Hi, my name is Gordon Douglas and I’m a performance artist based in Glasgow, Scotland. I work closely with organisations towards developing understandings of collaboration within institutional performativity.

My a-n Artist Bursary is dedicated to developing a new portfolio website, and investing time into thinking about how my work is documented and made public beyond the live moment.

To give a little context, over the course of 2018-19, I am working with CCA Glasgow on a ‘performative audit’ of their open source policy, a governing document that allows for the use of all unprogrammed spaces in the building by the wider community. The resulting outcome will be a series of events under the heading An Opposites Programme. I will be blogging about this over the course of the year here. I will also be working with Travelling Gallery towards developing a solo show which will tour Scotland.

A lot of my work exists in a somewhat private dynamic, thinking about the individual performances enacted within collaboration: the kinds of performance required to maintain togetherness; the social contracts we submit to when joining a group; and the nuanced and problematic relationships we mask by saying we’re collaborating. Because of this, a lot of the work is sensitive to the people I’m working with, and is a major ethical concern of mine when choosing how to document a period of work. The research has stemmed from a performance art history not only because of this specific attentiveness to its reproduction through documentation, but through the belief in this performance existing in the (sometimes illogical) networks of production we navigate on a daily basis. Because of this, documenting the work is incredibly difficult, and devising a website to host this has always brought up problems.

Previous attempts hoped to rectify this by seriously limiting the accessibility to work, but due to upcoming international opportunities for producing and presenting new work, I believe it is now urgent to revise and seriously consider how I portray my practice online so that I may share research with people who are unfamiliar with my work.

I recently applied for support from the a-n Artist Bursary scheme to help develop a new web presence for myself that is more accessible than my current website, but still appropriate to the manner in which my practice deals strictly with its documentation.

 

Over the bursary period I will be working with web designer, Ben Callaghan, towards an outcome for this. We previously worked together on the development of the website introduction-to-performance.xyz, as an online archive for the course elective I devised for students of HND Contemporary Art Practice at Edinburgh College. I found through working with a web developer that both the habits in which I organised information and considered documenting a performance work expanded in a really exciting way. Through discussion, we spoke about how the work, and the accumulation of content/opinion/research, could be perceived as a score, or an invitation to re-play the curriculum. The discussion between education, performance, document and knowledge became incredibly fruitful, and helped me work through some of the problems I have with representing work online. I have chosen to work with Ben on developing this new alternative ‘portfolio’ drawing from these ideas and how we might think of my performance work, its ethics, and its relationship to the idea of a future. The bursary will pay Ben a Designer’s Fee for the website, and for a masterclass in maintaining the backend of the website– increasing my literacy in coding and hosting domains.

 


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A big part of assembling the archive was debating what or was not performance, and what or was not a performance document.

I am conscious of how much I think about performance art beyond the confines of the live event; or in another way, how the live event can extend to include all organisational, social, and logistical work towards enabling an action to take place.

I believe that a definition of performance should not only constitute the performed ‘other’ subjectivity in duality with a live audience who encounter it; but should include the (il)logic(al) personality that plays out as it negotiates access, garners trust, and does irrationality. Performance is an altered state of being that re-organises reality to engender new decision-making capacities. This is both powerful in its ability to produce and calcify an ideological norm, and dangerous for the same reasons. In performance art we see this when a chain of thought leads to the action where an unnamed friend of Chris Burden fires a rifle at him (Shoot, 1971). And outside of performance art… well, there has been too many instances of when a similar train of thought has lead to unspeakable acts of violence.

Within this definition, all kinds of adopted, and invented, systems of thought– economies, institutions, moralities, communities– are organised ways of conventionalising unreal patterns of thought that perpetually reproduce themselves through the performance of this thought. When we submit ourselves to collaborating with an organisation, we perform in two separate ways: 1) the inheritance of given values, and reproduction of these; and 2) the individuation of the self within a given set of freedoms. Both of these attitudes play within our new uncanny realms, and performance is exerted to sustain meaning within the construct at all costs. This performance defines this limit or surface to the object of the system.

Because of this, performance can never be evaluated or contained to a singular ‘deliverable outcome’, instead it is how we continuously and complicitly operate within a closed system.

The task of defining what is and what isn’t performance within this fluctuating terrain of expectations is difficult. Everything is content and evidence for a performativity; reviewed by it’s consistency to a socially-constructed norm. As a performance artist, I believe it’s important to understand these fabricated ethics, and the frictions they cause within existing modes of production.

But how is that documented?

Portfolios seem redundant in imaging this kind of performance. Artist Statements purely gesticulate without evidence. Bios are rhetorical and fantastica (reflective writing including this a-n blog is similar). CVs are too simple and mask irrationality (but at least they implicate partnerships). Cover Letters and Proposals are probably the closest to an appropriate form– brutally honest in the submissive potential of artistic labour.

Maybe what’s not important is the standardising and mapping of a muliplicitous array of decisions, and their contextual drives, but the register in which these are communicated, the style through which we build personality. In each of the formats from above we can direct our attention to the evolving format of the document rather than the accumulating narrative picture. What we might see is: the variations in font-size; the typeface shifting from serif to sans serif; an encroaching margin-size; thickness of the borders to images. These micro-variations in how the proposal adapts its register to suit a request for support might actually be much more telling than imaginary portfolio. Can these remaining submissive-impressions provide a truer document or portfolio for social-performative practice?


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Over the last three months, things have been tricky. CCA Glasgow, where I have been based since May, has been closed due to the fire at the Glasgow School of Art. Being a fly-on-the-wall observer hassn’t been quite as effective when there’s no walls to pitch up on. My view has been limited to being cc’d into emails. A lot of my time has been spent working towards the show at Travelling Gallery, Black Box Take Stock, which is now touring Scotland! I’ve also managed to spend significantly more time than I’d imagined wading through digital material from old hard-drives, cloud-drives, dropboxes, youtube accounts, blogs, USB Sticks, and old phones, towards developing an accessible archive of my work to date. It’s been really satisfying to find things buried in sub-folders, and equally frustrating when I’ve recalled a higher-quality format of something, and can’t find it anywhere.

Through trying to find things, it’s been really interesting to recognise a logic to how material has been organised. Decisions have been fuelled by how I’ve used documentation in the past, the fluctuating value for individual works, and the speed at which I want the various technologies, which have doubled as storage devices, to operate. The easiest way to spot how a logic has developed, is through the recurring styles to folders that have appeared:

  1. ‘Proposal Toolkit’ – This is a practical folder that is usually the first attempt at organising, before it becomes unsustainable with the amount of material. In the past, this folder hoped to gather all the necessary components for writing applications in haste. It sub-divides into Folio (unstandardised jpegs and pdfs or previous work), Captions (writing about the folio), Artist Statement (this has been really cringe to look back over), CV (self-explanatory), and Unrealised Projects (previous ideas and proposals that weren’t accepted). Proposal Toolkits, although tempting in their promise of quicker application writing, are difficult to maintain over time. The updating of these bins can be difficult to prioritise in the middle of projects.
  2. ‘Gordon Douglas – VACMA Application’ – These are byproducts of the application process which have miniature folios, cover letters, CVs, etc grouped by the specific opportunity they were applying to. These can be useful as the images of the folio are all compressed to fit within emails, and are typically arrangements of works that are consistent with one another. The CV and Cover Letter are also usually tailored to suit a particular kind of opportunity (curatorial, performance etc), and can be mined for appropriate phrasing.
  3. ‘TO SORT – 20 June 18’ – This folder is an organisation of time, and usually has been the result of a desktop becoming overcrowded with large files and slowing the computer down. A quick fix to this has been to put everything into a folder, TO SORT (followed by the date of filing). The hope, and logic to this, is that this mess will be sorted in the future, kind of like drawers that we pile things into as a temporary measure if we have guests coming round. The reality is that there is an existing ‘Russian doll’ effect– a succession of TO SORT folders sitting within one another going back to 2016. These are, despite their appearance, very navigable as they capture a specific moment and key concerns at that time. For example, a still image from South Park shares a ‘present’ with a pdf of Lee Edelman’s No Future. The result is a series of research mood-boards of varying digital content, that are semi-accessible through memory association.

This clear entropy from practical to intuitive, is apparent through all the devices. Although a lot of accessing is privileged to my subjective experience of seeing first-hand this entropy, a great deal of the day-to-day navigation requires a knowledge of key words and the ability to search for them in ‘All Files’. The most ‘found’ documents are long, scrolling .rtf(Rich Text Format)s, typically named yesssss.rtf, or hiyaaa.rtf. These include multiple drafts applications, excluded and unfinished content, and extended caption material for specific projects. It’s not obvious if the writing in these documents is arranged in a particular order, as content is copied, pasted and edited in a perpetual update. Following the logic of the many variations of CV – Gordon Douglas copy copy copy… (where the amount of ‘copy’s signifies the more recent a document is), we can deduce that yess.rtf is older than yesssss.rtf.

These documents are frequently discovered by the search tool, but images are less easy to find. Most images bear a trace of being used in an application within their name, i.e. the prefix ‘2.’ to signify it’s position as second in a folio of submitted visual material. The searching for numbers isn’t very effective though, and most images can be found by looking in the various Application folders. Before I submitted individual jpegs, I would put together pdf folders which married images with their accompanying captions and these have been much more simple to find.

In advance of meeting Ben about website design, I thought it was important to archive my varying attempts and styles of folio. Given that previous conversations about the brief for the website have involved deconstructing the conventions of the portfolio website.


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An Old Web Presence

In order to go forward, it was important to first highlight all previous attempts at producing my website, and to talk through what elements were successful and what features didn’t work.

 

1) Gordondouglas.wordpress.com, 2008-12, was my first blog. It contains public documentation of thought-processes and activity that I produced whilst studying at Edinburgh’s Telford College, and in my first year at Glasgow School of Art. This blog has gained a new purpose with the blog post ‘Co-existing with the Formative’ that aims to distil the information gathered here and make sense of some of these formative thoughts.

2) The second was a cargo collective grdndgls, which was a more professionalised portfolio that documents work from 2012-13 in my final years at GSA.

3) The third was a Vimeo account ‘user13095003‘, that presents my moving image work from 2013-present.

4) gordondouglas.org, 2013-present, is the website I most frequently use when applying to opportunities, or directing people to my work. I bought the domain before graduating art school to have something to put on business cards that I handed out during my degree show. It’s changed a lot since 2013, but still has the basic principle of being my portfolio. It’s slightly confused right now, and is trying to do too much at the same time as being esoteric. I think it fails doing this.

5) After graduating, universal-studios-info, 2014, was set up to promote events and exhibitions that happened at Universal Studios, a tiny, communal studio space that ten graduates shared in an office building. There also seems to be an image of an artwork by Gerry Bibby at the top which I think I accidentally uploaded.

6) with-the-rookery, 2015, aimed to host research from the collaborative project The Rookery, that resulted in an off-season pantomime of Jack and the Beanstalk in a much larger self-initiated studio. This blog never took off.

7) Another wordpress gordandouglass, 2016, borrowed its name from the frequent mis-spelling of my name on tickets when working with the theatre shortlisting agency, Total Theatre Awards, during Edinburgh Fringe. This aimed to be a place for performance criticism, but I never found time to write.

8) The issuu profile gordon-douglas, provided a directory for publications, A Social Report, 2016; and Habits of the Co-existent Project-Books (1)-(3), 2017.

9) Introduction-to-performance, 2016, aimed to be a private blog for co-ordinating a course elective on performance art history that I devised with students of the HND Contemporary Art Practice at Edinburgh College. We gave up on it very early on, instead using facebook to organise.

10) introduction-to-performance.xyz, 2017, (designed by Ben Callaghan) as an interactive archive and performance score for the above course elective.

11) and finally, An Opposites Programme, the blog I am writing during my embedded research at CCA Glasgow, 2018-19.

 

A New Web Presence

We then wanted to gather other examples of performance artists and curatorial projects using websites in innovative ways that were appropriate to the research/intention.

 

1) Johannes Paul Raether’s Identitektur – the genealogical model of Johannes Paul Raether’s spawning research sisters Transformellae, Protektoramae, and Scharmwesen. http://johannespaulraether.net

2) Don’t Follow the Wind – just sound so don’t adjust your settings (unless you’re on mute) http://dontfollowthewind.info/sp

3) Ryan McNamara used to have one that was just a video of him describing all of his works whilst he made collages out of images of them. The website is no longer like this, but a similar attempt is Chris Burden’s documentation of previous works. http://www.ubu.com/film/burden_selected.html

4) The–family – had to find this on wayback machine, so it won’t function like a website, but was essentially just the simplest html website with posters etc. the later editions (2014 onwards) had a list of performers on a separate page. https://web.archive.org/web/20131204011635/http://the–family.com

5) If I Can’t Dance – a solid example of good design hosting an archive of research and activity. http://www.ificantdance.org/Editions/EditionV

6) Alexandra Bachzetsis – ‘Upcoming Events’ page as front page works well. https://www.alexandrabachzetsis.com/index.php/home.html

7) John Latham Archive – inventive use of organising data from three independent subjectivities. http://www.ligatus.org.uk/aae/#

8) Grant Watson’s Vimeo account – just so engrossed in the research it doesn’t have time to design a website. https://vimeo.com/user39361491


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