Drowning in Documents: Action, Documentation, and Factography in Early Work by the Collective Actions Group

This article traces a provisional history of the early years of the conceptual performance art group Collective Actions through an examination of three critical terms—action, documentation, and factography—that came to figure prominently in the group’s definition of its aesthetic project. A close reading of several of the group’s actions and key theoretical texts from this period (1976–1981) reveals a dialectic of performance and documentation wherein the photographic and textual recording of actions, first carried out for purely pragmatic purposes, begins to acquire an independent aesthetic dimension that challenges the primacy of the live action. This shifting understanding of action—away from the ephemeral, spatio-temporal event and toward an aesthetics of documentation and factographic discourse—became a form of self-institutionalization that revealed fault lines in the artistic positions and ambitions of the Moscow Conceptualist circle. The article therefore attempts to locate the specific stakes of performance as an artistic practice within Moscow Conceptualism at the turn of the 1980s.

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