The Art of Documentation with Live Art Denmark

Live Art Denmark specializes in interdisciplinary audience engagement, and has, over the years, developed several new formats and modes of interaction in collaborations with art institutions, theatres, museums, festivals, and performance artists. We took the opportunity to ask Henrik Vestergaard and Ellen Friis about their work at Live Art Denmark, why they first started, and how documentation can be seen as a form of publishing.

What is Live Art Denmark? How and why did you start this organization?

The term ‘live art’ was introduced by Roselee Goldberg, but today it means more than just visual art exploring time and live presence. Live art today is more like an umbrella term for many kinds of interdisciplinary investigations that often include the audience, and that do not distinguish between life and art, meaning that the artist is always ‘live’, and at work.

We – Henrik and Ellen – have both studied in Berlin (theatre dramaturgy and interdisciplinary art in the public space respectively). In our practice, we are not just influenced by English live art and humor, but also by Germany, in our interest in inclusion and audience participation, and the desire to influence and perhaps change society.

Since 2004, we have organized 15 festivals, presenting international performance art, critique and documentation in Denmark, and worked with many more events and formats in Denmark and abroad. We collaborate with larger art institutions and museums in Denmark, and constantly invent new formats. Since 2014, we have wanted to include all ages in our projects. In our own recent productions and curating, we have been investigating fields like games, rules/recipes and roleplaying.

You have been interested in documenting live art through various methods and formats from the start. Why do you think documenting live art is important? And what strategies, methods and formats have you found interesting or generative?

Performance art has become a lot more common since 2004, when we started. But still, very few people are really knowledgeable in the field, including the artists themselves; in part due to the lack of good documentation and established venues. Performance art is perhaps the most ephemeral of all art forms. So, we wanted to inform people by presenting, teaching and documenting it. We work hard to make performance art works accessible outside the space and the short time span in which they were first presented. And our goal is also that the experience of the documentation should be interesting in its own right. A new, performative situation should occur when the documentation is experienced. And this is why the word ‘publishing’ is actually a better word for what happens.

We have explored photography, regular video, oral tradition, performance-for-video, drawings, text as performance, but also as scores for works or plain descriptions, exhibitions (of physical remnants of works), and since 2016, we have worked with a 360-degree camera. All these methods have advantages and disadvantages, but in all cases, the question is how to engage a new viewer, physically and intellectually. Interestingly, a partial documentation, like a photo, can actually be better than traditional video, because new viewers will fill out the missing information themselves, and so they become engaged.

How are you making the VR Archive for Performance Art accessible to audiences? And are you also archiving other types of documentation?

One part of our VR archive is on our YouTube channel. We also have various open events, where people can see a selection of works on the internal hard drive of our VR goggles. The VR goggles are like a pocket-sized festival of international performance art, making it very easy and inexpensive to bring 10 artists to, say, Toronto or Cameroon.

Our YouTube channel is our main channel of publication. Apart from VR and regular video, we have published a seminar (Collaborating with Kids) about children as co-creators. It consists of a series of interviews with children and artists, such as Tim Etchells, Eva Meyer-Keller, and others.

In our previous conversations I have noted that you referred to your work with the VR Archive as interactive documentation, (or perhaps it was live documentation). Could you elaborate on that?

Neither interactive documentation nor live documentation seem quite fitting terms. We really appreciate your use of the word ‘publication’ rather than ‘documentation’, because it doesn’t mean recording for an archive, but for a new audience. It represents the idea that a person´s experience of a piece of documentation is, or generates, a new life and performative situation.

The VR is interesting because the same recording can be experienced any number of times, and each time in a new and different way, depending on where the viewer decides to direct his or her attention. It is possible to watch the other guests rather than the performance, for example. As the VR is often presented by us personally, this creates a second layer of interaction and context around the experience.

Of the many different formats of documentation we have explored, Virtual Reality simulates the original experience most closely, especially perhaps by including the (exchange with the) audience itself as an important part of a live experience.

Now, you are Publishers in Residence at for the next two weeks, what will you work on during your stay?

During this stay, we will translate and rewrite our two-hour lecture about various documentative formats, but now inspired by your concept of ‘publishing’. We will hold that lecture at the end of our stay, and we will present our VR archive over two days, when people can drop in and meet us. Finally, we will also meet and record new local artists for the VR archive.

We look forward to that. Thank you!

On Thursday 27th 2020 organizes a brunch alongside Live Art DK, to dig further into the concepts of publishing within the performance art of today.

The following Tuesday March 3rd 2020 Live Art DK presents the lecture: On the Art of Documentation from 6.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m. Their Open VR archive will also be available during that day from 12.00 noon to 7.00 p.m., and after 8.00 p.m. for those who wish to stay after the lecture. All of these events are free!

Interview questions: Izabella Borzecka
Photo: My Carnestedt and Izabella Borzecka
First published at
Live Art Denmark’s residency is supported by the Nordic-Baltic mobility programme – Culture.
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