About Die Schwarze Lade / the Black Kit: Archive for Performance, Action and Intermedia Art

The internationally unique Performance Art Archive Schwarze Lade / The Black Kit was founded by artists and actors from the performance art scene. Since its inception in 1981, it has developed into an important repository of knowledge as well as an ever living working tool for artistic formats such as happenings and performance art. 

The Cologne artist Boris Nieslony (born 1945) is one of the initiators of the Schwarze Lade / the Black Kit. Nieslony was a participant in documenta 8 (1987), curated by Manfred Schneckenburger, and a member of the then seven-strong performance group Black Market International. It is thanks to him that the Performance Art Archive, maintained in the non-institutional space, was able to grow over four decades into a comprehensive multimedia collection of material and objects, today extending over some 450 linear meters of shelving. In addition to film documents and photographs, the collection includes project sketches, scripts, artists’ correspondence, and rare gallery catalogues as well as artefacts and performance relics. 

Boris Nieslony is now donating this performance archive, previously based in Cologne, to Kassel’s documenta archiv, which will continue to work on and with the materials in the spirit of its founders. The donation also includes Boris Nieslony’s artistic work, which has enjoyed international acclaim thanks to traveling installations such as “Das Paradies” (The Paradise) and the highly topical photographic work “Moritaten” (Moritates).

For documenta archiv, having access to this valuable repository is also a great asset because the Schwarze Lade / the Black Kit, as a mirror of international trends in the field of performative art, is linked in many ways to the very history of documenta itself. The archive materials document the artistic practice and theory of numerous art movements, groups and individual artists, including the Fluxus movement and historic pioneers of happenings and action art such as Joseph Beuys, Allan Kaprow, and Ulay & Abramović. 

The idea of the Schwarze Lade / the Black Kit is based on the question of how ephemeral performance art, how fleeting artistic actions and interactions can be captured and preserved, always under the guiding principle of generating knowledge from the archive material of past actions and making this fruitful for artistic practice and research. The documenta archiv will continue to address those topics triggering the establishment of the archive for actionist art and artistic-theoretical field research also into the future. The aim is to continue to highlight the prominent position of the Schwarze Lade / Black Kit on the international performance scene.

The name “Schwarze Lade” (Black Kit or Ark) is a reference to the Ark of the Covenant recorded in the Bible and the Torah, which was carried by the Israelites as a portable sanctuary when they left Egypt. In the past, the Performance Archive has repeatedly traveled on tour. It has been exhibited or used artistically at international symposia, festivals, and conferences with the help of mobile shelf displays. The Schwarze Lade / the Black Kit has been presented at venues including the Künstlerhaus Mousonturm, Frankfurt (1991), the Offenes Kulturhaus, Linz (1998), and the Art and Museum Library of the City of Cologne (2020).

The acquisition of the Schwarze Lade / the Black Kit provides the documenta archiv with a complex artists’ archive capturing the history of performance art in a nuanced way while reflecting not only a broad spectrum of artistic practice, but also the wide-ranging networks of actors on the international performance scene.   
As in the past, the holdings of the Schwarze Lade / the Black Kit will also be available for academic and artistic research in Kassel. A research project with European partners in art and information science specializing in (self-)archiving practices in performance art is in preparation. Scholars, artists, and interested parties are invited to immerse themselves in the art of performance in the documenta archiv.