RE For “Retort”

Sylvette Babin
This issue on the theme of re-enactment arose from the desire to cast a critical eye on the not-so-new but very current trends of restaging cult exhibitions or re-enacting historical events, on the one hand, and “reproducing” performances that have marked art history, on the other. Whereas in the art world re-enactments are frequently motivated by a reactualization or critical rereading of a social or political event, restagings of exhibitions or performances seem more oriented toward the valorisation of an ­artist’s work or of a significant moment in art history — toward an homage of sorts. Two quite distinct directions therefore emerged as this issue was put together.

The most eloquent cases of restagings of historical performances are certainly the renowned re-enactments of Marina Abramović. Although frequently motivated by the desire to uphold the memory of mythical works, the practice of re-enactment raises numerous questions concerning the resulting repetition, representation, and spectacularization — theatrical specificities initially questioned by the performers — and the inevitable decontextualization of the works and their reinterpretation by another artist. The latter aspect also serves to relaunch the debate around authorship and intellectual property, as Amelia Jones clearly emphasizes: “By redoing earlier works, the artist draws on the previous artist’s name to further her own career.” These re-enactments also give rise to the commodification — real or symbolic — of the traces of “new” performances, a phenomenon exacerbated when original archival material (sometimes missing or of questionable quality) is overshadowed by the highly polished documentation of the re-enacted works.

Providing deeper insight into the challenges and pitfalls of re-enactment, the critical analysis offered by Jones seemed sufficiently enlightening to be the sole text to examine the re-enactment of performance. In this issue, we have chosen to give precedence to writings on artistic re-enactments that revisit moments in history — moments of political, military, or judicial import. We also shine a light on the terminology used to distinguish the numerous manifestations of re-enactment from forms of replay, in which the critical impact usually associated with re-enactment tends to get lost. Referring to the ideas of philosopher R. G. Collingwood, Jacinto Lageira reminds us that re-enactment involves “re-thinking the ideas and conceptions of the past and, above all, reading them critically, making value judgments, and bringing forward historical proofs of what we are claiming.” To explain, he quotes Collingwood: “[The] object to be discovered is not the mere event, but the thought expressed in it.” It is exactly this perspective that the authors published here have chosen to present, by selecting re-enactments that, for the most part,1 1 - The exceptions are the re-enactments of performances and the reconstructions of artworks, such as those by Adad Hannah, presented in this issue.  offer a critical — or even satirical — view of the events being re-enacted. Serving as a source for re-enactments, archival documents, whose contents are themselves often biased by subjective choices or the limits of documentation, are often revisited to either question their accuracy and restore their veracity, or to counter propagandist leanings, or to give them new meaning. The results are works of fiction that, despite being dependent on the events at their origin, undeniably acquire their own distinct identity. It therefore becomes interesting to examine the theme of re-enactment from the point of view of the French term réplique,2 2 - Elitza Dulguerova, “L’expérience et son double, Notes sur la reconstruction d’expositions et la photographie,” Intermédialité, no. 15 (spring 2010): 53 — 71,
which, by force of its two-fold meaning of replica and retort (in response to uncertainties surrounding the original event), implicitly intersects with the various stances taken by the artists and authors published in this issue.

[Translated from the French by Louise Ashcroft]

Sylvette Babin
This article also appears in the issue 79 - Re-enactment

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