Article. Poor Traces of the Room: The Live Archive at the Library in Performance Research: On Libraries

I wrote this article with Anna Makrzanowska for a special edition of Performance Research looking at artistic interventions in libraries. This subject is particularly close to my heart because I worked as a library assistant at Peckham Library for three years whilst studying for a PhD.


In his 1992 essay Eftermaele: ‘That which will be said afterwards’ Eugenio Barba states that ‘[i]n the age of electronic memory, of films, and of reproducibility … performance … defines itself through the work that living memory, which is not museum but metamorphosis, is obliged to do’ (78). His mention of memory is an acknowledgement of a spectator’s implicit function as a legacy-maker in theatre. Memory, here, is valorized by its transformative and non-reproducible form, which to Barba’s mind better reflects the experience of attending a performance. The notion of a spectator as a living archive is undoubtedly alluring, but Barba inadvertently reveals the limitations of this schema in his later essay ‘The essence of theatre’ (2002) by describing this legacy as ‘action that cannot be communicated’ (p.18). Describing the afterlife of a performance as little more than an invisible trace is to denude a document’s capacity to produce new meanings of past performances. The meaning of a text is not static: the moment a document is accessed the knowledge it has contributed in the construction of becomes live. The Live Archive was programmed as part of Kantor Is Here, a series of events celebrating Taduesz Kantor’s centenary and the teaching of Kantor at Rose Bruford. The Live Archivewas a piece designed to theatricalize the processes by which knowledge is constructed through the social interactions that libraries engender. The ‘live’ of the title denotes a medium that transmits information between different groups and peoples. This article argues that the library, as a concept encapsulating the sharing, exchange and interpretation of information, enables live performances to stretch beyond the event sphere into a distributed process of knowledge construction. Kantor’s legacy manifests in texts, artefacts, pedagogy and performance.