Documenting the performing arts has proven to be troublesome time and time again. To address the issue at large, an online toolkit PRE-formance was created by Meetphool, an online professional platform of artists, and several partners, including Noon Creative Enterprise, Goethe Institute, Spring Lessons, Eps51 and Uqbar, to aid artists in digitally documenting and archiving performance arts.
The launch of the toolkit, as part of the Edutainment programme of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF), took place at Goethe Institute's Tahrir Lounge on 20 April. The festival hosted several speakers, who deal with documentation in different capacities, to share their experience. The floor was later opened for the audience to discuss the issue further.
Artists talk performance art documentation
Sondos Shabayek, founder of Tahrir Monologues and one of the main people behind The Bussy Project (Egypt's version of the Vagina Monologues), spoke of her own experience documenting the two projects' long series of performances. Shabayek used the space to rant on her own frustrations as an artist. She also discussed how creating a studio shot version of Tahrir Monologues was a more plausible scenario.
Hamdy Reda, photographer and founder of Artellewa space, spoke of his experience in documenting performing arts through photography. Reda explained how the documentation process can be a new piece of artwork when the artist allows a new person into the process of their work. The artist also spoke of the issues that may arise between the artist performing and the one doing the documentation, and how communication among the two is an important element in the process.
Mohamed Allam, visual artist and founder of Medrar for Contemporary Art, and Mai El-Wakil, a founder of Medrar.TV and Culture Editor of Egypt Independent, showed a video that compiled some of their documentation in Tunisia, Lebanon and Egypt. Later, they shared with the audience their process of documenting arts and their motivation for starting Medrar.TV, an online channel documenting contemporary art from Egypt and the Arab region through five to eight minute YouTube videos.
"We felt many of the independent art only reach audiences of English-language newspapers and tend to be lost over time," El-Wakil said, stressing that their initiative emphasises on interviewing artists to share with the public.
Ahram Online's Rowan El-Shimi shared her experience of unconsciously participating in the documentation of arts as a journalist. El-Shimi's approach is to tell the story, and interview the artists as a part of her work. Yet, the finished product becomes a part of the artist's documentation of their project since it provides an outsider perspective.
El-Shimi shared her story of the coverage of last year's Oufuky Music Festival in Alexandria. Even though the festival was very well documented on video by the organisers, having the perspective of a culture journalist gave the story a different flavour and aided in the festival becoming recognised in different circles, El-Shimi explained.
Writing copy differs from journalistic commentary on the art work, as it places the writer within the team of artistic producers, rather than as a receiver, El Shimi told the audience. She also stressed that even though both processes include the use of written word for documentation, the process and the outcome are entirely different.
Ensuring online access to artwork
Ali Shaath, one of the founders of the Arab Digital Expression Foundation (ADEF), supporter of various artistic endeavours in documenting and online archiving among many other activities, summed up the discussions by the entire panel, drawing conclusions from the several points previously stated.
Shaath stressed on the importance of making the content of documented activities available online for downloading, copying and dissemination to ensure the content will not be lost on a hard-drive or with the artist.
Reda disagreed with Shaath on this point, saying that while this might help in the content staying alive on the Internet; it does lower its artistic value when artists try to sell the performance to other spaces abroad and in Egypt.
The discussion was opened up to the audience, who asked questions on the online archiving process. Some made suggestions on how the documentation of performing arts can be further developed to ensure contemporary art works become part of the collective memory.
"We want the conversation on the topic to continue; this is just the beginning," founder of PRE-formance Nada Thabet told the audience at the end of the event. "PRE-formance is our contribution to the conversation which needs to continue."
PRE-formance offers an extensive guide to documenting performing arts through text, video, and photography. The toolkit also has a space to showcase and better disseminate the artwork coming from the Arab region.