by Sabrina Greig
With the recent cascade of Black Lives Matter protests last month, the exhibition Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem, comes at an opportune moment. On view for its last month at the Art Institute of Chicago, photographs from the exhibition document America’s continued struggle with racial inequality. It successfully captures the robust Black Diasporic culture of Harlem in the 1940s through the artistic partnership of Ralph Ellison, author of the canonical text Invisible Man, and the first Black photojournalist of Life Magazine, Gordon Parks.
The exhibition focuses on imagery and passages from Ellison and Park’s collaboration on the magazine essays “Harlem is Nowhere” (1948) and “A Man Becomes Invisible” (1952). Both photo essays, however, were never published. The show Invisible Man therefore showcases unreleased photographs, contact sheets, and handwritten drafts by Ellison and Parks that have never been seen before by the public. They give viewers a glimpse of the social climate that inspired the groundbreaking novel Invisible Man.
The exhibition’s subject matter ranges from socially infused black and white street photography depicting the 1943 Harlem Riots, to abstracted photomontages of urban ghettos. Select images,such as an enigmatic photograph like Emerging Man, are subtly accompanied by excerpts from Ellison’s writing printed beneath photographs on the exhibition walls (see above). The curator’s choice to merge text and photography further illustrates the artistic continuities that existed between the creative minds of Parks and Ellison.
The interplay of text and imagery more overtly demonstrates how both men inventively reimagined the sources of racial injustice in American society through the photographic medium. They playfully synthesize the characteristics of real spaces, such as depicting the first interracial psychiatric clinic of Lafargue Mental Hygiene Clinic, while also intertwining obscured dystopic visions of city streets submerged in shadows of dark and light.
Untitled (Harlem, New York), 1952, Gelatin silver print, from the series
“A Man Becomes Invisible” (1952), 26.9 x 34 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago
The glowing technicality of Invisible Man Retreat, Harlem. NY best exemplifies this style. It shows how the friendship of the two creative geniuses constructed an Afrofuturist aesthetic that found Black joy in the midst of poverty, racism, and urban strife. With New York’s skyline in the background, Ellison serves as Park’s muse to represent a principal scene from his novel where the protagonist seeks a safe space during the Harlem Riot. It connotes the concept that this fictive world he constructs was both a place of refuge, as well as an isolating space to become invisible from the racialized chaos of the outside world. The photograph perhaps symbolizes the contradictions of protesting during heightened moments of racial strife, where one wants to become hyper-visible to combat collective struggles, yet emotionally removed to preserve their individual sanity.
Though overtly male-centered, Invisible Man convincingly showcases the artistry of two artists who innovatively problematized the prevalent reductive representations of the Black experience in Harlem, New York. Ellison through compelling prose, and Parks through striking photographic documentation, introduced a corrective portrayal of Black culture that negated stereotypical expressions of African-Americans of the time. Doll Test, Harlem, NY is a chilling reminder of how easily white supremacy subconsciously seeped into the veins of little Black boys and girls beginning at the tender moment of childhood. Images like these introduce more complex narratives that surpass radicalized conceptions of Black culture.
Doll Test, Gordon Parks, 1947, Gelatin Silver Print,
7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in, The Art Institute of Chicago
Notes for Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, 1947,
The Gordon Parks Foundation.
The plethora of archival documents in the show include some of Ellison’s notes throughout the process of constructing the two photo essays for publication. In Pictorial Problem, the final sentence states, “The point photographically is, I believe, to disturb the reader through the same channel that he receives his visual information.” This strategy reveals the conceptual approach adopted by both artists. Photos such as Battered Man and Off on my Own, (Harlem, New York) are eerily uncomfortable documentations of the Black experience that American History often aims to brush under the rug.
Off on My Own (Harlem, New York), 1948 Gelatin silver print,
from the series“Harlem is Nowhere” 33.8 x 24.8 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago
Battered Man, 1948 Gelatin silver print
23.5 x 18.6 cm (9 1/4 x 7 5/16 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago
The series of photographs present in Invisible Man at the Art Institute thus point toward an earlier form of archiving the social repercussions of racialized prejudice. Similar to role that cell phone recordings and police body cameras have played in the Black Lives Matter movement in the 21st century, Parks and Ellison understood the power of creative visions. The visual components of these recent technologies make the ubiquitous nature of police brutality and racial inequity a visceral experience for all viewers in the same manner that some of Park and Ellison’s work was revealing of similar issues. Invisible Man is exemplary of how Ellison and Parks implored an unprecedented method of documenting racialized violations of social injustice, that has finally been given visibility in the two year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder.
Atlanta-based idea collective John Q premiered its work The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration at the Atlanta Cyclorama on Friday, May 17, 2013 and Saturday, May 18, 2013. The performance, an essay as John Q calls it, insists on exploring the phenomenon of queer migration into urban spaces, Atlanta being one of them. Using the space, movement, and pictorial qualities of the Cyclorama along with archival materials of queer filmmaker Crawford Barton, native to Resaca (about an hour north of Atlanta), later based in San Francisco, John Q essays (used here as a verb) a narrative of history, creative production, queerness, and geography.
In the broadsheet for the performance, John Q lists the definitions for essay as a noun:
â€œ1. a short literary composition on a particular theme or subject, usually in prose and generally analytic, speculative, or interpretive. 2. anything resembling such a composition: a picture essay. 3. an effort to perform or accomplish something, attempt.â€ 
Used as a verb, essay can mean:Â â€œto try; attemptâ€ and â€œto put to the test; make trial ofâ€  or â€œto put to a testâ€ and â€œto make an often tentative or experimental effort to performâ€ . Derived from Middle French noun essai, derived from the verb essayer, which comes from Late Latin exagium which means an act of weighing, the word â€œessayâ€ refers to something active, performative. 
Similar in roots to â€œessay,â€ â€œassay,â€ as a noun refers to
- Â archaic: a trial, attempt
- the examination and determination as to characteristics (as weight, measure, or quality)
- analysis (as of an ore or drug) to determine the presence, absence, or quantity of one or more components;Â also: a test used in this analysis
- a substance to be assayed;Â also: the tabulated result of assaying 
As a verb:
- a. to subject (a metal, for example) to chemical analysis so as to determine the strength or quality of its components; b. to bioassay
- to examine by trial or experiment; put to a test
- to evaluate; assess
- to attempt; try 
The two words, though originating in similar if not same roots (assay originates in Anglo-French), now arenâ€™t used interchangeably (in a simple online search, I came across forums discussing if the two are interchangeable – this is a big deal). At some point, the Latin word which expressed the action of weighing and measuring was split into the action of weighing in thought and weighing concrete objects. How are these two distinct from each other, though? Does the decision to weigh a concrete object necessarily come from a weighed thought experiment, or vice versa? John Qâ€™s weighing of the Cyclorama, the site of the performance, a 42 x 358 foot panoramic painting of the Civil Warâ€™s Battle of Atlanta, a complex of history, politics, and space, straddles multiple methods of investigation and examination, perhaps similar to the divided essay/assay. Paired with the Cyclorama is the weighing of Crawford Barton’s archive. As Wesley Chenault of John Q states:
In some ways, the provenance of the Crawford Barton collection did similar work as the Cyclorama in that it allowed us to think about his life in other ways, as patterns of movements and migrations between rural and urban spaces, not primarily as it related to San Francisco. Through letters, films, and more, Bartonâ€™s personal papers document his connections to Resaca and Atlanta, archival traces that map over the military campaigns that occurred in both areas. Atlanta, as Sherman understood over a century before, is a city defined by its relevance as a transportation hub in the Southeast. For many, it has long served as a nexus, where motilities of bodies, desires, and histories converge.Â Crawfordâ€™s correspondence from his time in the city, for example, illustrates how one young gay white man navigated the sexual landscape of the mid-to-late 1960s. Placing Crawford in the Cyclorama, then, allowed the collectiveÂ to attemptÂ â€“ thus the essay form â€“ to explore not just notions of movement and migration, but also the ways in which they relate to identity, place, archives, and memory. 
The performance can be broken down broadly into three parts:
- Beginning: the standard Cyclorama narrative while the audience goes through the standard revolve around theÂ painting
- John Q takes over the narrative, delivering its essay while the audience continues to revolve in the space while the programmed lights highlight particular aspects of the painting
- John Q’s members, one by one, leave the theater and move into the auditorium, inviting the audience members to join them for screenings of Crawford Barton’s films.
The ending space of the performance (the auditorium) is generally the starting point for a tour of the Cyclorama: a video presentation of a Civil War reenactment. In the script of the essay, John Q states: â€œDuring a regular visit to the Atlanta Cyclorama, the presentation would begin with an interpretive film in the auditorium and then move here into the space of the painting. Tonight we ask you to navigate the space of the Cyclorama backwards with us, moving metaphorically against the grain of history and exploring, perhaps for the first time in public, a sampling of the film work of our current queer subject, Crawford Barton.â€  Later, John Q states: â€œInstead of following Crawfordâ€™s biography to its end, we bring you back to his migrations.â€ 
The films present the Castro, the famous queer district in San Francisco, and of travel. Minimal in their composition and editing, the films are observational in nature; unedited,Â perhaps unscripted, they seem to hold the lives of those featured in the films. Resaca, GA, Bartonâ€™s hometown also happens to be â€œthe site of one of the first battles in the Civil War military Atalanta Campaign.â€  What seemed to draw John Q to Bartonâ€™s work was the potential to examine his migration to the Castro from rural Resaca in a larger phenomenon of migration, queer migration, and differentiations of space. One of the films depicts men running through golden fields, bare-chested. While watching this moving-image, I was struck by a deep-seated fear – something that causes one to run, to run fast and far away. Especially after witnessing a scene of carnage, destruction, and death represented in the Atlanta Cyclorama, the potentially and possibly joyful images of rural play take on a more morbid atmosphere. Are these fields that of â€œamber waves of grainâ€ – fields that speak to the national project of America; the fantastic golden countryside? I have to ask then, if these fields arenâ€™t filled with joy, what then are they filled with and why are these men running? Is this moving-image representative of the larger phenomenon of queer migration that prompted John Q to realize this project? What does this mass movement to urban centers mean for Americaâ€™s rural spaces?
The essay John Q presented during the second turn of the painting starts with General Shermanâ€™s ability to really see geography and an aside about Napoleonâ€™s extensive map collection, both juxtaposed with Borgesâ€™ map the size of the place it represents, an absurd exercise of cartography. At one point, John Q points out to the audience that how the painting is viewed is highly controlled:
â€œIn the first turn around the Cyclorama, controlled light directs your attention to the scenes under discussion. The seating apparatus itself takes you on a turn that controls what spaces draw your attention and when. The narrative is set. Your gaze over this space has been determined in advance. It is a visual, pre-cinematic form, which presents the unfolding of geography and history as seemingly inevitable.5 You are a witness to History.6â€ 
One thing to consider, however: can my experience be completely controlled by another, unseen forces, or composition? Do the spinning gears and directed lights completely focus my attention to the spot Iâ€™m supposed to? Can I close my eyes, turn my head – experience this painting differently from the way itâ€™s presented to me? This ability, to close the eyes, refuse to look at the space indicated, has much to offer the archival work that John Q does in its public projects and the ways in which they invite the audience to engage with the particular archives presented. In an interview with Julia Brock for History@Work: A Public History Commons from the National Council on Public History, they describe the way they view their work as public scholarship and what this means for its reception, particularly what their take on â€œpublic interventionsâ€ is. Joey Orr explains that â€œThe learning that takes place in a publicly constructed project is not unidirectional and can never be predicted in advance, so I do not assume our job is to wake people up. I do hope some of our work intervenes in a more street-level, quotidian way into the spaces where people are carrying out their everyday lives.â€  Andy Ditzler further adds: â€œI donâ€™t think any of us see ourselves as â€˜educating the public,â€™ partly because weâ€™re members of the public as much as anyone else, and as much as weâ€™re artists or scholars.â€ 
One aspect of John Qâ€™s performative project is to examine the ways in which we experience painting, video, and installation: how we see; how we navigate the space that shapes and contains them. The painting, though it may appear to be a static entity that can be simply viewed and understood from any time or perspective, is shown to be extremely vulnerable to time and space, the order in which it is viewed in relation to the re-enactment video that is usually shown to the audience before moving into the space of the Cyclorama, facing the gigantic circular painting. When asked further about their take on intervening in a â€œnormalâ€ visual experience, Orr explained that the project is interested in
â€œhow might we visualize the past in ways that foster different kinds of relation to place and history. How might we deal in fragments, the quotidian, memory, and weak theory instead of proliferating the kinds of power that seem structurally reinforced by forms like battle paintings and cycloramas … We understood from the outset that many people would not be familiar with the visual culture theory we were invoking, and this might mean that the connection between how landscape is visualized in cycloramas and how it is visualized through the lens of Crawford Barton’s camera would somehow seem strange. These two very different modes of visuality begin to reflect one another, though, in the context of a critical contemplation of how we do the work of invoking the past.â€ 
In Husserlâ€™s essay â€œThe world of the living present and the constitution of the surrounding world external to the organism,â€ he writes that space is a â€œsystem of places.â€  In the case of the space of the Cyclorama, there is a multitude of places that coalesce in this one site. It is the site of John Qâ€™s performance, the place of itself in this present moment, the place of the Civil War Battle of Atlanta, Illinoisâ€™ cornfields where it was commissioned, Resaca – where the Atlanta Campaign began and the birthplace of Barton, the migration telos for a queer community of which John Q speaks, a pre-cinematic place that records the history of technology in its 360o turn. The Cyclorama itself and its revolving proscenium seating affords the audience explicitly multiple perspectives; an exaggeration of the way we perceive and make sense of the world: â€œThe entire present world which appears as actual is rather a totality of perspectives for me.â€  For Husserl, there is phantom space, a transcendent space that gives space itself while still being able to change through time and with our changing orientations and perspectives, thus perceptions. The Cyclorama is constituted by this phantom space, but also by a plethora of phantom bodies: soldiers, civilians, slaves, Crawford Barton, migrating queer individuals and communities.
Underlying this space is the seemingly coincidental, the encounter that occurs during times of travel. John Q arrived at the Cyclorama and Barton through what would seem to be mere coincidental experiences that then led them down particular paths, which were manifested in the performative essay. Following the notion of â€œinterventionâ€ mentioned above, the surrealist found object presents itself as a model of surprise, the uncanny, and coincidence. Resaca, GA, only about an hourâ€™s drive away from Atlanta, becomes an uncanny figure – simultaneously familiar and strange.Â One of the films of Crawford Bartonâ€™s John Q presented is of a car journey, passing by signs that advertise Georgia Peaches. The passengers of the car smile and look into the camera.
Ross McElweeâ€™s film Shermanâ€™s March follows a different path than General Shermanâ€™s March to the Sea, begun in Atlanta, which is the end point of the Atlanta Campaign and the site of the Cyclorama.  Initially a project that intended to follow Shermanâ€™s destructive path, McElwee ends up following women he becomes intrigued with and attached to; a journey back home to the South. Desire, violence and war, and geography become entangled in the movement through the space of the South. Ross McElwee is attempting, trying, experimenting with what love may be for him in a time of nuclear proliferation, the subtitle of the film and recurring theme that continues to creep into his thoughts and dreams. Pat, the woman introduced to him by his parents who becomes somewhat of an obsession for him, an ambitious actress who is herself searching and trying to become what she wants to be, takes McElwee to Atlanta. There, McElwee describes Atlanta post-Campaign; it was a city composed of children, women, and elders – supposedly a weakened and helpless place without its male influence.
What are cities, urban spaces? What do they mean to us? What are we to make of Atlanta? A southern metropole, remnant of war? What of the space surrounding the city? The space between Atlanta and other US cities? John Qâ€™s use of the Cyclorama signals the ways in which urban space becomes a nexus of lives, loves, losses, and travels. Not only does the performance question who is allowed the position of contemporary flÃ¢neur,  but also whoÂ mustÂ take up this position and where. The performance shows us that the metropole and its varying representations hold within them an entanglement of histories, memories, and modes of visuality and experience.Â
 John Q Broadsheet
 Personal interview with John Q, June 16, 2013
 John Q, The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration, 2013.
 Personal interview with John Q, May 30, 2013.
 John Q,Â The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration, 2013. Here, they footnote  Jonathan Craryâ€™s Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture and Anne Friedbergâ€™s â€œThe Mobilized and Virtual Gaze in Modernity: FlÃ¢neur, FlÃ¢neuseâ€ and  Alison Griffithsâ€™ Shivers Down Your Spine: Cinema, Museums, and the Immersive View.
 Personal interview with John Q, June 3, 2013
 Edmund Husserl, “The World of the Living Present and the Constitution of the Surrounding World External to the Organism,” trans. Frederick Kersten and Lenore Langsdorf, in Husserl: Shorter Works, eds. Peter McCormick and Frederick A. Elliston (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 250.
 Ibid., 239.
 Ross McElwee (dir.),Â Shermanâ€™s March: A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation (1986).
 Susan Buck-Morss, “TheÂ FlÃ¢neur, the Sandwichman, and the Whore: The Politics of Loitering,”Â New German Critique, vol. 31, no. 2 (April 1989): 217-236.
As audiences, when we speak of performance we are speaking most often about the glimpses acquired in the act of witnessing. We are speaking to our experience as it lies bound up in the delineation of time and space that is the act of performance, the curve that captures us as we are moved through the phases of the work. Accompanying this journey is a kind of willful ignorance, a reliance on the media at hand, the phone, the body, the text, the document, to describe what has escaped us, the event as it captures our imagination in its unfolding or to mediate in the moment of witnessing so that we might better understand whatâ€™s happening. There is not one way to know a performance work, there are many, and it is for that reason that the quality of performance is brought to light through the normalizing tendency of the archive.
Performance documents provide us with the frozen instant, a single moment in the event of the performance. They are tools to help our critical faculties, providing us a moment to rest and to consider what it is that has happened. This perhaps makes the most sense in relationship to the lived experience. The relationship between what my body knows through the performer’s body, a knowledge acquired through an empathetic transference of meaning(s) from the performer’s body to the audience’s and the images my mind recognizes through the documentation. We would be hard pressed to understand either, the experience or the document, without the other. Without the accompanying bodily knowledge the performance document hangs in suspended animation.
Once collected these documents form a group of materials that more often than not speak more to the interruptions of the art context than to the actual work. It would be impossible to ask of the text, photograph, moving image, body and the like to preserve for us what we can only ever hint at. Audiences and performers will always be bested by the performance as it unfurls itself before both. What we know of performative acts after witnessing and enacting them is but a fleeting memory of having done so or if very lucky, a lingering sensation. One that may motivate us, as others have suggested, to go forth and act out what we have experienced in the performance space.
Archive are a technology of bureaucracy. They are way stations for data and accumulated temporality, flattened proofs of the â€œofficialâ€ experience. The system of the archive itself is responsible for this kind of alienation. Categories, decimal numbers, and white gloves are methods of sanitation that work to preserve the individualâ€™s experience/state requirement. Once cataloged, memories of childhood, legal forms, receipts, and other accouterments are neatly laid beneath layers of fabric and cardboard. So precious are these relics that the archive must continually migrate them from one outmoded media to the next. The performance relic, however, subverts the safety of the archive. Not all archival material functions in the same way. There is a difference between documents that prove our life/work and documents that preserve the performance event, even if they both document performative tasks whose symbolic functions make permanent an abstraction. The way a notary’s signature on a form makes official the binding language of the agreement. The difference between the two is a result of the social quality of the experience. Once placed within the archive the quotidian document does little to extend the life of the proceeding. This is due to the individual nature of what it documents. The experience of going through a live event within the collectivity of the art context is a social endeavor that expands the role of the document through the sensations and collective consciousness of the group.
It is the sociality of the performance experience that prevents the performance document from falling into the normalizing mechanisms of the archive. The experience of having been to a performance and then seeing the documentation of it, even if what one finds is outside of their memory of the event, finds its fulfillment in the muscular memory of the one handling the document. By this I mean that it is easier to imagine what might have happened in a particular performance after having gone to see one, even if the two are unrelated in image and form, it is the remaining sensation of the event that is rearticulated in the body of the audience upon resuscitation by the performance document. Having spent the entirety of my life involved in performance in one way or another it is difficult for me to imagine how the experience might play out to one who is naive of the ways of the performance event but I would like to suggest here that one of the things that performance does as an art form is to simultaneously imagine and enact living alternatives and to remediate the experience of such imaginings. To present documents of that process in an entirely new context, to potentially naive audiences, such as the library, school, or museum is to depoliticize them and reinscribe them with a whole new set of contextual politics. A process that imbues the document with a different set of concerns that surely tints the experience of the document.
The performance document is possessed by the audience. It is they who own the experience that it represents. To place it within the repository it to attempt to use someone else’s signature to write your name. It may be in your possession but it is not fully yours.
The sound switches. Loud intensity and vibration. My body is permeated by the sound and radio waves. While watching the dancer move, I realize that all the cells of my own body are moving, oscillating, with the sound waves.
The dancer runs across the stage, throws herself towards the floor, glides. My body feels the impact of the floor on skin, skidding, sliding, perhaps squeaking.
Darkness and light, spotlights on my sight horizon. The moving horizon line, the white board, shifts my bodily perspective and orientation.
Jennifer Monson premiered her latest evening-length performance Live Dancing Archive at The Kitchen in New Yorkâ€™s Chelsea neighborhood for a two-week run February 14th – 23rd, 2013. The project Live Dancing Archive comprises three components, which consist of three different archival practices: dance, video, and digital archive. The â€œProgram Notesâ€ for the performance states that â€œEach of these captures how bodies hold, transmit, and convey experiences and understandings of ecological systems as they relate to human movement through the specificities of their medium.â€ Â Monsonâ€™s work explores the ability of movement itself as an archival practice; she is interested in the particular capability movement has to archive, record, and store the ecological systems that we experience.
For the two-week run, the video component of the archive was a a video installation which was on view during the day before the evening performances in The Kitchenâ€™s Theater. This part of the work, made by Robin Vachal, a videographer, video installation producer, editor, and teacher, consisted of editing approximately 50 hours of footage Vachal captured during the BIRD BRAIN Osprey Migration from 2002, an â€œ8-week research project in which dancers followed the migration of ospreys along the Atlantic Flyway from Maine to Venezuela.â€ Â Watching the video, the audience experiences the dancersâ€™ improvisation solos, conversations with park rangers at nature centers and preserves, public performances, and public workshops Monson and iLAND held with park patrons.
Another component of Live Dancing Archive is the digital archive which was designed and implemented by Youngjae Josephine Bae, who completed her MA in Library and Information Science, in collaboration with Monson and Vachal. The digital archive consists of video footage, photographs, dancersâ€™ journals, project notes, plans and schedules for performances and workshops, and other ephemera generated from the BIRD BRIAN Osprey Migration. The aim of the digital archive is to â€œmake available to the public as much of this material as possible.â€ Â The program notes encourage the audience to â€œperuse the archive in your own time as a supplemental experience to your participation in the audience tonight.â€ Â The performance need not â€œendâ€ once the audience member leaves the theater; she can continue to experience the work through the material which was archived in the movement of the performance.
Live Dancing Archiveâ€™s live performance aspect involves the audience as well.Â The audienceâ€™s participation in the live performance is that of the ocean. Monson describes her process of choreographing the movement in the program notes as:
â€œA significant amount of the dance material was learned from video documentation of four improvised solos on the beach at Ocracoke Island, NC. The dancers were Javier Cardona, Morgan Thorson, Alejandra Martorell, and myself. The camera angle was always moving so deciding how to orient myself in the dancing was a challenge. Eventually I arrived at orienting myself always towards the ocean. The audience is the ocean.â€ 
The audience gets to experience a journey of the spaces and ecologies that Monson and the other dancers migrated in Monsonâ€™s choreography, and it also gets to become part of that environment itself. Monsonâ€™s choice to make the ocean the point of orientation and her further choice to allow the audience to occupy that position, creates a complex dynamic of waves and force that oscillate between the performer and the audience. It is also in Monsonâ€™s processes of research and choreography that point to the ecological systems along the migratory path. Monson describes her work as dance research; the movement generated during the migration is knowledge-making. I would further argue that the audienceâ€™s experience of viewing the video, the digital archive, and the live performance, while also becoming a participatory element of the system created in the theater are all knowledge-making practices which coalesce in a system of bodies and the environments in which they inhabit. Describing this process of knowledge-making, Monson states that
â€œthe knowledge has to do with understanding the relationships between events and systems. When Iâ€™m dancing, Iâ€™m bringing multiple ways of perceiving information of movement, sensory, imaginative, and analytical registers. Iâ€™m processing information of the world and using it to make choices about movement in the world. The multiple systems I am moving and that are moving me help me to understand the complex systems I am perceiving. There is also the phenomenological approach – as I am moving, the world is showing up for me, itâ€™s changed by my moving, and as I move I also show up for the world. The knowledge is about ways of putting things together in multiple modes, holding unstable relationships of meaning and conditions of existence.â€ 
Phenomenologist Maxine Sheets-Johnstone writes about the primacy of movement in our consciousness of the world. In her book The Primacy of Movement, she states that â€œWe make sense of ourselves in the course of moving.â€ Â However, movement is not only sense-making, but constitutive and generative of the self that is moving. Further, Sheets-Johnstone claims that â€œIn effect, movement forms the I that moves before the I that moves forms movement.â€ Â These two phenomenological statements seem to permeate Monsonâ€™s process of research and performance. Her work explores the ways in which ecological systems function and the dancing bodyâ€™s relationship with and in these systems.
The live performance of Live Dancing Archive was itself a system. This component of the archive also consisted of multiple parts including the movement, live sound, and live stage and lighting design changes and manipulations. The sound, composed and performed by Jeff Kolar, an audio artist based in Chicago, is â€œgenerated live through field experiments in the AM/FM, Shortwave, Citizens, and Unlicensed radio spectrums. The instrument arrangement of handmade radio transmitters and receivers respond directly to external weather phenomena, wireless technology systems, and human activity.â€ Â After the performance I attended, Kolar explained that there were more â€œghostsâ€ being picked up by the receivers that night than had usually been happening for the other performances. The fluctuations occurring in the systems of the electromagnetic spectrum and the Hertzian space surrounding and emanating from the instruments, the electronic objects of the audience members, and the other technologies that exist in and around the space of The Kitchen directly impacted the sound performance and thus the entire ecology of the live performance.
The live manipulation of the lighting and stage, performed and designed by Joe Levasseur, who has received two Bessie awards for his design work, was a continual shifting of the ecology of the theater space. The minimal stage props and lighting, reminiscent of Isamu Noguchiâ€™s stage designs for Martha Graham, seemed to create the boundaries of space and time. The stage prop, a long wooden board on wheels, serves as the â€œhorizon lineâ€ that can move and shift. At times, Monson herself moved the horizon line, thus changing the orientation of the horizon and its relationship to the audience, the ocean. The lighting was able to move around the stage as well and was manipulable by Monson and Levasseur. The turning on and off of the light, sometimes a single light that was moved around the stage, seemed to control the limits of the perceptual experience of the work. Our perception is always bounded; we cannot see the backs of our heads, our eyes even work through an amalgamation of small focal points, congealed in our brains – we donâ€™t see the world as a clear image; our perception of the world is a complex system composed of interweaving aspects that need to work together to form a coherent experience of the world.
Phenomenology, the philosophical study of our experiencing of the worldâ€™s phenomena, understands our bodies as the entities that world the world. The world is mediating through our perceptual experience of it and the world appears for us through our engagement with it. Monsonâ€™s work takes this phenomenological understanding of the world seriously in her research processes and the performances that result from them. Much of the research process involves improvisational movement in the places along the migratory route Monson was following. In Ann Cooper Albrightâ€™s article â€œSituated Dancing: Notes from Three Decades in Contact with Phenomenology,â€ she describes the transition from considering the aesthetics of dance to the phenomenology â€œbecause phenomenology focuses attention on the circumstances of this active â€œbecoming.â€ Â Though Albright is discussing more specifically Contact Improvisation, she incorporates the notion of embodied research, an important aspect of Monsonâ€™s work. Albright describes embodied research as a process that â€œrequires that one engages seriously with the ambiguity that results from trying to conceptualize bodily experience that can be quite elusive. It requires patience with the partiality of physical knowing as well as a curiosity about how theoretical paradigms will shift in the midst of that bodily experience.â€ Â This situated-ness of research also can be placed in a feminist tradition stemming from feminist epistemology and the notion of situated knowledge explored by Donna Haraway in her essay â€œSituated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.â€ Monsonâ€™s method of phenomenological epistemology of ecology speaks well to feminist conversations about science and the generation of scientific knowledge.
In thinking about what this means for an archive and the processes of archival practices, Live Dancing Archive speaks to the ways in which archives have to be generated; they do not simply exist in the world. They are always subject to the particular bodies controlling their collection, documentation, storage, and availability. The interesting aspect of Monsonâ€™s work for conversations about the archive is the tension of the usual goal of the archive â€” infinite storage for an infinite amount of time â€” and the ephemerality of movement. Can we ever say that an archive is a permanent collection of materials that simply narrate history? Archives are subject to the circumstances of the world â€” floods, unemployment, politics, fires â€” and any notion that we can make a truly permanent archive is contingent on the resources available and ideologies of the day. Monsonâ€™s Live Dancing Archive made me think critically about these aspects of making and transmitting history. Her movement, some of which I was able to glean from the video installation, is able to capture the singularity of the movement in its original form, though changed, made into something different in its repetition. Her attention to the specificities of place and the ecological systems constituting it along with bodily and movement singularities, creates a complex of environmental knowledge and history within the performance and the dancing body.
Live Dancing Archive is featured in the upcoming 2013 Dance Improvisation Festival organized by Columbia College Chicagoâ€™s Dance Center and curated by Lisa Gonzales with support from Links Hall, taking place June 3-8, 2013. Monsonâ€™s Live Dancing Archive will be performed Thursday, June 6, 2013 at 8PM. Be sure to visit the Dance Improvisation Festivalâ€™s website for tickets, information, and schedule of other workshops. http://www.colum.edu/Dance_Center/performances/2013improvfest/
Live Dancing Archive Collaborators:
Jennifer Monson: Choreography
Robin Vachal: Video Installation
Jeff Kolar: Composer
Joe Levasseur: Lighting
Susan Becker: Costumes
Betsy Brandt: Dramaturge
Davison Scandrett: Production Manager
Youngjae Josephine Bae: Digital Archive
Tatyana Tenenbaum: Dresser
 Jennifer Monson, “Program Notes,” in Jennifer Monson/iLAND Live Dancing Archive (New York: The Kitchen, 2013), 4.
 Ibid., 5.
Â Ibid., 5.
Â Ibid., 4-5.
 Ibid., 4.
 Personal Interview with Monson, 4.16.2013.
Â Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, The Primacy of Movement,Â expanded second edition (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Johns Benjamins Publishing Company, 2011), 117.
Â Ibid., 119.
 Monson, “Program Notes,” 4.
Â Ann Cooper Albright, â€œSituated Dancing: Notes from Three Decades in Contact with Phenomenology,â€ Dance Research Journal, vol. 43, no. 2 (Winter 2011), 9.
Â Ibid., 14.