Performance Art, Experimental Poetry and Electronic Literature in Portugal: An Intermedial Archive to an Intermedial Practice of Language

Abstract (in English): 

Considering electronic literature from a temporal perspective calls for a redefinition of our classical notions of time. It is impossible to anticipate its end because electronic literature appears as dynamic, and cyclic. Therefore, in order to think this ever-present artistic manifestation in its radical meanings and in a futuristic perspective, it is useful to know its past.

In Portugal, electronic literature, experimental poetry, and performance art share and explore the same performative concept of language, re-examining fundamental literary notions such as author, space, time, audience, medium, mediation and materiality. In this paper, we will present an intermedial archive to illustrate an intermedial field of practice.

This paper is thus based on current research on the history of Portuguese performance art. After framing and pointing out the close relationship between experimental poetry, performance art, and electronic literature in Portugal, we will present a timeline of Portuguese performance art (1915-1990), which will soon be available in the Digital Archive of Portuguese Experimental Literature (

This chronology is the point of departure for our analysis, both empirical and theoretical. Our main and broader goal is to discuss how the digital archive might be a useful tool to revisit history, but also to rethink it within a performative notion of language, art and time. In fact, both archive and electronic literature seem to coincide in their radical approach to explore multimodal and auto-reflexive potentialities of the digital medium. We aim to approach and enlighten the extremely diffused boundaries between electronic environments, experimental poetry and performance art as intermedial fields of practice.

In order to do so, we will, in a first moment, draw attention to the transformative impact of photography, video and digitized paratexts as constitutive elements of multimodal, layered and contingent traces of performance art. We will then provide a travelling virtual experience, conducting a tour through some of the digital representations of performance-based artifacts. At this point, we will reflect upon the processes of digital conversion and multimodal organization of digital objects, marked by the reflexive feedbacks between textual representation, contextual simulation and interpretative interaction (Portela, 2014).

Secondly, it is our intent to re-examine performance art and its problematic notions of “presence” (Giannachi, Kaye, 2012), ephemerality and disappearance (Phelan, 1993), aural documentation projection and re-presentational traces (Reason, 2006). We will also discuss the “theatrical and documentary categories” (Auslander, 2006) of performance art and electronic literature, providing material evidences on this arguable distinction. Thereby concepts of “performative materiality” (Drucker, 2013), performative history and archive, concerning the specific case of Portuguese performance art and experimental poetry, will be discussed.

We will present and contextualize the abovementioned timeline of performance art as an operative performance in itself, an empirical and digital case-study that raises some trenchant questions about the relationship between performance art, experimental poetry, electronic literature, and digital media tools for knowledge production. Therefore, we intend to contribute to a widely performative and transformative concept of history, time and literature.

(Source: ELO 2105 Conference Catalog)

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Hannah Ackermans