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For me the answer is yes. And no. And sometimes something in between - as so many art works that can be classified as performance (in terms of ‘medium’) consist of many elements. The live part - where an action unfolds in real time in front of you - often involves objects, people, projections and all sorts of other things. So, as such, more often than not, a lot of this lives on as an artwork in its own right - enabling you to still experience the performance in other ways

Which raises various questions: Do the objects or props used then become relics of something that once was? Or are they now sculptures?

Alongside this there is the question of whether to document or not. If you do, is this document part of the ‘artwork’, or just a record? And then what happens if someone else makes a video and then posts it on youtube? Are you still experiencing the artwork?

There are many ways to answer these, so here are a few examples of artists in the Tate collection and Tate Modern Live programme that address this in different ways.

Tania Bruguera, 'Tatlin's Whisper #5' 2008
Tania Bruguera
Tatlin's Whisper #5 2008
Two uniformed mounted policemen, crowd control police technique, two horses (one white, one black or dark brown), audience
© Tania Bruguera

Tania Bruguera’s work Tatlin’s Whisper #5 2008 is a piece that originally took place in the Turbine Hall that Tate now owns (it can only be shown when there is some sort of demonstration or public unrest occurring, as a form of response). When it first took place, two riot police on horseback entered the hall and began to choreograph and control the crowd. However, rather than control images and the audience’s experience, Bruguera specifically wanted the work to be seen by a secondary audience, distributed through the viewers who took photographs and made their own videos.

Tino Sehgal (who is undertaking the 2012 Unilever Commission) makes works that are enacted by people in the gallery space; sometimes in the form of a conversation that takes place between a person and the viewer or in the form of a choreographed action. He refuses to document them and when a work is sold to a museum or gallery, the conservators must only remember the instructions and not record any details. Therefore the works are passed on by word of mouth, which he calls ‘body to body transmission’. So for Sehgal’s work you not only have to be there to experience it, but its ongoing existence relies upon human beings (although of course, there are unauthorised images the audience have taken on the internet).

Work by Joseph Beuys has been on display at Tate Modern since it opened in 2001, most of which would now be considered sculpture or installation by viewers to the gallery. But so much of this was made as the result of a performance by Beuys, a figure whose entire life as an artist could also be considered a performance, from the clothes he wore, to the actions he undertook, such as appearing in a Japanese Whisky advert. For example, Four Blackboards 1972:

Joseph Beuys, 'Four Blackboards' 1972
Joseph Beuys
Four Blackboards 1972
Chalk on blackboard
unconfirmed: 1216 x 914 x 18 mm
Transferred from the Archive 1983© DACS, 2009

Three of these were made during a performance at Tate, where Beuys lectured in the galleries on communication and democracy whilst making drawings on the black boards. Then these were stored in the archive until 1983, when they were transferred to the collection as artworks. Finally, Tate Modern recently staged a project with artist Kateřina Šedá. It was a day long collective action in which 80 people from the Czech village of Bedřichovice and 80 UK-based artists participated, in an attempt to transfer the village socially and conceptually to London. The one-day action was a real-time performance. Yet the process of meetings that led up to this and the materials created (from official ones, to unofficial images taken on peoples mobiles) will also form part of a work that is ongoing, to be experienced in other ways.

Katerina Seda From Morning Till Night 16 Days 2
Katerina Šedá, From Morning Till Night 2011

So, do you have to be there to experience a performance-based art work?



Being There! That is an impact statement, we oght to be there but we could also be there by not being there. This is what technology is teaching us today. However, we must remember the producers and proprietors, they are all ambassadors of cultural and heritage preservation and they need to make a leaving. Thus, I say we find a balance between "Being There" and being in the web, and compensation. Maybe royalties from participating corporations or agencies.

su fahy

Intimacy and spectacle are immediate but photoworks stills and drawings offer a mapping after the event for researchers and artists interested in the ephemera of live works.


Whilst being there is ideal, speaking as one who doesn't live in London, I feel it's a bit unfairly exclusive to make works only available to those who can actually go to experience them. Making a video record allows a much greater number of people to experience some aspects of the work, even if it can never be the same as actually being there. Though I can sympathise with artists who would prefer people to only see their works live, to refuse to publish a video of a work would seem to me to be excessively restrictive and also a tad arrogant.

David West

Yes..I attended the recent TINO SEGHAL event which was interesting and stimulating. Being there WAS the event..!! Seeing is NOT believing. Involvement seemed to be the essence?

Tom Horak

I do find that one of the greatest results of performance art is when it can spark communication, which can be a foundation for dialogue. For me, the spark is often clearest when I can actually be there and feel it in the flesh. When the experience is real and unaltered by any medium, it is pure and sensory. Unfortunately we cannot always see the performances that we would like to see in person. Being the case, I am more than happy do have the possibility to watch videos, look at photographs and read about them. Nevertheless these means often feel academic and numbed. Even when the portrayal of the event is intended and the artist takes this element into specific consideration I still feel at least once removed from a reality someone else really perceived. In those cases I think to myself: "Damn, I would have loved to be there."


In a way, yes and no. Yes because your senses become truly alive when you're seeing it acted out right in frount of you, visually it just becomes alive to me and becomes an 'experiece'. But that is only my personal opinion. I don't think seeing a performance based artwork on, say, the internet makes it any less of an art, but i think to fully appreciate its effect, then yes you have to be there.

Natalia Friedman

The art piece and its experience is lived through the aesthetic moment. This moment is the relationship and experience we live directly with our reading and mental relations that the art piece (in all its mediums)creates in us. Therefore,the original art piece will create in the viewer a direct experience with it, but this doesn´t mean that a reading in a second basis (video or photographs) limits the relationship and the experience we build with the art piece. The only thing that changes it the way we live the moment, but the essence of the art work cannot be changed only by the distance that the viewer has with the art piece. In other words, the experience is different because external factors enter in our world of comprehension, but the art work remins intact to the viewer to live the experience with it.

Nikki Petroni

Reproductions through photographs, videos or any other media simply aren't the same as the performance itself. One may be able to understand the essence of the piece by reading about it or watching a video, but experience is obtained through being physically presence. Feelings and sense are aroused through live performance works and that's what makes it an art of experience.

chris butcher

Acutally being thier is in away ground breaking. recently watched a blog on Miro, after which i was forever gratefull of you opening the world to his art for me , thank you.......


I find looking at the recordings--photos, film,etc or what the artists leave behind as important, as in the work of J. Beuys, Rose Finn-Kelcey, Gillian Wearing, etc. Is there and yet temporal. What is left after is than part of the before. This is as relevent as the experience of being in the moment.Just another moment in time.

Cathy Read

In a way performance art is ongoing. Being there is crucial. But there is something about the memories and the interactions they illicit which enables the performance to continue. Rather like ripples on a still pond. The action may have finished but the influence lives one. Each participant and observer shares their experience both verbally and through visual recordings.