An archive is traditionally considered to be a collection of materials and documents providing historical information about given events, people, or establishments. But could this information and these documents be contained within something much more organic—a receptacle as alive as the human body? Julie Tolentino defies the notion of the static document by offering her body as a living archive for various works of dance and performance art, such as Ron Athey’s Self Obliteration.
The archive requires, as Andre Lepecki writes in “The Body as Archive: Will to Re-enact and the Afterlives of Dances,” a constant gaze back into the past, something that is at odds with the body; not only is it necessary for the dancer to look towards innovation, but the body itself is constantly changing and dying, and cannot allow for consistent documentation. Lepecki quotes Laurence Louppe, saying, “the dancer is ‘the veritable avatar of Orpheus: he has no right to turn back on his course, lest he be denied the object of his quest’” (DRJ 28). But this old definition of archive as a fixed, unchanging structure must necessarily be replaced when discussing the work of Julie Tolentino, for when she dies, the archive of work she has collected will die with her. As Lepecki so poetically puts it, “Why add to the archival project the hyper-mobility and series of paradoxical temporalizations proper to the body—this multivalent system of plural velocities and arrests, shadowed by the veilings and drifts in perception and in things, tricked by the parapraxes of language, cursed with bad memory, and grounded on the certainty of death?” (34). Perhaps because the body can offer as an archive something that formal modes of documentation never could. As a changeable and sensitive vessel for information, its ephemeral nature more closely matches that of the work it chronicles. However, the concept of the body as archive is still somewhat problematic for me; the two kinds of archiving seem so disparate that it becomes difficult to connect them with the same word. Perhaps the two are still so far away that they cannot yet fit under the same umbrella of interpretation. However, I do believe that with some necessary stretching of the definition, Tolentino’s body could be as legitimate a vessel of documentation as the looming Neoclassical-style architecture of the National Archives.
Human beings tend to crave legacy—we want our work to endure, outlast and remember us. But this makes us afraid of the transient and its reminder of how temporary we really are. This is a scary concept: ephemerality has always been equated with melancholy, and thoughts of death and impermanence are hardly easy to digest. But I believe that in embracing the possibility of the body as archive, we would also in a way be starting to address the ephemerality of dance and movement, and by extension, of life itself.