manuel vason on documenting the ephemeral magic of performance art

The photographer and performance artist’s new book, Double Exposures, creates a new photographic language of collaboration.

by Felix Petty
Jan 20 2015, 3:50pm

Stacy Makishi and Manuel Vason, Double Exposure, London, 2012

Featuring 44 collaborations with some of the leading lights and luminaries of the live and performance art scene, Manuel Vason's new book, Double Exposure, explores the magic moment where live art can be captured and documented forever. Exploring a breadth of body shapes, shocking scenes and humorous diptychs, Vason's work creates an exciting new language of the most fleeting of art forms. i-D caught up with the photographer to talk about inspirations, definitions and new challenges.

What was the inspiration behind the book?
I was looking for a new challenge, I was searching for a project that would push my artistic practice and take me towards a new zone of enquiries. For many years I have considered photography as a great formula for an exchange with other artists and as an alternative space outside the theatre or gallery, but my position has been 'safe', behind the camera, so I thought I had to validate the exchange and place the photographer in front of the lens.

Did you approach it as a photography book, or as a document of performance, or as something in between?
The 'something in between' sounds really appropriate! I would like Double Exposures to be many things at the same time: a mobile gallery, a device for research, a sculptural object, a collectable photographic relic, an excuse for an encounter, a stage for 40 performances, an educational instrument, an intimate archive, etc…

Alastair McLennan and Manuel Vason, Double Exposure, London, 2012

Where does your interest in photography and performance art stem from?
I learned about performance art mainly through books and photographs. After witnessing some live performances I felt a need to know more about this form of expression. I was totally engaged by the magic of the live encounter and the emotional energy it provoked. There's a friction between ephemeral performance and attempts to encapsulate it into a document, and I found the friction the stem for my artistic practice.

What is this book's relationship to your first project, Exposures, beyond the title?
The time lapse between the two publications is nearly 12 years, and during this time my practice and the practice of the artists with who I collaborate have changed. One of the aims of Double Exposures was to draw attention to the shifts in content and forms of presentation. I believe the strength of the first publication was the unprecedented approach and the genuine spirit of experimentation between all the contributors; at the beginning we were not even aware that the work we were producing would end up as a book. But with Double Exposures we were questioning how we could create a genuine performance that could only be accessible this way.

The word live art crops up often, how would differentiate between live art and performance art?
I guess performance art embraces a larger spectrum of works, as Live Art is a more recent definition of action-based work presented to a live audience, and it relates mainly to work created in the UK. I personally like to leave it to others (the definitions game) and not get in trouble…

What were some of the most interesting collaborations to work on in the book?
The most challenging task was to collaborate with 44 different performance artists and to conceive the publication in its entirety. It took me four years to complete the project and of course the book contains only the successful collaborations so I would say that the sense of failure I experienced with some artists has been extremely informative.

Ernst Fischer and Manuel Vason, Double Exposure, London, 2012

Did you approach every collaboration in the same way?
Every time I have approached a new collaboration I had to reset the canvas. Metaphorically, I could describe the process as a long cooking session: while I had the same instruments each time, I also had the pleasure to work with different ingredients and different recipes. As a result I definitely feel much closer to each artists' practice and I'm convinced the mutual exchange has been very productive.

There is a lot of focus on the body in the book…
The body is the focus, indeed! We all have one, we all have a different one, we are all trying to analyses the body while he/she/they/it is in continuous transformation. This constant search for impossible answers is like a drive, an engine, a force that will never run out of power.

What initially made you want to start photographing performance? What tension drew you to that?
I'm attached to memories, I love to come back to them and I'm scared of loosing them… I start photographing what I wanted to recall but with the time I enjoyed to use photography as an excuse to provoke and build up new memories. Photography has become an experiential tool and I'd like to propose a photograph not just as an object or an entity but also as an event/performance in its own right.


Text Felix Petty
Images courtesy Manuel Vason

Performance Art
live art
double exposures
Manuel Vason
felix petty