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Article. Poor Traces of the Room: The Live Archive at the Library in Performance Research: On Libraries

I wrote this article with Anna Makrzanowska for a special edition of Performance Research looking at artistic interventions in libraries. This subject is particularly close to my heart because I worked as a library assistant at Peckham Library for three years whilst studying for a PhD.

Abstract

In his 1992 essay Eftermaele: ‘That which will be said afterwards’ Eugenio Barba states that ‘[i]n the age of electronic memory, of films, and of reproducibility … performance … defines itself through the work that living memory, which is not museum but metamorphosis, is obliged to do’ (78). His mention of memory is an acknowledgement of a spectator’s implicit function as a legacy-maker in theatre. Memory, here, is valorized by its transformative and non-reproducible form, which to Barba’s mind better reflects the experience of attending a performance. The notion of a spectator as a living archive is undoubtedly alluring, but Barba inadvertently reveals the limitations of this schema in his later essay ‘The essence of theatre’ (2002) by describing this legacy as ‘action that cannot be communicated’ (p.18). Describing the afterlife of a performance as little more than an invisible trace is to denude a document’s capacity to produce new meanings of past performances. The meaning of a text is not static: the moment a document is accessed the knowledge it has contributed in the construction of becomes live. The Live Archive was programmed as part of Kantor Is Here, a series of events celebrating Taduesz Kantor’s centenary and the teaching of Kantor at Rose Bruford. The Live Archivewas a piece designed to theatricalize the processes by which knowledge is constructed through the social interactions that libraries engender. The ‘live’ of the title denotes a medium that transmits information between different groups and peoples. This article argues that the library, as a concept encapsulating the sharing, exchange and interpretation of information, enables live performances to stretch beyond the event sphere into a distributed process of knowledge construction. Kantor’s legacy manifests in texts, artefacts, pedagogy and performance.

Article. Poor Traces of the Room: The Live Archive at the Library

I wrote this article with Anna Makrzanowska as part of the Kantor Is Here project we curated at Rose Bruford College in 2016. Kantor Is Here was a series of performances, talks and workshops celebrating the centenary of Polish theatre director Tadeusz Kantor and acknowledging his legacy at Rose Bruford. In this article we discuss The Live Archive installation, an installation which was devised with former students of the college. The Live Archive took fragments from past shows based on Kantor’s theories and re-purposed them into a new composition. The article was published in a special edition of Performance Research: On Libraries.

Abstract

In his 1992 essay Eftermaele: ‘That which will be said afterwards’ Eugenio Barba states that ‘[i]n the age of electronic memory, of films, and of reproducibility … performance … defines itself through the work that living memory, which is not museum but metamorphosis, is obliged to do’ (78). His mention of memory is an acknowledgement of a spectator’s implicit function as a legacy-maker in theatre. Memory, here, is valorized by its transformative and non-reproducible form, which to Barba’s mind better reflects the experience of attending a performance. The notion of a spectator as a living archive is undoubtedly alluring, but Barba inadvertently reveals the limitations of this schema in his later essay ‘The essence of theatre’ (2002) by describing this legacy as ‘action that cannot be communicated’ (p.18). Describing the afterlife of a performance as little more than an invisible trace is to denude a document’s capacity to produce new meanings of past performances. The meaning of a text is not static: the moment a document is accessed the knowledge it has contributed in the construction of becomes live. The Live Archive was programmed as part of Kantor Is Here, a series of events celebrating Taduesz Kantor’s centenary and the teaching of Kantor at Rose Bruford. The Live Archive was a piece designed to theatricalize the processes by which knowledge is constructed through the social interactions that libraries engender. The ‘live’ of the title denotes a medium that transmits information between different groups and peoples. This article argues that the library, as a concept encapsulating the sharing, exchange and interpretation of information, enables live performances to stretch beyond the event sphere into a distributed process of knowledge construction. Kantor’s legacy manifests in texts, artefacts, pedagogy and performance.

Trans-Participation in the Infosphere, DocPerform 3: Postdigital. City, University of London, May 16 2019

I lead the DocPerform project with my colleague Dr Lyn Robinson. The third event in our symposia series looked at concepts of the postdigital and technological immersion.

The full version of my paper can be read on the DocPerform website.

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Abstract
The real world, as we experience it today, is intimately connected with technological mediation. Drawing on theories of post-humanism, onlife, the infosphere, and audience participation, this paper addresses how the cultural, social and political beliefs of participants in immersive theatre can be trans-ed. The relationality inherent in the term trans- refers to the complex web of connections participants navigated and created in the performances Operation Black Antler by Blast Theory and Hydrocracker and One Day, Maybe by dreamthinkspeak. The dramaturgies in both pieces were experienced as a network of bodies, times, historical and national narratives. In this paper I will explore how trans- offers a strategy of performative political discourse where (sexual, gender, racial, etc.) identities become dramaturgically fluid and unfixed, and if such a mode of participation can effectuate a form of dialectic that is contingent on participating in acts of empathy rather than of conflict. A corollary to this process can be found in Luciano Floridi’s conceptualisation of contemporary technological environment, which he terms the infosphere (2014). The production and dissemination of media acts as the diffuse infrastructure of the infosphere and replicates our presence across platforms and communication networks. The compulsion to connect with realities and experiences outside of our everyday life allows us to stretch our real self and play identities as a means of establishing empathetic relations with histories, ideas and people; this is the core principle of trans-participation. I contend that audience participation in the context of the infosphere and onlife – where the digital and the real worlds become a seamless experience – complicate rhetorically crude conceptions of post-truth and fake news by allowing people to play identities drawn from media.

Conference Paper ‘Towards a Post-Immersive Manifesto’

I gave this paper at the TaPRA Interim Event: Immersive and Interactive Technologies and Live Performance, University of Cardiff, April 6. The paper concerns the post-immersive manifesto I am writing with ZU-UK Theatre and Digital Arts Company and TAG.

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Abstract
Immersive has become one of the most common but nebulous terms in the UK theatre scene over the past two decades. Promising a special or merely novel experience for audiences, the lexicon of immersion has entered many different social spheres. Shopping centres like Westfield (Stratford, East London) promise shoppers a leisure experience that transcends the boundaries of conventional retail. When used in the context of online activity (‘screen time’) immersion denotes disconnection from the real world. Immersion is now a byword for describing an escape from what can be considered productive activity by denuding the individual of their agency as moral and critically aware individuals. A post-immersive arts practice stands in opposition to the escapist imaginary of immersion by foregrounding the role the participant plays as an agent of social production. Social production describes the reflexive relationship between artist and participant in interactive art works, where both assume responsibility for constructing a narrative in virtual and physical spaces. This paper will show examples of art-works and experiments produced by collaborators ZU-UK and TAG over the past four years. We will propose a model of post-immersive audience participation by arguing that embodied and interactive technology in performance provides an architecture for artists and participants to play roles within scenarios that elide the real and the fictional. This mode of social production creates temporary communities whose aesthetic experience is defined by their relationality with diverse subjectivities which are already present within the performance and which manifest through social production ie what the participants bring with them (identity, politics, culture, bodies, etc.). We will discuss how post-immersive performance events can be scaled up and effective models of interdisciplinary collaboration.

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Following on from the annual conference at Aberystwyth and previous group events and conversations, the aim of the 2019 interim event is to explore different practices and modes of immersive and interactive technologies in live performance, as well as to investigate new narrative possibilities and audiences’ virtual experiences in live performance created by immersive technologies. As Kerry Francksen and Sophy Smith (2018) note, ‘[t]he use of virtual reality (VR) technologies has seen a significant resurgence in both industry-led and artistic communities in recent times. This re-emergence can be linked to the continuing growth and advancement in smart phone technologies (e.g. developments in accelerometers and gyrospic chips), as well as a significant interest within the games industry for developing a greater quality gaming experience.’ We want to explore this emergent theme and extend the 2018 TaPRA working group’s discussions on Empathy and Inclusiveness in Immersive Technologies to question: What new tools and spaces do immersive technologies offer to theatre and live performance? What opportunities and challenges do immersive technologies bring to the digital performer/performance-maker, from new forms of audience/participant interaction to new performance training methodologies, to new rehearsal methods and documentation strategies?

DocPerform 3:Postdigital – Call for Papers

DocPerform 3: Postdigital

Call for papers: closes April 5th 2019

https://documentingperformance.com

May 16th- 17th 2019

City, University of London

The DocPerform Project considers those aspects of performance that exemplify its documentary nature, alongside the associated processes of its documentation, including: creation, collection, description, organisation, discovery, access, preservation, interaction and engagement.

Our focus for this, our third symposium in the DocPerform series, is on how multisensory technologies can render our experience of newly created, recorded or archived performance, as something very close to, if not indistinguishable from, reality. To do this, we need to reach beyond the audio-visual, to embrace touch, smell and taste in both the creation of documents and in their subsequent documentation processes. We need to work with recording techniques and engagement interfaces that allow us to participate and interact with performance to the extent that the sense of immersion approaches that of reality. 

We ask: To what extent can technologies facilitate postdigital experiences in performance?

The translations, or mediators of the binaries, be they terms like multi-, inter-, or trans-, still construct a logic of the supplement that creates hierarchies that are irresolvable and false. Intermedial theatre, like multimedia before and transmedia briefly after, is a thing of the past.

(Causey, 2016, p.428)

Yes, we are now in a digital age, to whatever degree our culture, infrastructure, and economy (in that order) allow us. But the really surprising changes will be elsewhere, in our lifestyle and how we collectively manage ourselves on this planet

(Negroponte, 1998, p.288)

Theories expounded by scholars such as Matthew Causey (2016), Sarah Bay-Cheng (2016) and Bill Blake (2014) signify a paradigm shift in how the digital is conceptualised, valued and, most crucially, experienced. As Blake succinctly states: ‘The digital, after all, is an ever multiplying and mostly impossible to-pin down referent, with the meanings and cultural conceptions of new media and “digital culture”, multifarious and illusive’ (ibid, p.11). As we approach the third decade of the twenty-first century, digital culture is shifting into the era of the postdigital (Causey ibid).

The postdigital resonates with Luciano Floridi’s concept of the infosphere, his term for the environment we have created where anything can be connected to anything (Floridi 2014). It denotes a way of thinking as a network, where humans experience reality as a hybrid system of diverse interfaces. Humans and machines act as communication nodes in order to de- and reconstruct reality in diverse documentary formats. 

We have ceased to be amazed by the merely digital world. In our postdigital society we attempt to reassess what it means to be human, whilst at the same time acknowledging that our understanding of reality is changing. Technology is increasingly capable of presenting us with unreal reality; scripted experiences that are so close to the real thing, we struggle to distinguish the real from the fake. Successful navigation through postdigital society requires that we address how we delineate the boundaries between the real and the unreal.

As technology allows newly created and recorded experiences to become more immersive, we consider what this means for the documentation of performance.

Following the DocPerform 2: New Technologies symposium in 2017, Robinson and Dunne-Howrie (2018), envisioned immersive documents that would sustain levels of participation and interaction, alongside attempts to address the issues of temporality by recreation of time and place. These new forms of documents might also allow performances to be recorded from multiple perspectives: actor, director, playwright, lighting designer, stage manager, spectator, etc.

This presents ethical questions concerning how hierarchies’ of authorship are disrupted when the data generated by participants is used as an additional perspective of a performance. 

DocPerform 3: Postdigital invites contributions which address the creation and documentation of performance related to participatory and immersive documents, networked thinking, hybrid arts practices and audience participation. We are particularly interested in exploring the technological requirements of producing an immersive document. Technologists working with VR, AR, haptic and similar (trans)mediums are invited to demonstrate how devices can be used to capture and store data.

We welcome proposals for conceptual ideas, case studies, speculations, demonstrations, workshops and performances. We envisage most sessions will run for 20 mins, but we have facilities for longer workshops or installations where applicable. 

Please send an abstract of up to 500 words to lyn@city.ac.uk, and joseph.dunne-howrie@city.ac.uk, by 5.00pm on Friday 5th April.

The authors of successful proposals will be notified by Monday 15th April. 

All authors will be expected to register for the event; there will be a modest charge for catering. 

We intend to publish another collection of papers from this event, as before: https://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/docam/vol5/iss1/

References

Bay-Cheng, S. (2016) Postmedia Performance. Contemporary Theatre Review, [online] 26(2). Available at: https://www.contemporarytheatrereview.org/2016/postmedia-performance/ [Accessed 21 February 2019]

Blake, B. (2014) Theatre & the Digital. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Causey, M. (2016) Postdigital Performance. Theatre Journal, 68(3), pp.427-441

Floridi, L. (2014). The Fourth Revolution. How the infosphere is reshaping human reality. Oxford University Press

Negroponte, N., 1998. Beyond digital. Wired6(12), p.288.

Robinson, L. and Dunne, J. (2018). Is the World After All Just a Dream? Proceedings from the Document Academy, 5(1). Available at: https://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/docam/vol5/iss1/1 [Accessed 25 February 2019]