Developing ‘We Are Formatted Memories’ at Ic

Original text: ‘We are formatted Memories’ – Orlan (Orlan, Omnipresence, 21 November 1993, Sandra Gering Gallery, New York; seventh surgery-performance).


 Boni performing We Are Formatted Memories #3


Laura performing We Are Formatted Memories #8

I selected a text by random, flicking open the book and simply reading the article I landed on. The duration of the work was to be determined by the length of the article. What I found was three pages by Orlan on performance and documentation. I recording my initial reading with a zoom recorder. I then played this track back to Laura through headphones. She spoke aloud the text as relayed through the audio she was listening to. We continued this performance – relaying the text between us, as mediated by the audio recordings, for a total of eight times.

The task was in itself quite challenging as each layer continued to deteriorate in quality – not audio quality, but rather in communication quality. We would speed up verbally to keep up with the track, but quite often we found it overwhelming to keep track of the audio while keeping our place in the sentence we were speaking. We found that you end up almost splitting your experience – half your mind is keeping up with the audio, the other half is three seconds behind speaking what you’ve just heard. And then there is the accumulation of slips – a spot forgotten, a jumbling of words, new words added – perhaps spoken from memory rather than what was heard. That being said I also found the task quite enjoyable, and perhaps part of this was because it was only a 5min task. It would be interesting to see how much this deteriorated when performed over a longer period of time. Or if the text was particularly complicated and dense.

For Laura and I, this performance task is an interesting investigation into ‘subjective’ documentation, That is, the document, in this case the text re-performed in spoken word, is compiled from a series of split second decisions:

–        do I correct mis-spoken words?

–        Do I stumble if the pervious track does?

–        If I can’t keep up, then the document maps this though omissions (which are carried forward through out the rest of the performance).

There is also this interesting overlap where each new layer obscures the previous through little slips. This is something that we’ve been finding with our daily commutes – if we don’t verbally acknowledge what has happened previously, its becomes an invisible element within the performance – embedded within our memories. It is us that mediates between the experiences and determines what it is that is verbally remembered and what is to be forgotten in the audio track (sometimes this is not a case of self-censorship, but determined by the conditions of that commute – what is consuming our attention at the time?).

I do however come back to this reoccurring question – what would this be like for an audience? Is it accessible?

Perhaps this performance task excites me, due to my own nerd-like interest in the ‘live’ and ‘recorded’ within contemporary art, but would the wider nature of my investigations be conveyed to an outsider?

There is something interesting though in this exercise with Laura, because it’s a shared experience. And importantly – I can’t self-edit myself simply by removing myself from the following re-performance task. I think it is worth asking other people to perform this task.

It is also an exercise I want to try by myself with a longer text for comparison.

original post published at


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