Australian Research Council grant awarded to consortium researching ways for museums to preserve performance art

AGNSW-Amrita-Hepi-The-Tender-2019-photo-by-Diana-PanuccioExploring the challenges around presenting and preserving choreographic performance works in visual arts institutions. Precarious Movements: Choreography and the Museum is a major research partnership between the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Tate UK, and UNSW Sydney, bringing together five public institutions from Australia and internationally.

Addressing some of the difficulties that ephemeral, performance-based works can pose to museums and collecting institutions, most of which have primarily been concerned with collecting objects, the research will focus on developing protocols, policies and methodologies for both artists and museums to exhibit, collect and conserve choreographic performance art.

Encompassing three years of research, from May 2021 until 2024, the project has arisen in response to the increasing prevalence of performance in contemporary art and the imperative for collecting institutions to be able to capture and preserve this important aspect of art history.

Precarious Movements was recently awarded one of 60 of the highly competitive Australia Research Council’s Linkage Grants, valued at nearly $400,000. The Australian Research Council (ARC) is the national body for funding scholarly research of major significance and their Linkage Grants are designed to facilitate partnerships between academic researchers and business, community or industry bodies, including organisations in the creative and cultural industries.

The ARC grant will also facilitate the commissioning of multiple new performance works by leading artists to be premiered at AGNSW, MUMA, and NGV and further strengthen the growth of performance-based practices internationally by providing direct support to artists. The project will culminate in the production of a major scholarly publication capturing the research, findings, case studies and scholarship on choreographic performance in the visual arts.

Connecting with and consulting an international network of artists, curators, conservators, archivists, museum educators and scholars, Precarious Movements is led by Dr Erin Brannigan, Senior Lecturer in theatre and performance and Dr Rochelle Haley, Lecturer, UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture; Hannah Mathews, Senior Curator, Monash University Museum of Art; artist Shelley Lasica; Carolyn Murphy, Head of Conservation, and Lisa Catt, Curator, International Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales; Louise Lawson, Conservation Manager, Time Based Media Conservation, Tate; and Pip Wallis, Curator, Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Victoria.

“As contemporary artists increasingly turn to performance to realise their creative vision, the ways in which institutions collect and preserve ephemeral work is an issue of international significance,” said Tony Ellwood AM, Director, National Gallery of Victoria.

“The NGV is committed to preserving the legacy of temporal works, like choreographic performance art, for future generations and is proud to be among these major cultural and educational institutions taking on this important project. Grants of this size and significance are rarely awarded to the creative arts sector and we are indebted to the Australian Research Council for their support of this significant area of research.”

“This is a highly significant research project that brings together academics and major arts sector partnerships to interrogate and explore how to document and map embodied practices across cultural institutions,” said Professor Michael Balfour, Head of UNSW School of the Arts & Media. “The outcomes of this project will undoubtedly impact international cultural policy, as well as Australian protocols and practices.”

“We’re thrilled to be collaborating with our esteemed national and international colleagues on this significant research project with artists and art practice at its core,” said Dr Michael Brand, director of the Art Gallery of NSW. “Our art museum is committed to supporting contemporary art in all its forms, specifically the preservation and presentation of live, ephemeral and embodied artworks.”

“The Art Gallery has a celebrated history of performance and we look forward to the opportunity afforded by this project to celebrate this history – as well as the possibilities that lie ahead. As we move closer to the opening of our expanded campus with the Sydney Modern Project, I am excited to see choreographic practice take on more prominence in our collection and programming as we broaden art historical narratives, support more local artists and offer new experiences to our audiences.”

“At MUMA we are excited by the opportunities that this research project affords to institutions and contemporary practitioners working in this area of practice,” said Charlotte Day, Director of the Monash University Museum of Art. “Rather than avoid the perceived difficulties of collecting performance-based works, we are enthusiastic to be working in this space and supported by the case studies and outcomes this ARC Linkage grant makes possible.:

“This is a great example of collegiality and resource sharing that can have impact well beyond the partners themselves. In making us better-equipped institutions, Precarious Movements: Choreography and the Museum promises long term flow on effects for artists: as we improve our practices in commissioning, collecting and conserving works of a choreographic nature we can in turn better support artists working in this area, now and into the future.”

For more information about Precarious Movements: Choreography and the Museum, visit: for details.

Image: Amrita Hepi, The Tender, 2019. Commissioned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales for The National 2019: new Australian art © Amrita Hepi – photo by Diana Panuccio / AGNSW