The Artists’ Magazine as Archive: High Performance, 1978-1983




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Performing Documents (conference), Arnolfini, Bristol



Peer reviewed



Between 1978 and 1983 High Performance, a magazine based in Los Angeles and devoted solely to performance art, ran open submissions for documentation of live performances made within one year of the published issue. With an emphasis on upholding the voice of the artists as those most qualified to describe and document their work, High Performance offered a space in which live performances might be disseminated more widely within the performance art community, without compromising the 'authenticity' of its documentation. This paper considers High Performance not only as a record of live performance in history, but as an archive of documentation which resurfaces as a generative resource for creating new work. It argues that High Performance, both a document of performance and a performing document, facilitates an engagement with performance art history which is distinct from other modes of documentation. Concerned with publishing documentation of performance shortly after its first iteration the magazine represented an alternative space for the exhibition and dissemination of an artistic form that eschewed conventional modes of visual display. Whilst its relationship to the present is amplified by this commitment to recording the recent pasts of live performance, the magazine itself is held in archives, both in the UK and the US, as a document of performance history. Individually and in sequence, each issue is succeeded by the next, but as a collection, it is an archive of performance reflective of the particular historical and spatial location of what took place. Similarly, the result of a collective and collaborative labour, High Performance allows for individual contemplation and engagement with an otherwise historically and geographically distant form. Published as a quarterly, High Performance documented the work of many celebrated performance artists, including Allan Kaprow, Barbara T. Smith, Suzanne Lacy, Rachel Rosenthal, and Paul McCarthy. In 2003, High Performance was the subject of an exhibition at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) which celebrated the legacy of the magazine in creating and nurturing an audience for performance art. In January 2012, documentation of the 1980 Public Spirit performance festival in Los Angeles, published exclusively in High Performance, was used as a platform for the re-performance of historical works by contemporary Los Angeles artists. Using these examples this paper considers High Performance as an engagement with the past but also as a force for creating new work, which far exceeds the transiency of the artists' magazine genre, and the artistic form it represents.



performance art, performance documentation, artist magazines


Curtis, H. (2013) The Artists’ Magazine as Archive: High Performance, 1978-1983. Performing Documents (conference), Arnolfini, Bristol, 12 April.


Research Institute

Institute of Drama, Dance and Performance Studies