Recipe for Performance Art

Punch CardThe Setting

  1. The performance should be held on a large unadorned room, if possible longer than it is wide;
  2. The scene where the performance takes place should occupy approximately half the room in one longitudinal strip;
  3. The public should be kept either on one side of the room, either on both sides (with the scene on the middle strip);
  4. The public should subtly be made to understand that the scene is not to be penetrated (use narrow strip marks on the floor, or different flooring on the scene, or etc.), however physical barriers or different floor levels are absolutely proscribed;
  5. The scene is to be divided into approximately three equal parts, without explicit demarcation:
    1. On one extreme, a minimalist artist’s studio; with a large drawing board, a matching chair and a small support table to hold the artists’ materials;
    2. On the middle, a large table with a stack of finished pieces, an equipment which is a combination of a  large-format scanner + document shredder, and a card punch;
    3. On the other extreme, a dumpster trash receptacle and a warehouse-type steel bookshelf;
  6. If possible, the room illumination should be as follows:
    1. The “studio area” should be bathed in warm, comfortable lighting, with auxiliary lighting for the drawing area;
    2. The “scanning area” should be bathed in strong cold lighting;
    3. The “storage area” should be bathed in very warm lighting (almost red) much fainter than the other two areas;
    4. The rest of the room should be left in the dark, with just enough lighting to ensure the safety of the public.

The performance

The performance comprises three moments: The Creation, The Digitization, The Punching and The Storage / Disposal. The three latter form a sequence, but there may be long hiatuses (because the scanning and the punching are potentially slow processes) during which the operators may, in the interest of avoiding unnecessary visual clutter, leave the scene. The Creation, however is quite independent from all other steps, and may be performed either in sequence or in parallel with them.

The Creation
  1. A large blank sheet of paper or canvas is attached to a drawing board;
  2. One of several invited artists creates an original artwork, using any flat, conventional technique as s/he wishes (charcoal, pastel, acrylic, watercolour, pencil drawing, etc);
  3. Once finished, the artwork is detached from the drawing board and stacked on a pile on the table at the middle.
The Digitization
  1. Two operators choose a random piece from the pile;
  2. They carefully feed it into a large-format scanner / shredder, which gradually reduces it to small bits just as soon as it digitizes it;
  3. The resulting shreds are collected in a box lined with a black trash bag.
The Punching
  1. Once the piece is completely digitized, it is processed to fit into a 175 KiB JFIF file;
  2. Operator 1 takes the black trash bag from the shredder and puts it in the chad box of the card punch;
  3. Simultaneously, operator 2 feeds new cards to the punch and instructs it to punch the JFIF file.
The Storage / Disposal
  1. Operator 1 takes care of disposing of the thrash bag with the chad and the shreds of the original artwork. S/he takes the bag from the card punch, ties it and throws it into the dumpster;
  2. Simultaneously, operator 2 takes care of putting the punched cards into an archive box and handwriting a label with the name of the artist, the name of the artwork, the date of creation and the date of scanning. S/he attaches the label to the box and carefully puts it away on the bookshelf.


  • Artwork: techniques that may prevent the scanning / shredding process should be avoided, which may include collages and thick empâtements. If ink is to be used, it should be fast drying (oil paint, for example, is to be avoided);
  • Operators: no provision is made about specific gestures or costumes, except to stay away from stereotyping and overacting. In particular, the dreadful white lab coat cliché is to be avoided at all costs;
  • Invited artists: they should not be constrained in terms of action or dress. They must, however, agree to refrain for interfering even in the slightest with the action outside “The Creation”;
  • To provide a reference, if  80 column × 12 bit cards are used, each artwork will demand approximately 1500 cards;
  • To keep the performance interesting, it might be advisable to be able to slow down the timing of scanning and punching, in the case technology allows it to proceed too fast. Ideally, each process should take a dozen minutes, so an entire cycle, from “The Digitization” to “The Storage” could take about half an hour;
  • Provisions must be made in the (not unlikely) event of technical troubles, so that the operators can stay in character, and the performance may “fail graciously”.

This latter issue is so important, that I may want to address it in more specific terms in future versions of this recipe.


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