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Lucia's Thesis

The Ephemeral Performance of Esther Ferrer

El Tren de John Cage, Bolonia (Italie) 1978 F. R. Masotti.

For Lucia Sendagorta, an art history and global communications double major, the choice of Capstone project was an opportunity to explore Western art from outside a French or American perspective. “I realized I didn’t know any contemporary Spanish or Hispanic artists,” she explained. “I wanted to explore this different field through my thesis.” Professor Hervé Vanel helped her frame the project in the context of bringing lesser-known artists into the foreground of Western art history.  

After researching Spanish artist Esther Ferrer, Lucia decided to focus on Ferrer’s ephemeral performance, The Musical Thread, as the subject of her Capstone research. Ferrer’s work as a performance artist spans six decades; the show in question took place in 1978. Ferrer was part of a collective performance, which took place over three days on a train traveling several routes around the Italian cities of Bologna and Ravenna. The event was organized by the American composer John Cage and was called John Cage’s Train: In Search of Lost Silence

Lucia’s thesis aimed to interrogate the role of the photograph in documenting a performance, which is by definition an ephemeral artform. “Professor Vanel gave me great advice,” says Lucia. “We had several technical conversations about the role of documentation in performance art.” There was little archival evidence of The Musical Thread, so instead Lucia went directly to the people involved in staging it. “It wasn’t easy, but everything came together,” she said. “Instead of finding documents, I was calling artists and museums. It was fun to be a detective!” Among others, Lucia spoke to a filmmaker who made a documentary about Cage’s train, which meant she was able to watch a re-enactment of the performance as documented in the film. 

Lucia first reached out to Ferrer on International Women’s Day – March 8, 2020. “She told me she’d just got back from a protest!” says Lucia. “She was happy to see young people involved in the movement. It was great to talk to her about something humane.” Ferrer invited Lucia to meet in person, and, though Lucia says it was nerve-wracking to conduct the interview, the conversation formed the basis of her thesis. “The function of my work was to create reference material that wasn’t already there, rather than to add preconceived notions of interpretation,” she explains. The full transcript of their interview is published online and available here. 

Lucia has been able to turn her thesis into other opportunities, gaining professional experience while helping Ferrer document the impact of her work. She is conducting a for-credit internship as Ferrer’s personal archivist, cataloguing Ferrer's work in a continuation of her thesis. She is working on digitizing Ferrer’s photography, so that future researchers can more easily access the same material. Lucia was trusted to use her knowledge of Ferrer’s work to ensure material was properly labeled. “She was wonderfully kind from the beginning,” she explains. “She just wanted me to feel comfortable in the storage room.” 

Lucia is also helping Ferrer in preparing an acquisition dossier for one of her artworks, which was submitted to the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris: “I’m creating a profile for her, building out the narrative around her performance.” Professor Vanel offered Lucia advice to help her understand the ways in which institutions select exhibition material. Lucia looked at past exhibitions that have used Ferrer’s work and explored the narrative that the museums were trying to build. “It was important to pitch the exhibition as complementing the museum’s other collections rather than competing with them,” she explains. 

What began as Lucia taking the initiative to explore a lesser-known artist for her thesis grew into exciting opportunities for career development. Lucia’s experience is characteristic of the unique personal and professional pathways that students follow through their time at AUP and onward into international careers.