Modelling What Cannot: Performance's Return to its Archives in Bodies in Flight's Do The Wild Thing! Redux


  • Simon Jones University of Bristol


This article brings together my long-term ongoing practice-as-research with Bodies in Flight and my recent work on performance archives, involving two major projects: Into the Future which sought to preserve the fragile audio-visual record of the National Review of Live Art, making it accessible online; and Performing Documents which explores creative re-use and engagement with performance archives. Bodies in Flight’s eighth project, Do the Wild Thing! (1996), was the first to be led by a specific research concern: to explore the encounter between discursive and embodied practices by means of a series of separations of what is heard and what is seen. This was achieved both in the rehearsal process, structuring how the collaborators worked together, and in the performance itself, determining design and the relation of choreographic to textual and musical elements. As such, the project marked a key shift in Bodies in Flight’s work towards exploring both the performance as event and the collaborative process. For Do the Wild Thing! Redux, commissioned by Performing Documents, four of the original collaborators, this time working independently, returned to the archival remains of this peepshow about desire and voyeurism to produce new works each in their own medium—dance, photography, text and video. Like a shattered hologram, the installation offered a set of different perspectives, (literally) through-seeings, on to the object that was no longer there—the show, which now appeared inbetween the perspectives, existing inbetween the media, as an expression of inbetweenness “itself.” The original show’s single point of view, its proscenium-arch set-up, was re-placed by the fugacious affect of the scattering of disentangling choices made by the various non-collaborators as they crisscrossed inbetween and across the archive’s part-objects and the installation’s per-spects. This article builds on my writing around collaborative devising practices as a “de-second-naturing,” in which each medium does not strictly communicate with any other, but works alongside in a compossible relation to produce the performance. Using Heidegger’s essay “On the Origin of the Work of Art,” particularly Heidegger’s description of the artist’s will as decisive in the setting-up of any art-work, I argue that the archival remains of such performances themselves force—as in, will open the gaps between media, inherent in performance, and oblige a more explicit noncollaboration to happen—a non-collaboration that is in deed at the core of all collaborative performance practices. In this way, Redux’s aesthetic strategy of disentangling media resonated with the “original” process of documenting and archiving the work; and each non-collaborator’s reading the documents as archive became a looking-beyond, exposing both the archive’s incompletenesses and the gaps inbetween and within the various media of the collaborative process “itself”—the middles of middles.

Author Biography

Simon Jones, University of Bristol

Dr. Simon Jones, Professor of Performance, University of Bristol, is a writer and scholar, as well as founder and co-director of Bodies in Flight (BiF), which has to date produced 17 works and numerous documents of performance that have at their heart the encounter between flesh and text, where words move and flesh utters. He has recently published chapters on BiF’s performance-walk Dream-work in Archaeologies of Presence (2012) and Performance and the Global City (2013).  He has been visiting scholar at Amsterdam University (2001), and a visiting artist at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2002) and Banff Arts Centre (2008).  He has published in Contemporary Theatre Review, Entropy Magazine, Liveartmagazine, Shattered Anatomies, The Cambridge History of British Theatre, and Performance Research. He is co-editor of Practice as Research in Performance and Screen (2009) and his work with Bodies in Flight features in Josephine Machon’s (Syn)aesthetics? Towards a Definition of Visceral Performance (2009). He is currently leading two major projects into the accessibility, preservation and creative re-use of live art archives: Into the Future and Performing Documents.