In this research-creation project, creative and theoretical possibilities generated by the mediation of performance art are observed. Traditionally, performance art is defined by the artist’s and the public’s co-presence. Yet historically, the most important performances are often presented through their archives, since the number of people getting to attend the performance in real-time is restricted. This incoherently creates a gap between the appreciation and the discourse on performance art. Do we systematically fail to grasp the essence of a performative work by familiarizing ourselves with it in a deferred manner? Are the select few who have access to real-time performances the only ones who can truly experience the works? Questions on hybridity, recombination, archives and accessibility emerge.I postulate that the mediation of performance (through video or other digital media) is very fertile ground for the exploration of current artistic issues, which leads to this paper’s main question: how can performance différée[1] broaden and update the dominant discourses on artistic performance? The interdisciplinarity of this research-creation lets performance and digital art come together to unlock new creative, theoretical, and social means.

Keywords: Performance différée, performance art, video art, presence, media arts, interdisciplinarity.


The question of presence in performance can be addressed through the lens of a variety of media. I’m conducting the present research in the very specific gaze of performance art as characterized by the visual arts. Marina Abramovic’s work The Artist Is Present, which took place at MoMA in 2010, is an emblematic example of how the concept of presence is presented in performance art.

In the field of visual arts, the performative medium is frequently characterized by this condition of the artist’s and audience’s co-presence. In Dictionnaire des arts médiatiques (2014), Louise Poissant defines performance as “A public artistic manifestation requiring the presence of an audience, performed on-site and without the possibility of repetition. […]” (Poissant 2014, authors translation). To the artist and academic Richard Martel:

The presentation of a linguistic and gestural expression creates a situation in which the notion of presence becomes manifest. Because it is about experiencing a situation, with varying degrees of sharing, with a present audience […] there is osmosis and reciprocity, it conveys the idea of fusion, it fosters connectedness.

(Martel 2012)

Within the prevailing discourse, performances conveyed through archival records or media are often diminished in comparison to the perceived importance of the artist’s physical presence. Paradoxically, many historically significant performances have primarily been encountered through their archival documentation, with real-time attendance restricted to a limited audience. This theoretical inconsistency underscores the imperative for reassessing definitions and criteria for artistic performance.

Crucial concerns regarding the accessibility of art are implicit in this question. For example, performance decorum, where the audience is expected to be attentive and still for extended periods, can render the medium challenging for neurodivergent people. And many exhibition spaces aren’t adapted for people with physical disabilities. This leads to a form of exclusion that perpetuates classist and ableist values. Furthermore, this criterion technically invalidates art historians’ analyses of historical performances. As highlighted by the collective Laboratoire de la contre-performance: “’Historical’ performances can currently only be apprehended through their traces and the interpretation of documents.” (Laboratoire de la contre-performance 2020) Since these researchers didn’t get to attend the performance in real-time, according to such a criterion their discourses would be deemed obsolete and inconsequential. Therefore, it is necessary to raise new inquiries concerning performance. Does every performative artwork truly acquire greater depth through physical presence? Are we consistently unsuccessful in apprehending the essence of a performative piece by engaging with it in a deferred manner? My proposition is that, on the contrary, the mediation of performance through diverse media presents an exceptionally fertile terrain for exploring contemporary artistic and media-related questions. By liberating itself from the constraint of live presence, the realm of performance expands exponentially, opening new avenues for artistic investigation.

Through a research-creation methodology, where creation informs research and vice versa, I delve into the diverse possibilities of a performance practice that does not confine presence solely to its physical disposition. The question of temporality emerges as a relevant tool for deconstructing the various challenges that underlie the practice and theorization of performance. This approach allows for a dynamic interplay between theory and practice, fostering a deeper understanding of the multifaceted nature of performance as an artistic and intellectual endeavour.

Performance and presence

The question of presence in performance has been examined by various scholars, most notably Philip Auslander, a theorist and critic of performance. In his writings, Auslander suggests that the necessity of presence is a residue of modernism, stemming from the quest for mediums’ specificities.

[…] In the deconstructionist early 1980s, performance needed to defeat representation and assert presentness in order to establish its specificity as a medium (that is, to distinguish itself from theatre) and to differentiate an emerging postmodernism from an existing modernism.

(Auslander 1997, 56)

His text The Performativity of Performance Documentation (2006) interrogates the hierarchical relationship between performance and its archive.

Drawing on J.L. Austin’s theory of performative language, which distinguishes performative utterances that produce effects in the world (e.g. “I do” during a wedding ceremony) from solely descriptive statements, Auslander proposes that the act of archiving a performance is in itself performative.

[…] the act of documenting an event as a performance is what constitutes it as such. Documentation does not simply generate image/statements that describe an autonomous performance and state that it occurred: it produces an event as a performance […].

(Auslander 2006, 5)

Although critiqued, this idea offers an updated reading of the medium. It is through the openness that Auslander’s work facilitates that I introduce the concept of performance différée as an analytical tool for a singular practice diverging from the traditional expectations towards performance art. In doing so, I hope to contribute to the conversation on the renewal of performance theory with my media-based outlook.

Performance différée, which can be translated as “differed performance”, will be kept in its original language to preserve its poetic subtleties. The word différé in French carries multiple meanings. It evokes both a delay and a difference, while also bearing a solid connotation to media and technology.

Karim Barkati’s thesis, Entre temps réel et temps différé – Pratiques, techniques et enjeux de l’informatique dans la musique contemporain (2009), presents an expanded definition of the concept of differed time from a perspective that intersects computer science and music. According to Barkati, the concept of differed time emerges as the opposite of the concept of real-time (Barkati 2009, 1). Hence, it is logical to define performance différée as opposed to live performance, which I will refer to as “established performance”. Différé applied to performance art is characterized by a delay or latency between the moment of artistic creation and the moment of presentation. 

This is theorized as the time of making and the time of seeing by Edmond Couchot (2007). To the author, the time of seeing is the period when the viewer perceptually discovers an image. The viewer’s understanding of the image is highly impacted by the image’s presentation context (for example on a screen, in a book or in a museum) (Couchot 2007, 21). The time of making, on the other hand, condenses the time taken to materialize the image, which includes every single technical step completed by the artist (Ibid., 33–34). This idea can be extended to the practice and reception of performance art to explore questions on presence.

Established performance

The term established performance refers to artistic works consisting of an artist enacting an action in front of an audience, like in Marina Abramovic’s practice. “The artist who resorts to performance acts in the present; they have chosen the ephemeral.” (Besacier 2013, 50 author’s translation). Central to this paradigm is the primacy given to the notions of presence and experiential engagement between artist and audience. While the performance is expected to be documented for preservation purposes, this documentation is considered separate from the artwork.

Here, the time of making, when the artist performs,overlaps with the time of seeing, when the artwork is perceived by the audience. Therefore, the geographical contexts of presentation and creation of the artwork are the same and appear simultaneously to both the audience and the artist. Within this framework, the documentation of the performance is seen as an afterthought and secondary to its realization, having little to no impact on the performance itself. Latency is completely absent from the perception of the artwork: everything unfolds in real time.

Performance différée

Performance différée, on the other hand, is characterized by a latency between the act of creation and the act of observation. Unlike established performance, which emphasizes immediate presence, performance différée introduces a more complex, layered temporality. The time of making encompasses not only the artist’s action but also its mediation. Archiving the performance is an integral part of the creative process, therefore the mediation becomes inseparable from the artistic action. In performance différée, the time of making includes the translation of the performative gesture through a chosen medium, thereby expanding the creative possibilities. With each additional step in the time of making, the artist is confronted with aesthetic, technical, and conceptual choices. These choices serve as an expression of the artist’s individuality and ensure that their presence resonates within the final artwork, independently of their physical disposition.

Furthermore, since the time of making precedes the time of seeing, a unique context can be introduced for the latter. The artwork’s place of presentation can be entirely different from its place of creation, as can its temporal framework. This expanded flexibility allows artists to play with various constraints of space and duration. The distinction between the time of making and the time of seeing significantly expands the range of creative spaces that can be used. The inherent latency of performance différée imbues the works with mobility. 

One could think of performance différée as a loose form of dramaturgy, mainly in its active relationship to the contexts surrounding the artwork. In addition to choosing the place and duration of the artwork’s creation, the artist has the agency to choose the place and duration of its dissemination. This opens up possibilities that are otherwise unattainable within established performance practice.

The question this builds up to is: how can the concept of performance différée implement the creation and analysis of a performative work in visual arts?


Within this research unfolding through iterative “heuristic cycles” (Paquin 2019), I employ performance différée as a practice in itself. This means that I conceive performative works that can only be apprehended through their mediation, intending to elucidate the previously raised questions, as well as presenting artworks that the audience can engage with at their own pace, free from the constraints of performative decorum. The analysis of my artworks using performance différée as a theoretical tool allows me to further clarify the concept and examine its application in various contexts.

Resulting artworks

Since my research is a work in progress, I choose to present a variety of artworks that emerged from the process rather than providing an in-depth analysis. Research-creation is highly iterative. Therefore, some of the artworks resulting from this research weren’t created with performance différée as a practice in mind. In fact, creating these pieces is what brought the concept to life.

Making oneself useful

Making oneself useful is a playful video-performance. The artwork is what emerges from the unexpected encounter between industry and idleness. What functions are hidden behind these spaces strictly dedicated to work? Are we prisoners of what a space dictates? Is the aura of a place stronger than the multitude of possibilities that inhabit it? Making oneself useful addresses these questions in a bold and humorous way. It offers an alternative interpretation of what constitutes appropriate behavior within a situated architectural context.

Se rendre utile, 2022, video performance, 59 s, URL: vimeo.com/674576601

This work, based on action and movement, is undeniably performative. However, because it was filmed in a factory, it would have been impossible to have an audience present. Here, translating through media (video) allowed me to create an in-situ performance that was presented in many ways through the years, including in an exhibition, a short film festival, and even a conference on the other side of the world.


Intermittence is a performance that is, at its core, differed. The project unfolds in several phases, the first of which is the performance.

My understanding of time and its passage is fleeting and atypical. This work evokes the uniqueness and intimacy inherent in each person’s perception of time. In this performance, for an entire day (24 hours), I write down the current time each time I see it. Every time I look at my watch, my phone, or any device with a clock. This results in listing all the exact moments when I became aware of the time. This list of numbers may seem like mindless data, but it actually informs the viewer of very personal details. It reveals the time I woke up; the moments when I was hyper-focused on work and lost track of time; the viewers know when I got anxious and looked at the time several times in a row, perhaps waiting for a phone call or a text message; they know when I got to bed, or didn’t; they learn about my insomnia. While giving very little information, this performance invites the viewer into a deeply intimate reading of my day.

Intermittence, 2022, web art.

The performance could have been presented as a 24-hour video, photo documentation, or even a visual list, but I chose to present it in the form of a digital clock. Instead of always giving the current time as it otherwise would (let’s say it’s 1 o’clock, 1.01, 1.02), the clock only changes the time when I have seen it, freezing when I’m not looking. So it may show 12.58 for 34 minutes, and then suddenly change to 1.32. The clock is tailored to my very own perception of time, like an odd diary. The performance only took place for a day, and later led to the creation of the digital clock. For technical reasons, I couldn’t make a clock that presented my perception of time in real-time. Therefore, Intermittence shows my experience of the same day, over and over again, creating a loop in time. The piece was presented in an online exhibition, so viewers around the world could drop in on my perception of time at any moment they pleased. The idea of differed time (I hadn’t quite come up with the concept of performance différée yet) is perfectly illustrated here through media.

Angle mort

This last piece is the one that truly created an “aha” moment in my research. The video performance’s title translates to Blind Spot.

Angle mort, 2022, video performance, 1 m. 57 s., URL: vimeo.com/721595383.

This artwork is a perfect example of how the use of media can transform and enrich the meaning of a performance. To perform it live would strip it of its complex layers. Without the video, this performance would be primarily about prayer. Perhaps it would question if religion still has a place in the visual arts; or it would mockingly portray the mysticism inherent in the practice of performance art. However, to understand the tone of this performance, the subtitles are crucial. And as the video progresses, the filming equipment is revealed. The medium is the message. This transparency of the medium shifts the focus; the camera becomes the new subject, the art now talks about itself. This point of view raises completely different questions. Questions about media and intimacy: praying is a very personal act. And questions about the medium in itself; how is video art made? Is this video art? Isn’t it absurd to perform alone in a studio? The fact that this performance is différée is exactly what makes it interesting.


My research doesn’t pretend that live performance can’t be complex and interesting. The opposite has been proven by many scholars and artists before me. What my research does is bringing forward the idea that perhaps presence is more than what we’ve been confining it to. It emphasizes that performance shouldn’t be neatly boxed. It shouldn’t be cleaned up. Performance could be an open door. A building without a roof. Vulnerable to the rain, flooded, overflowing. It could burst into an untamed fountain. It could quench our thirst and our curiosity, providing questions rather than answers. This research is my little rock thrown at our current way of creating and sharing knowledge. It is my soft and subtle way of rebelling against the way things are.


1 From the French différé which means deferred, offset in time, but also opposing or different.


Auslander, Philip. 1997. From acting to performance: Essays in modernism and postmodernism. London: Routledge.

Auslander, Philip. 2001. “La performance en direct dans une culture médiatisée.” L’Annuaire Théâtral 29(Spring): 125–140. doi.org/10.7202/041459ar.

Auslander, Philip. 2006. “The performativity of performance documentation.” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 28(3): 1–10. www.jstor.org/stable/4140006.

Barkati, Karim. 2009. “Entre temps réel et temps différé: pratiques, techniques et enjeux de l’informatique dans la musique contemporaine.” Doctoral thesis, Université Paris 8. www.theses.fr/2009PA083118.

Bénichou, Anne, ed. 2010. Ouvrir le document: enjeux et pratiques de la documentation dans les arts visuels contemporains. Series: Perceptions. Dijon: Les presses du réel.

Besacier, Hubert. 2013. “Performance, quelques éléments pour une définition problématique.” In La performance: vie de l’archive et actualité, edited by Raphaël Cuir and Eric Mangion, 43–56. Series: Figures. Dijon: Les presses du réel.

Couchot, Edmond. 2007. Des images du temps et des machines dans les arts et la communication. Nîmes: Éditions Jacqueline Chambon.

Laboratoire de la contre-performance. 2020. “Les contre-archives: fiction archéologique de la soumission incorporée.” In La performance: un espace de visibilité pour les femmes artistes?, edited by Juliette Bertron, Carole Halimi and Hanna Alkema, 75–86. Paris: Aware.

Martel, Richard. 2012. “Tenir compte du contexte: le performatif.” Ligeia, 117–120(2): 221–224. doi.org/10.3917/lige.117.0221.

Paquin, Louis-Claude. 2019. “Faire de la recherche-création par cycles heuristiques.” December 17, 2019. Accessed 20 October 2023. www.lcpaquin.com/cycles_heuristiques_version_abregee.pdf.

Poissant, Louise. 2014. Dictionnaire des arts médiatiques. Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec. www.puq.ca/catalogue/livres/dictionnaire-des-arts-mediatiques-719.html.


Léa Martin

Enrolled in a master’s degree in digital design at the NAD-UQAC school, Léa Martin (she/her) is currently interested in the renewal of the practice of video-performance in the context of digital arts. She has participated in a few conferences, including Les rendez-vous de la recherche-création, ELO 2023 and CARPA8. Her artwork has been presented in several festivals and group shows, including the Grande Rencontre des Arts Médiatiques de Gaspésie, Festival Post-invisible and the interactive fiction ExPhrasis.