This reflective essay explores how documenting might be made to work strategically in the doctoral process by thinking about three functions of screen documentation: Documentation as a research practice; documentation as ‘evidence of a performance or process’; and documentation as an integral strategy in the final presentation/defence of a thesis. The essay reads down the page and readers are invited to do their own reflection on ideas and scores that appear in the right hand column.

Documentation in fine art and live art practices has for a long time been a part of the process of developing work. In performing arts however it is only relatively recently that creating documentation at different stages of process has become a part of the culture of making and showing. There are several factors that have led to this evolution. Perhaps the most significant is easy access to cheap, high-quality, portable recording technologies in the form of smart phones and digital cameras with controllable settings that once might have been only available to highly trained specialists. Another consideration is a culture of funding and related arts marketing that encourages artists to demystify work by offering access to an ongoing process. For many artists the opportunity, desire or demand to use documentation in the development of an artistic identity is also about engaging an audience and maintaining a public profile through online platforms and social media networks. In this case, documentation is often a part of a broader strategy of staying ‘visible’.

Documentation as a research practice.

Documentation as an integral strategy in the final presentation/defence of the doctorate.

Documentation as ‘evidence’ of a performance or process.

In an artistic doctorate the role of screen documentation is no less complex, not only because many artists working in live practice find recordings of their finished work unsatisfactory (which I will discuss later) but also because the duration of the doctoral process can necessarily generate many screen documents all of which will have different functions. It’s also interesting to consider the relationship between the intended audience and the documentation as like a performance, the documentation of performance held in an archive is not static.

The documentation of performance held in an archive is not static.

Images and formats gather and shed significance through time. In the context of a thesis, documentation may also be in a dynamic relationship with those who watch it. It’s likely that during the course of the research, documentation will be looked at by supervisors and perhaps examiners, however it might also be useful or indeed necessary to make documents accessible to other people: collaborators, other artists, researchers, students, the public and funders, past and future. Asking how these different audiences and contexts could strategically inform both how a document is made, and also where and how it is screened, becomes significant.

Who is looking at the documentation?

I’m focussing on documentation created with analogue or digital camera technologies in the form of moving image documents and stills, including screen artefacts such as GIFS or memes. Other combinations of documentation strategies such as notational scores, drawings or sound recordings might be equally valid in relation to specific artistic research methodologies. It’s worth considering how different kinds of documents, documentation portfolios and screening platforms might speak to different aspects of research.

Stills, Videos, GIFs, Memes: Different kinds of documents can speak to different aspects of research.

Screen documentation sometimes serves in performance projects as a way of remembering the form of a work and might be used in tandem with other forms of documentation, for example notebooks or process blogs. Documents created over the duration of several years can be analysed at a distance at different stages of the research in order to identify themes and patterns that were perhaps not immediately visible in the moment of doing. For example you could discover that the way you worked on something might be more significant than what you went on to make.

Different viewing platforms invite different audiences.

In the context of artistic doctorates the problem might be not with remembering a form but rather knowing in advance what it is that you should be trying to remember. So then, do you record everything? Digital technologies make it easy to do this, but the problem then becomes if you record everything, how do you know what might be important later?

The way you worked on something might be more significant than what you went on to make.

What would it be like if, instead, recordings, stills and other screen artefacts were a strategic part of a creative research methodology and the making of the documents a mode of research itself. In this thinking images become containers of ideas from your research and are thought of in terms of mnemonics whose visual codes can unlock information. In this model image making, and the reading of these images after the fact, can be a way of revealing something not immediately perceivable in your bodily experience in the studio or in any final performance stage of your work.

How might recordings, stills and other screen artefacts be part of a creative research methodology?

The scores below explore different documentation strategies including how working with a camera might become less about representing your work and more about developing material through the lens as a way of shifting perceptual focus. Perhaps, a kind of shorthand in the future development of the thesis.

Score No 1. Underlayers

The video artist Bill Viola speaks about the underlayers of an image (Viola 1996, 75), the writing and thinking that happens before making an image. In this score the underlayers to the image making initially are discovered through the body as a result of watching, noticing, moving and writing. This score has two related stages, you could choose to do them on one day or over a period of time. The score generates new movement material. You could ask what this new material reveals to you. How does it relate to your original intentions and any theoretical contexts you are working in?

1. Begin by shooting the material in a static wide shot from one of these points of view:

the front

the best position in the space (in your mind)

from above

with the camera on the floor


Perform/watch the material once, write down what you notice, what strikes you about the material, if you are watching choose a different place from where you have put the camera.

Perform/ watch the material again, this time, whether watching or performing, write down what you notice about your own body, your breath, where you are holding tension in your posture.

Notice your responses to the act of looking or performing.

Notice the sound of the body and the space and any actions that you remember;

Any impulses you have to be closer or further away at different times;

Moments that strike you as significant.

2. Make 6 still images from this writing and/or re-record the material in relation to what you felt.

You might move the camera, position it in another place, make it part of the action or something else that is appropriate


you could remake the material in relation to the images or recordings that you have made

Score No 2. Viewing: screens and platforms

You could move to an additional stage of score No 1.

This score asks you to explore your work by viewing it on different devices to heighten your sensitivity to how different kinds of viewing contexts invite different modes of engagement by a viewer. You might like to explore which of these devices is right for your artistic intentions, for what you want someone to see. You can take this further by playing with online sites – for example what is the difference between putting your documentation on Youtube rather than Vimeo, Instagram rather than Twitter

View the static wide shot and the new documentation on

a phone

on a laptop

on a tablet

with and without headphones.

Then watch it on the biggest screen you can find.

What does each device bring to the experience and what does it take away?

Would you make the document differently if you could specify where and how it should be viewed?

Score No 3. Analogue thinking

This is a score that pretends you are shooting on film (of course, you might be). Shooting stills or moving image on an analogue camera means shooting ratios have to be considered, this usually leads to shooting less and a different kind of compositional process.

What would it be like if you work for one day in the studio and you make 6 stills during the course of the day or shoot one minute of action as a way of finding out what really interests you?

This might mean planning carefully before you press the button.

When do you do these recordings? At the end of the day or at pre-determined times? How might this decision change the course of the research? What will you need to do to prepare?

Ask yourself to be clear about the purpose of each image?

Is it an image of something you have made or of something you have read?

Might it be an image of a principle emerging from your research?


Re-compose the stills taking away anything you don’t need and adding sound.

Score No 4. Sound Proposition

Score No 4. Is offered as a provocation and you might find it interesting to refer to Michel Chion’s writing on sound in film in Audio-Vision (Chion 1994).

What if recording sound was as important as recording picture?

How might that change where you worked?

What equipment/ software might you need?

What equipment/ software do you already have?

What’s the role of sound in the documentation of your research anyway?

Poetic documents

The research submitted as part of an artist doctorate might include more than one performance or a work performed at different stages in its development. The much quoted Peggy Phelan statement ‘Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented…’ (Phelan 1993, 146) speaks to a dissatisfaction that many artists have with the documentation of their live performances. However some screen artists documenting the practice of other artists choose to reveal something about the specificity of a performance and the subjectivity involved in documentation. They develop poetic strategies that speak about the possibility of many responses to their subjects celebrating the inherent instability of performance itself.

Many screen artists documenting the practice of other artists have chosen to reveal something about the specificity of a performance and the subjectivity involved

Documenter Becky Edmunds proposes in her essay “Documents and Disappearance” (Edmunds 2007, 107) that if we accept that Phelan is right her statement also becomes an invitation for creative responses that play in what Edmunds describes as ‘the gap’. Edmunds speaks about her approach to the fragmentary nature of the process of video documentation. In her work with artist Fiona Wright, Edmunds finds a way to speak from inside the process as a documenter and to draw attention simultaneously to her subjective response and to the partial nature of any document.

Becky Edmunds

The purpose of the documents that I produce is to provide small pieces of information through which a viewer might be able to actively reconstruct an imagined version, myth or memory of what the event might have been (Edmunds 2007, 107)

A similarly subjective approach is found in 1971’s Football Like Never Before (Costard 1971) where artist Helmuth Costard uses a multi-camera strategy in filming the entirety of a football game in real time between Manchester City and Coventry focussing only on one player, the mercurial George Best. Philippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon use a similar multi-camera strategy focussing on one footballer for the duration of a football match. However in Zidane (Parreno and Gordon 2007) when they follow Zinedine Zidane for the duration of the game between Real Madrid and Villareal the resulting film reveals an intense physicality, the labour of football and the psychological complexity of Zidane himself, as much as the football match that night.

Helmuth Costard

Philippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon

In the area of performance Babette Mangolte’s document of Trisha Brown’s Water Motor (Mangolte 1971) uses the technique of showing us the dance twice, the second time Mangolte filmed in slow motion specifically to reveal the extraordinary co-ordinations in Brown’s body. It’s interesting to note that Mangolte learned Water Motor before filming it, she sought to experience and embody Brown’s choreographic reality before committing it to the screen. In another distinctive documentary filmmaker Chantal Akerman working with Mangolte documented Pina Bausch’s tour in her work Un Jour Pina A Demandé (Akerman 1996) in a film that speaks to both Akerman’s relationship to her time with Wuppertal Dance Theatre and different aspects of Bausch’s process and the performers in her work.

Documentarian Babette Mangolte learned Trisha Brown’s Water Motor before filming it, she sought to experience and embody Brown’s choreographic reality before committing it to the screen.

Chantal Akerman and Pina Bausch

Score No 5. Documenting for a final submission and examination

There is an argument that for doctoral research that results in one key performance as the culmination of the practical work, subjective poetic documents are a way to speak to the complexity of the performance and will support the defence of a doctorate. So for example, getting six people to document the performance on their phones and cutting that together might be useful and indeed appropriate. Conversely for some work and some examiners the best kind of documentation is one that adopts a simple camera and sound strategy. However even the simplest idea will open up a number of questions and artistic choices that are significant in making it easy for your examiners to see what it is that you want to show them.

What would it be like if…

…you could choose any camera or cameras? – Try filming the same thing with three different recording devices and compare the results. …you shot on a tripod from the best place with the right kind of lens and just kept the camera still?

…you recorded the performance more than once from two angles and edited these together to highlight something about the work?

…you prepared the edit on paper and then hired an editor for two days?

Whatever way you choose to work, in documenting live performance perhaps in the camera strategy the most important thing to consider is the relationship of the work to the space and the audience. So performance in the round or on the move should probably be recorded differently from performance taking place front on or in traverse.

Performance on the move will probably need more documentation rehearsal than performance that takes place in one space. It might be useful to work on documentation with someone in advance of the final performance, this might be a professional camera person and/ or editor if that’s a possibility. If that’s not an option it’s probably good to have done preparation with someone who can take responsibility for the documentation process on the day.

In any written component that relates to your work signposting confidently what images or excepts refer to, making documentation easy to access and directing examiners to specific moments in the document can all be thought of as ways of ‘teaching’ your examiners how to look at your original research. So this last page isn’t so much a score but a series of considerations that I hope are helpful in the final stages of your thesis.


Chion, Michel. 1990. Audiovision. New York: Columbia University Press.

Edmunds, Becky. 2007. “Documents and Disappearance.” In Opensource Videodance Symposium, edited by K. McPherson, and S. Fildes, 104–11. Nairnshire: November 2007. Nairnshire: Goat Media.

Phelan, Peggy. 1993. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance, New York and London.

Viola, Bill. 2003. “Bill Viola” interview by Raney, Karen. In Art in Question, edited by K. Raney, 68–90. London: Continuum.


Football As Never Before (1971) [Film] Directed by Helmuth Costard: (WDR): Studio 1 Filmproduktion, Werner Grassman, Toulouse-Lautrec Institut, Westdeutscher Rundfunk

Un Jour Pina Pina a Demandé (1983) [Documentary] Directed by Chantal Akerman. France/Belgium: Antenne-2, BRT, INA, RM Arts, RTBF, SSR

Water Motor (1978 ) Directed by Babette Mangolte, Choreography by Trisha Brown available from [accessed 20 October 2018]

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006) [Film] Directed by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno: France/ Iceland: Anna Lena Films, Naflastrengir, Fondazione Sandrette Re Rebaudengo.


Marisa Zanotti

Dr Marisa Zanotti is a Reader in Choreography and Digital Technologies and an award winning artist-researcher. Her work has consistently investigated the cultural significance of the body in new knowledges generated by choreographic practices, this includes exploring how these knowledges might interface with popular culture. Her practice-led research is driven by a fascination with relationships between bodies and evolving technologies, analogue and digital mediated through a choreographic lens (1987–present day). Recent work includes The Pan’s People Papers (2015) with choreographer Lea Anderson and Entangled (2018) with classical composer Matthew Whiteside. She is currently developing a new moving image project, Spirit Merchants.