Ben Woodeson: Documentation, evaluation and social media; what actually is the (art) work?
The photographs of Joseph Beuys' seminal performance How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (26/11/1965) are firmly embedded in the art history canon, but if everyone was locked outside the gallery as history tells us, then who took the images we always see? Beuys was clearly controller of his own image, as much consummate showman as master artist...
Jump in the DeLorean and fast-forward almost fifty years; speaking as a sculptor whose sculptures sometimes only exist for seconds, what is it that distinguishes documentation from a work in it's own right? Hunting the decisive moment, that instant of the perfect image; when it ceases to be a record of something else and instead becomes a created thing in it's own right.
Photography by it's very nature has always been used to record and to document. Photographer Cartier-Bresson coined the concept of the decisive moment (1952), but how does that work when everyone has a camera and everyone can instantly and indiscriminately see and distribute the results?
What about when the "artwork" no longer physically exists; Marina Abramovic and Ulay's 1977 performance Imponderabilia lasted 90 minutes before being stopped by the police. How many people experienced the real thing, the actual rub your body up against Marina or Ulay while brushing your butt against the other performance? These photographs are ubiquitous in art education, but do we consider them to be artworks or just documents? What as artists are we willing to put our names to?
The Saatchi Gallery recently showed a large number of works by Canadian artist Jon Rafman; taken from Google Street View, and then with full transparency presented as works by the artist. Images made by random chance selected by humans out of twenty petabytes of Street View data...
We're in control. Actually, no we're not... A quick Google search turns up images of my works both static and performative that I myself didn't make, haven't seen, reflected on or authorised. Automatic cameras, camera phones and web 2.0 means bucket loads of potential decisive moments.
Are we getting close to the infinite monkey theorem?