing acts, and the work being accessible, and there being knowledge transmitted between different performers through activating the work, a network of care is established to mobilise and maintain the work. If supported, a community of practice and performance pedagogy can be developed to address conservation issues that emerge.

Next slide, please.

For conservation, which has always been interdisciplinary, performance diversifies the different sort of knowledge bases you're trying to cover. Important questions around engaging different ways of knowing and acting emerge. The questions I'm asking are: What conditions and mechanisms enable conservators to support external care networks? Can the acquisition process bring performance-based care practices into the museum's internal conservation systems? And then, post-acquisition, can long-term maintenance plans shift museums away from the temporal engagement of performance and towards a group of experts performing long-term conservation?

Next slide.

Louise Lawson
I want to pick up on the networks that need to exist to support these works and we'll talk about what's informing our longer-term strategy, particularly around this work, but I think it will inform future works. To that end, I want to talk about the experiment that we developed for Liverpool - so, still focusing on Conrad. The experiment was to focus on the conservation documentation, and we called this document a dossier, as it pulled together written narrative, audio, video, and it was pulled from multiple different sources. The basis of the documentation was from extensive interviews from across Tony's network - his estate, the gallery, curators, producers, performers, technicians, and as many people as we could locate who had been involved with this artwork or were considered close collaborators of Tony. And to start to think about, could the documentation pulled together across these multiple voices be enough to transfer the knowledge to be able to perform the work.

If I can have the next slide.

The process devised was to think about the conservation documentation; to give that to new performers who had not experienced Tony's work at all; to bring that group of people - those new performers - with Tony's previous collaborators to Tate Liverpool to watch a new rehearsal - so, the new performers rehearsing Tony Conrad's work. This was viewed collectively, including Tony's previous and close collaborators. We had a huge feedback session of a couple of hours to reflect on what we saw, the role of the documentation. Amends were made to the performance. This led to the final performance, which was open to the public, and then, subsequent to that, further amends were made to our conservation documentation. It was absolutely critical for Tony's previous collaborators to contribute to this process in terms of thinking about what this work looked like through transmission of just the documentation only, and evaluating the effectiveness of that in terms of viewing the new performers rehearsing and engaging with Tony's work.

Next slide.

Critical in this experiment and process was the feedback session, and this revealed that the conservation documentation had done a lot, but that in the first rehearsal, it wasn't exactly the performance. There were details that needed further explanation, and one that always resonates in my mind was the word improvisation. Improvisation, for example, was used to describe the violin piece, but when that was witnessed, it wasn't that level of improvisation, and improvisation wasn't the best word to describe the action, because it was interpreted in a completely different way. So, this resulted in really interesting moments of revision, with Tony's close collaborators working with the new performances. And then, just witnessing this knowledge transmission in terms of adding the nuances to the performance. So, we were recording all of these different actions and discussions and conversations, and that really lended itself in terms of thinking about how we would go back and redescribe or reposition certain actions within the performance.

It was interesting to see the influence of those close collaborators, and how those moments of revision really did influence when we went away to update our documentation. It did demonstrate that the conservation documentation served as a good form of input, but there were certainly aspects of the work that couldn't be delegated, and the need for previous collaborators and close collaborators was essential. This really helps inform the way in which we think about this work, moving forward, in terms of how we can support and build a network of performers and certainly, moving forward, when the work is next activated, we'll work with one of Tony's close collaborators, but at the same time work to continue to try and transmit that knowledge to a new performer or new performers.

We're also thinking about how we can use knowledge migration outside of program - and by program, I mean exhibition or display of the work. But the fact that the knowledge around this work needs to migrate itself in a more continued way and a more planned way. So, if the work wasn't shown for five years, we'd want to bring people together to be able to talk about the work, think about the work in terms of that knowledge, so that that isn't lost, so that we're able to support the network around this particular artwork.

Next slide. And I think I'm going to hand over to Rob.

Robert Lazarus
Taking a broader picture, the term 'documentation' and the term 'performance' obviously crunches in different ways according to how you think about the two areas of expertise. But in the museum archive, documentation can capture the way performance art mutates over many iterations. But how does a museum's reliance on written reports and a library-driven content management system impact performance-based works over time?

Next slide, please.

Ideally, the artwork shapes what documentation is produced. So, a conservation plan would ask: Whose documentary practices does performance art invite or demand, encourage, reject, allow and disallow? The answer lies in assessing the work's properties and how it speaks. But documentation is based on what is heard and responded to - what a lot of conservators call the work's defining properties. So, its core elements, or the intrinsic thing that defines the work. So, deciding on these defining properties is a process of prioritisation, and that shifts agency, to some extent, from the work to the person or the people doing the documentation.

So, agency now resides in the person who is filtering knowledge capture and mediating the transmission process. So, if documentary practices filter the work's needs based on the documenter's own demands and allowances, the conservator then needs to also ask: What forms of documentation does my conservation practice invite, reject and disallow?

Next slide.

If a specific documentary practice is shaping what is transmitted forward over time, is documentation doing what it's reporting to do? So, this is a question we always need to come back to when we're dealing with the complexity of works and wanting to care for them in a very neutral way. There's all these subjectivities involved, but is the documentation one is doing actually doing what it's reporting to do? And whose way of knowing is discarded from the cultural record? Or buried beneath just way too much documentation, which is often what happens when you get a bit nervous about whether your documentation has been developed with enough time to reflect on its gaps, for example, or the methodologies available to you within the museum. So, you can generate a mass of documents, but what's hidden is sometimes even harder to find out when you do have a mass of documents. So, documentation strategy needs to contend with what is undocumented, and why.

Stephen Gilchrist
And Rob, who would you expect to assess whether the documentation was doing what it's supposed to do? Would you liaise with artists? How would you see it being critiqued or appraised?

Robert Lazarus
Well, I guess I'm coming from this from the perspective that reflective practices are a part of conservation, and so it is within the conservator's toolset, but also, it does have a background around a sort of neutrality and a sort of scientific approach. So, you could argue that a multi-perspective or a multi-vocal approach is a way to do it. I come from an anthropological background, so I think about what ways can you stack methodologies that the artist employs and the conservator employs, and that all the people in between employ, to try and identify what isn't being captured. So, I think it's a methodological process, a reflective process, and I guess - to answer your question - I also think that it is within the conservation toolset. It's just that there is different forces that drive the discipline, and it's often based on the context in which you work, but also, obviously, to do with your training. And that's something I'm interested in, to what extent do different methods come into training.

Louise Lawson
Yes, and that's hopefully what we're trying to demonstrate with the reflection on the conservation documentation with Tony Conrad. Did it do what it was supposed to do? It went so far in our first iteration of that, of the documentation that we had pulled together. And it's been further refined and developed since that reflection on what it aimed to achieve, and I completely agree with Rob, that that exists there in terms of the conservator's toolkit and practice, but it's like witnessing that first-hand and ensuring that that really filters through into practice, to ensure that it is doing what you think it's doing. As we could see from Conrad, language within that played a really important factor. So, words that people would use didn't necessarily translate into the meaning intended as well, which I always think is quite interesting, and that's something that certainly stayed with me.

Robert Lazarus
All right, do you want to jump to the next slide?

I think we've answered this question - or series of questions - and that is around how performance art has its own ways of documenting itself, and how sometimes this can clash with a museum or a conservations way of documenting a vast array of practices and materials and ways of acting and knowing.Obviously, a lot of documentation is a rear-guard action against all that diversity, but with places like the Tate and Louise's work, there is this focus, this locked-in focus on a particular work's needs. And that's something that we really need to support and think about, and this process is a great way to support that, I think, and shine a light on how much effort and time and energy and reflection is put into locking in like that. I guess from my perspective, there's a lot of reflection happening, there's a lot of different types of methodologies happening, and that's the important thing.

Next slide. Over to you, Louise

Louise Lawson
So, building on the thinking and learning from Conrad, particularly around the body to body transmission that we witnessed in terms of that interaction between his close collaborators and the new performers, and the implicit and explicit knowledge in terms of what was said, what wasn't said, that we needed to capture and think about, this certainly led us to think about knowledge transmissions more in those moments of activation, and led us to think about our role within auditions, rehearsals, as well as that final performance. And so, this is where I'd like to talk a little bit about Our Labyrinth by the artist Lee Mingwei, and I would like to say, I was hoping to say a lot more in terms of this, but our work was paused with COVID, so our work with this stopped in March as we were due to show this work in May. We reached the audition phase, so that's what I can talk up to, but it will be certainly interesting to see what comes next, and this is something that I'm very excited to see. This is our first choreographic work entering Tate's permanent collection, and Our Labyrinth is a participatory work in which single dancers, each dressed in floor length sarongs, wearing ankle bells, take it in turns to sweep a mound of rice in patterns on the floor in any designated gallery space. I think we're just going to see a short clip for this work next.

<VIDEO CLIP>

Louise Lawson
Thank you. We can move on to the next slide.

And so, building on this experience that each artwork gives us, we started to think about this work particularly around those activation moments and the knowledge transmitted in those. And so, again, the challenges that we'd started to identify with this work were the notions of the body playing a significant and crucial role; and the embodied knowledge that comes from that accumulative, reflective action; and how that practice can be transmitted via the body; and how that can be taught from one person to another, which was obviously spoken about by Shelley Lasica in our previous session, and Victoria Hunt modes of capture during the rehearsal and the performance; and this entanglement of the body and words, and how these can translate to movement and meaning; and how to understand the body, understand the relationships of words.And as we started to realise, these words have really enormous meaning, particularly when they're written down. So, it was just something that we were starting just to think about a little bit more.

This process, similar to Conrad, will involve experienced dancers, known as [seed] dancers, working with new dancers who've been selected via an audition process. So again, a very similar construct to that of Conrad. This will allow us, again, to see that transmission from the experienced to the new, and how that network or model of sharing knowledge and, I guess, the network of care that would be associated with that - how we actually visualise that and realise that and start to understand what we may need to do in terms of being able to support that. We wanted to really focus on what to capture during the activation, with the aim of understanding about how the knowledge would be transmitted between experienced to new dancers; the role of the artist within that.

We were very interested to think about what we would capture. We certainly were very conscious about the amount of information, because you could capture a huge amount about this work, but how you can then translate that to another individual, so they can understand what's critical about it, is a very difficult balance. So, we were starting to think about specifically how much information - what did we need to capture; what would be important to then transmit to another conservator who may engage with this work.

Next slide.

So, our field work, as we had planned it - we had discussions with the artist and curator to understand the work and its requirements. We were observers in the audition process - so this was Ana Ribeiro and Hélia Marcal and myself with the artist, dancer and curator. We had a series of internal conservation-led workshops considering what we may need to capture, and modes for doing this. We wanted to observe the rehearsals and engage with the artist, experienced dancers and new dancers, and to incorporate moments of reflection, along with interviews, and to observe the performance when it takes place. So, we got up to point three - series of internal conservation-led workshops, before we had to pause.

If I can have the next slide.

And so, the audition process was an enlightening one to be an observer in, I must admit, particularly observing the qualities used to describe movement. The criteria that you can see on the screen was - this isn't all of it, but this is some of it - so, able to perform in a breathy, flowing, continuous slow movement. So, we have that written down, but it was absolutely illuminating to see that in a very visual way, and thinking about how the artist, one of his experienced dancers and the curator responded to that. It became really clear what the artist was looking for in terms of the intention of these dancers. We were able to capture different moments in the audition and that has been incredibly helpful and rich in terms of thinking about how we can then translate that information, moving forward.

Next slide.

And as I mentioned, we had a series of internal workshops to consider what we may need to capture, and working very closely with the artist, so you can see an image of the auditions, one of our internal workshops and thinking about how we may capture different aspects of this work. We also had a session with Motion Bank, because we were intrigued at this moment - and this is something my colleague [Ana Ribeiro] is very interested in - is thinking about the role of annotation in the role of our documentation. For the rehearsals and activations, we explored how we could capture transmission, and how to do this without interrupting the process. We were also conscious, as I mentioned, about generating too much information, so it moves beyond being useful to useless. If you have 24 hours of video footage, that's very difficult for someone to engage with.

As I mentioned, our work here was paused because of the pandemic, but we will be continuing our work considering what we capture, how much we capture, and this is going to teach us so much. Certainly, with this work we are moving into a new knowledge space, and one that we need to better understand, using our experience, and then think about how this will inform art conservation practice, moving forward, particularly with it being our first choreographic work into the collection.

Next slide.

Robert Lazarus
Because the work was paused, obviously there's a space to speculate on potential actions, moving forward, and I had plans to think about that in London rather than on Zoom, but we deal with what we're given. So, I'm just going to speculate a little bit to draw to an end this particular artwork's focus, to think about the material agencies driving the work. So, the artist says when he's casting dancers, to think about the agency of the rice or the grain, and how they can interact or dance with the rice or listen to the rice. I think that's a really interesting way to think about this work, moving forward, as well. And because we've - with Conrad's work - we've thought about the social aspects and artist intent and communities of practice, I want to move now - because conservation has to do this - move from the social to the material, or specifically how brooms, rice and gallery floors conserve Our Labyrinth.

Next slide, please.

Now, obviously performers shape the reiterations of this work over the next hundred years, or however long we're able to re-perform the work. And from a subjective perspective, the simplicity of a rice and broom guarantees certain self-managed actions bound to each performer. So, each performer is in control of what's happening. However, across many iterations, repeating actions emerge from those self-directed acts. So, important question is: What is activating the work's consistency?

Next slide, please.

A conservation plan is to consider to what extent a repeating action is prompted by a broom in hand and a mound of rice on the gallery floor. Can we move beyond thinking about performance props and consider how a material agency precedes the performer's subjective acts? Is there a deep context beneath each new performance that creates a consistent cultural practice, or shared memory of acting with the broom and the rice on the floor? So, from the perspective of materials determining certain cultural actions, does the sweeping of rice create a continuous, but also an evolving action which conserves the work, importantly as unfixed, but also constant?

Next slide, please.

If conservation plans shift focus from the context of physical materials to physical sites, another set of forces have to be contended with to maintain the work. For many artists, contemporary performance art challenges the social histories and cultural context of museums. So, performances dealing with all the stickiness of museum spaces and the histories that they carry. And these different dispositions can disrupt a work's key characteristics or, like we talked about before, the defining properties. Staging a consistent performance across changing sites is a matter of recoding galleries and reprogramming museums for different types of spatial practices. We see a stone statue in the background while a performer is sweeping rice in certain museum locations. Performance tries to procure museums as portals transporting a conserved work - so, museums have a role to play in maintaining this history of performance art that is contemporary and ongoing. All these gallery floors need to be flattened into a persistent stage for sweeping rice. So, the dispositions of the gallery need to give way to the work's needs.

Next slide, please.

As Louise articulated, this persistence is also found in the casting process, where a core strength, or a physical characteristic also maintains the work. So, we're thinking about the materiality of the performer, like the materiality of the gallery, like the materiality of the rice and broom. And so, when performers are cast, specific attributes form a key selection criteria that maintain the work. And so, conserving the work, which Louise has touched on, is really important in the casting process. How is casting dealing with hidden physical attributes that maintain a certain way of performing the work?

Next slide.

So, the interesting thing is to think about - especially with lockdown and not even having access to the work in the way you would like - and obviously in London this is happening right as we speak in terms of Tate not being able to do its usual business - is thinking about now, and then speculating on its effect, because you're thinking into the deep future. So, what is it about many iterations, moving forward, that is documented by the persistent movement, tone and tension within the work itself across changing people and changing places? How does sweeping rice actually document the work and pass it on through materials and techniques? And how can this create ongoing operations that conserve the performance?

So, I guess what I really want to think about is how - this is obviously speculative - a performance schedule is vital for this work, moving forward, so it's actually enacting the work that enables its conservation. We're not thinking about storage, we're not thinking about particular types of photos or videos or reports. We're thinking about how performing this work maintains it. So, how performers move through different spaces and move through different bodies, and how that maintains the work. So, this is about scheduling performances in an ongoing way, and that's a really interesting space for conservation to enter. So, how can works be turned on, or how can they be activated every two years, beyond exhibition schedules. This is an interesting area that conservation is now thinking about, and that is, how can acts of conservation be cultivated, harvested and preserved over generations by performers sweeping rice with brooms in gallery spaces?

Next slide, please, and over to you.

Louise Lawson
I think that last point, Rob, is really, really important in terms of just that migration of knowledge, or that continuation of knowledge, where it doesn’t reside within a program activity but actually starts to become core to your conservation strategies. For the works that we've spoken about today, our work in conservation is not finished. It's an ongoing process, and our knowledge and practice develops with each artwork that we encounter. And this is a continuous process of reflection, learning and questioning. We have more areas of learning as we continue to work with different artists, different artworks and lots of these issues that I've put on the screen, I feel, resonate with choreographic works. What do we share when we transmit a work? How does this change for each activation? How do we assess that the work is the work, and our documentation is doing what it's supposed to be doing? How do we keep open the possibilities of our work? But we can also see, with the works and nuances that come with those, the experience the work past, present and future, and how that will inform our migration of knowledge as a conservation strategy. But also, how our conservation practice needs to evolve or continually evolve and be informed by cultural practices and artistic practices.

I pulled out a quote from Stephen's ACCA lecture, The New Defining Moments, which happened on the 12th of October - so if anybody wants to watch that, I would highly recommend it. What really resonated with me was a quote made in relation to territorial, linguistic, political and categorical boundaries, but what leapt out was the notion of movement between, beyond and through boundaries. So, for me, whether this is boundary with our current practice, the need to move beyond those boundaries in terms of supporting knowledge, or caring for knowledge, wherever this may reside. And I think that's the key challenge for us in conservation, moving forward, and hopefully we have shared some of our work to address that and the ongoing work that we need to do. Thank you.

Over to you, Stephen.

Stephen Gilchrist
Thank you both so much for that very generous - walking us through many of the things that you're thinking about. I'm really struck by this idea of the care network, and I think this is an example of a care network itself. But yes, creating this living embodied participatory archive that we can discuss and think about these issues. But I'm also curious, why are there so many institutional obstacles to thinking about these issues? Why is it that we're not ready to deal with the specialised medium of performance-based work? People need to be part of this care network to care enough for the work, or what do you think are some of those obstacles? Either of you. Tate is doing such a great job.

Louise Lawson
I guess it's just interesting because we focus - obviously, my perspective is conservation - we focus a lot that when a work is coming into the collection, irrelevant of its medium, we will care for it or develop strategies for its care, even if it doesn't fit into our current practices. I think that's the whole mode of contemporary art. We don't necessarily have a strategy or have come across something before, but we have set up, particularly within conservation at Tate, to be able to respond to that, whether that's through researching what the issues might be, just trying to work with each encounter and how that might lend itself. I certainly know, across some institutions - but obviously I can't speak for all - does performance works actually make it to the conservation department? A lot of it can sit curatorially, which is absolutely fine in terms of if that's how your institution's set up, but of course, I would advocate that conservation can play an additional role in being able to support how these works can be sustained or persist, once they're acquired into a permanent collection.

Robert Lazarus
I think that - it's a broad statement, but it's interesting to think about, which is maybe in certain western museums that are acquiring performance works or have large contemporary collections - is there a balance between oral culture and a written culture, or the knowledge practices around something that may be - I'm not saying western cultures have lost the ability to maintain things without written documents, but there's certainly a lot to be gained, as a conservator, from working with performance and sharpening memory practices or ways of acting that does allow you to maintain a knowledge beyond a photograph, or beyond a report. So, I think that's part of the challenge, is a lot of museums define themselves by a very specific cultural practice.

Stephen Gilchrist
I like your argument about ceremony being a kind of documentation as well, and thinking about - for indigenous people, it's not about what can be known, but who can know certain things as well. So, what also bypasses the archive and things like that. Maybe we've got a bit of time to talk - well, not that much time, really - but maybe we can just say that one of the works that a lot of people are really excited that the Tate is co-acquiring with the Museum of Contemporary Art, is a work by Richard Bell, the Embassy work. And while we've been discussing works that are quite rehearsed and reiterative - Richard Bell's Embassy is reiterative as well - but there's an unrehearsed quality about it. But I was just thinking about - both of you - how cultural materiality is thought about in terms of many of these acquisitions and how does that survive the process of acquisition? Is it in the written document? Where does it - this is a work that's going to be co-located - where does this archive sit? I was wondering if you had any thoughts about this. I know it's not yet acquired.

Louise Lawson
We're just in the process of starting to look at this work. I think it presents some really interesting challenges, and ones that we have touched upon, but not really delved into. I think the cultural practices is a really interesting one, in terms of just thinking about how can that be maintained? Should that be maintained? What does that look like? What does that mean to the artist? How is that represented? How would the artist like to see that maintained? And then, what is our responsibility within that, and what would we do from a conservation perspective to articulate some of that, but at the same time keeping it open, as you've described.

Robert Lazarus
I guess it's exciting to think about institutions being open to performance-based practices, and the opportunities this provides artists from minority groups from all over the world. In Australia there's an expertise that comes with performance-based work, so it's really interesting to think about how Tate will learn from working with those different artists, and how those artists are given maybe a stronger platform through performance-based practices, that perhaps doesn't exist with all mediums. Obviously we'll see, but it's interesting, because Tate's so open to thinking about things in terms of research and in terms of sharing that research with other institutions, I think, it's all good in a way. So, it's just baby steps, and hopefully things emerge and grow, and things will become sophisticated. We can only do better, I think.

Stephen Gilchrist
I have one question in the Q & A, and the question is: How is education and training in performance conservation changing in Australia? Are the new generation of conservators particularly interested in this space? I think this is an obvious question for you, Rob.

Robert Lazarus
Obviously my goal is for performance conservation to be the master practice, and so we start with performance and everything just comes underneath that particular knowledge. But we're not quite there yet. However, we have a lot of really brave Master students at the Grimwade Centre at Melbourne University who are doing research on performance conservation, and it's an interesting area because there's not a huge amount of material to go off, and it does - I was doing a little bit before - it does require some speculation and detective work. So, we do have students who are bravely going down this path, who, I guess, are stimulated by the critical aspect of it, I guess the exciting aspect of it.

But also, it is an open path, so in the same way time-based media generated a lot of heat for students because it was an emerging area, performance conservation is definitely now doing that as well for a lot of students at Melbourne University. So, that's really exciting, but they do need support. We do need performance acquisitions to support this work. And I guess the goal for Louise and I, a little bit, is to say, "This work is important and challenging", but at the same time it's really important to make acquisitions and to look after them and to think about all the things they bring to a museum space and bring to culture and people by thinking about these works. So, I think students sense that - they're smart and they're finding, "This is a really interesting thing to spend time thinking about and working on".

Stephen Gilchrist
Thank you both very much for all your generous contributions and taking us through this. It seems - this is outside my area, obviously - but I've learned so much and it's interesting to see how critical and reflective and responsive and anticipatory that you have to be when dealing with many of these questions. But I'm really excited about the possibilities, and that you're not only transforming the archive in many of these museums, but also transforming the process of archivisation. I think that's really exciting. So, thank you very much for joining me tonight. Thanks Louise, thanks Robert, thank you Dave, thanks Tyson.