Collaboration in The Aesthetic Zone: Trisha Brown And Robert Rauschenberg

Bill Brand, Shu-Wen Lin, Cori Olinghouse, and Francine Snyder
The Electronic Media Review, Volume Five: 2017-2018


Set and Reset is a masterpiece of American postmodern dance, establishing Trisha Brown’s role as a seminal choreographer working within abstraction. The performance, a collaborative project between Trisha Brown (1936-2017) (choreography), Laurie Anderson (b. 1947) (music), and Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) (set and costumes), made its US debut in 1983 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York. To assure the longevity of Set and Reset, preserving the set’s film elements has become a collaborative effort between two of the artists’ estates, demonstrating a new preservation strategy for the exchange of information, histories, funding, storage, and clarifica­tion of rights.

Since its inception, the Trisha Brown Dance Company has frequently toured Set and Reset domestically and internationally, including a major performance this past spring 2017 as part of the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition at Tate Modern, London. Prior to London, the performance continually used Rauschenberg’s original set, which he entitled Elastic Carrier (Shiner) despite the entire performance being named Set and Reset. The set consisted of a freestanding multi-pyramid structure onto which montaged archival footage from six reels of films is projected.

Recognizing that the film elements were deteriorating from years of continued use, the Trisha Brown Dance Company (TBDC) applied without success for several grants to preserve the films. The project was “set and reset” a few times until fall 2016 when TBDC joined with the Rauschenberg Foundation and work proceeded with BB Optics and indepen­dent media conservator, Shu-Wen Lin. The result of this project debuted at the performance in London in 2017.

Throughout the preservation project, we endeavored to track and document the reasoning behind the unavoidable changes between the 1983 and 2017 presentations. Given the collab­orative nature, we carefully addressed the following issues: who is responsible for preserving a moving image work that is part of a performance? Is Elastic Carrier (Shiner) an independent work, or may it only exist as an element of the dance? What are the impli­cations of migrating a moving image work in performance from film to digital projection?

This panel aims to share the continuing conversation among estates and foundations, and to shed light on issues and principles surrounding the preservation of moving images in performative artworks.

Shu-Wen Lin
Lunder Conservation Fellow in Time-Based Media
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Bill Brand
Adjunct Professor
Moving Image Archiving and Preservation
New York University

Cori Olinghouse
Archive Director
Trisha Brown Dance Company

Francine Snyder
Director of Archives and Scholarship
Robert Rauschenberg Foundation