Only the Envelope: An Artistic Exercise in Data Retention


Performance research, live art, performance documentation, data retention, surveillance

How to Cite

Mckenzie, V. G. (2019). Only the Envelope: An Artistic Exercise in Data Retention. PARtake: The Journal of Performance As Research, 1(2).


Only the Envelope (OTE) combines research methodologies to investigate the ways we share personal information in the public sphere, and document our practices as scholartists. In a live art installation, a “scientist” invited visitors to be involved in an “experiment”: viewing a film while wearing a wireless eye-tracking device. This surveillance technology generated data about viewing behaviour, but of more interest, the work staged encounters that dramatize the act of looking. Engaging in OTE as performance research led to unanticipated findings and the creation of new audiovisual documents when the eye-tracking device was redeployed as a head-mounted camera to reenact the visitor’s experience. These documents extend the work’s artistic outcomes, but are they “the work” or “records” of the work? OTE engages with the traditional debate in performance studies about the supposed ephemerality of performance by illustrating Schneider’s position that the live is a vehicle for recurrence such that a distinction between record and performance collapses, and that photography can mix theatricality and documentality (2011). OTE refused to keep still to submit to its documentation, just as personal data in the public sphere is endlessly generated, captured and recycled in unstable recursion.

My acknowledgements are due to research assistant and performer Rachelle Rechichi; technology consultant Neil Ferguson; to all partici¬pants, consenting and otherwise; to eResearch Coordinator Heather Boyd, who reached out to me as a creative arts researcher; to Edith Cowan University’s eResearch Technology Funding Scheme, and School of Arts and Humanities, for their financial support.