Performance Philosophy Problems 2022: Key Group presentations

Read the presentations of the selected seven Key Groups.

Key Group 1: Collaboration, conviviality, and care: the problem of including learning-disabled and neurodivergent artists in performance philosophy

A Key Group formed by Tony McCaffrey, Dave Calvert, Kate Maguire-Rosier and Janet Gibson

The Key Group will interweave and problematize the presence of learning-disabled and neurodivergent artists in performance and at the conference through Zoom performance, video and analysis: exploring how learning-disabled and neurodivergent performance thinks, and asking how to include people normally excluded as philosophical subjects.

Tony McCaffrey and members of Different Light Theatre will present The Journey of Maui a 20-minute Zoom ‘performance’ embodying the terms of participation of learning-disabled artists. Conviviality and collaboration are viewed through Derrida’s paradox of hospitality/hostility in an encounter with the Māori ‘philosophical’ concepts of manaakitanga and whanaungatanga and the recent reconfiguration of terms for disability in the Māori language.

Dave Calvert will consider how theatre operates convivially, pursuing resonances between the concept of conviviality, as discussed by Illich, Gilroy and Puar, and theories of care, particularly those of Eva Kittay. Calvert will argue that, while modes of conviviality in traditional drama are used to destabilise received notions of identity, this is rarely extended to representations of learning disability. Calvert’s presentation will involve pre-recorded performance contributions from Dark Horse theatre company, to explore the epistemic implications of conviviality.

In parallel to McCaffrey’s utilization of Derrida’s hostility/hospitality dyad, Janet Gibson and Kate Maguire-Rosier employ a performative conversational approach to explore a resistance to and an embrace of ‘care’, understood as both ethical and political concepts in the context of dance and theatre with and by people with dementia and learning-disabled artists.

Through an examination of Murmuration’s Days Like These (2017 Sarah-Vyne Vassallo), Maguire-Rosier calls for acts of disclosure to be understood as performances of care, as negotiation of risks and an enabling of possibilities. Gibson responds to these provocations by extending them to dementia theatre; she also illuminates the role of conviviality in To Whom I May Concern (2018) by focusing on the relationship between the spectators and the audience, many of whom know each other personally or professionally, and how the audience responds to the performers’ demands to change their attitudes. In conversation with Gibson, Maguire-Rosier argues that disclosure can produce a tension between a disability resistance to, and feminist ethical valuing of, care. She asks: what is at stake for the artist with hidden impairment to disclose? Finally, she claims, live performance itself can be understood as disclosure which gestures towards ideas of conviviality.

Key Group 2: Speculative Epistemologies. Triangulating zones of entanglement between knowledge, embodied practice and belief.

A Key Group formed by Alice Lagaay, Anke Haarmann, Tom Bieling, Torben Körschkes, Petja Ivanova, Barbro Scholz and Frieder Bohaumilitzky

An apparent legacy of the ‘Enlightenment’ (with a big E) is the assumption that knowledge is universal and that all societies and cultures are knowable from a singular ‘bird’s-eye’ point of view. This has resulted in what some might call a ‘tyranny of logic’, the boundary-defining framework of science that excludes any episteme that cannot be grasped by its methodological norm, defining thereby what can or cannot constitute the ‘knowable’ or ‘true’. The same generalising framework also defines what is regarded and valued, what counts, as knowledge in the first place. The focus tends to be on the communicable (and therefore marketable) outcome, the ‘results’: ideally discrete nuggets of information that can, in principle, – or so it is assumed – be further digested and imported into other contexts, independently and regardless of the actual embodied processes that led to the original formulation of these results, and regardless of the original (and local) context in which their significance might be embedded.   

Related to this are the challenges of post-colonial thought. In particular, the fact that any effort to think through and to overcome the violence of exclusion, implied and continuously enacted by the academic straitjacket, faces the problem of how to define and reframe what constitutes knowledge and truth as opposed to, say, belief, dogma, ideology or mere speculation. Increasingly, however, ‘rebellious’ epistemes are emerging on the fringes of academia, demanding, for instance, that more subjective, non-quantifiable experiences (as opposed to strictly empirical experiments) be equally valued as knowledge.

Speculative Design offers a methodological toolbox with which to explore, and potentially legitimize, alternative models and modes of knowledge through world-building not based on, or not yet based on, socially normalised ‘truths’. However, a problematic dichotomy remains: whilst a neutral, transparent and universal truth may be a fantasy construct, the disturbance of such a construct through individual embodiments is no simple alternative. It requires a careful observation of the modes and assumptions, the premises and processes of different knowledge-generating practices within the confines of academia and beyond. In short, it requires actual (not simply professed) inter- and trans-disciplinarity; in other words: actual working together. So: How do we work together?

Drawing from a range of different disciplines and hybrid forms of research, including artistic research, design, philosophy, and various types of embodied practice, the team members of Spec Space, the Laboratory for Speculative Design Research at Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW), will attempt to perform this inter- and trans-disciplinarity on the stage of the Performance Philosophy conference in Helsinki. They will demonstrate different ways of knowing, approaching and triangulating the question of what can emerge, once the traditional domains of academia and science (“Wissenschaft”), are no longer regarded as exclusive sites for knowledge production.

Before beginning to address how we work together, our first step has been to describe how we work individually. Depending on the type of work involved, and also, perhaps, on our individual personalities, our approach to this self-analysis has been different in each case. Some of us have described the practical and strategic methods they use to develop concepts for design projects: building with ready-mades, identifying dichotomies, juxtaposing and contrasting contexts, enhancing paradox. Others have delivered a close phenomenological description of specific skills involved in various phases of their work, for instance the actual process of typing words and sentences on a keyboard (using just two fingers) in combination with writing notes by hand, or the physical, rhythmic, embodied vocal experience of speaking thoughts out loud, of discovering thoughts by speaking.

These skills are invariably necessarily implied in the idea of what our work “is”, but not usually considered as contributing significantly to its outcome; not normally worthy of mention or attention. A close observation of the actual processes involved in carrying out these everyday work tasks – speaking, writing, experimenting with materials, listening, waiting, doubting, procrastinating, reading, re-reading, editing, reading out, going for a walk, marinading, starting over, collaging, connecting, refashioning, sewing, letting grow, feeding… –  suggests, however, that they are not just simply subsidiary methods or neutral service providers, as it were, but intricately, methodologically involved in the creative process of (speculative) design, especially when highlighted by the sensitivities of a performance philosophy paradigm. The action of observing and describing what we actually do as we carry out our daily work is understood here as an essential methodological step in the infinite process of situating and localizing, of thereby decolonialising, our labour practices, a process which must necessarily accompany, and be valued equally to, the connected and infinite process of enlightenment (with a small e).

Key Group 3: Performativity of Death in post-Soviet art

A Key Group formed by Darja Filippova, Pavel Mitenko, Anastasiia Spirenkova, Antonina Stebur and Vera Zamyslova

The link between performance and philosophy is a permanent question that animates independent post-Soviet culture: from Moscow Actionism of the 1990s to the House of Culture Rosa, run by the St. Petersburg art-group “Chto delat?,” to performance collective Party of the Dead. Concurrently, the subject of death is one of the main topics of post-Soviet political art and performance practice in Russia. It was reflected in the ideas of Russian Cosmists, the late Soviet Necrorealists activities, the practices of the first post-Soviet women’s art group Factory of Found Clothes, {родина}, to Techno-Poetry today. The COVID-19 pandemic became a pretext for artists and activists to resurrect the problem of death and methods of working with it.
We believe that the theme of performativity of death brings together two important lines of an involved, independent art – death and performance – which constitute the “burning and smouldering” problems of the contemporary cultural process in Russia. The question of death in Russia is haunted by a question of justice – both philosophically and in relation to the perceived failures of the system of law. The necro-performances of the collective Party of the Dead, which took place in streets and cemeteries of a quarantined St Petersburg (and in transgression of the stay-at-home order) manifest the importance of performance as a ritual of mourning in this strange time. As a key group, we would use the framework of the conference to establish a Party of the Dead fraction in Helsinki.

Our research group AGITATSIA unites people connected with the postSoviet history (from Belarus, Russia, USA, France, Estonia), and with interest in collectivity and multidisciplinary approach, to produce multimedia texts about art. Our areas of study include philosophy, sociology, cultural studies, art criticism, artistic performative activity; we are united by an interest in the most radical line in contemporary Russian art, which is Actionism and political performance. As Jacques Derrida noted in “Signature, Event, Context,” a sign receives its performative power, that is, the ability to produce an action, only due to the institutional framing of the situation. The ongoing weakness of contemporary Russian art institutions results in a failure to provide enabling spaces for artists, whether through advocacy for freedom of expression or material support. Therefore, post-Soviet art operates outside the institutions, on the margins of power and authority. In such a situation, the creation of independent institutions and quasi-political associations, such as Agitatsia, becomes the basis of performativity and effectiveness of the statement.

Key Group 4: The Shuddering Wonder of the Earth, Breathing: Conjuring Cultural Metamorphosis in an Era of Ecological Breakdown

A Key Group formed by Martin Lee Mueller, Heli Aaltonen and David Abram

Elisa Aaltola’s book Varieties of Empathy: Moral Psychology and Animal Ethics (2018) makes an important argument about the role of emotions, and particularly empathy, in directing our morality and moral agency. She writes: “[E]motions and forms of empathy rescue us from detachment, numbness and objectification of the others and enable the sort of moral agency resistant to subjugation and violence” (Aaltola, 2018, 2). Our concern is with how to develop such empathic orientation toward the wider living world through ways of working with both reflection and performance, speech and embodied participation, sound and movement and contemplative silence. We wonder how performing animal perspectives or telling stories about experiences with non-human others – animal, plant, fungi, river, mountain, lake – would help us build more caring and humane relationships with the more-than-human commonwealth of life. Humans are “storytelling animals”, Martin Lee Mueller argues at length in Being Salmon, Being Human (2017). David Abram (2010) insists that in order to “restore” the health of the living land, we must also engage in the work of “restorying”. While stories are implicit in much philosophical reflection and argumentation, we wish to work with the magic of storytelling; they live also in the act of performing, in the textures and rhythms of voice, body, and even the surrounding spaces. Stories hold the potential to bring both performers and listeners into a mutually created sense of wonder, what Neil Evernden calls “the absence of interpretation” (1985). To develop an attitude where wonder may strike, is to step aside from constricting one’s lived reality to custom and habit, to the familiar, to complacency. Evernden writes: “Relieved of the cultural context which declares that this is important and that that is not … one is simply aware of what is.” In a time when powerful cultural narratives still proclaim human exceptionalism at the expense of the larger living world, the seemingly simple counsel of what is assumes political force: In a time of rampant ecological upheaval, we simply can no longer assume that we already know what this living world is, how we are of it, or even what it is to be human. How then, can we fully know – or even imagine – just what or who are these Others (the other creaturely forms of sensitivity and sentience) with whom we share this whirling sphere of life?

Through our various approaches to working between academia and performance, we explore fresh ways of speaking, writing, and teaching, ways that evoke a deeper participation and kinship with the breathing earth.

Key Group 5: Hacia Helsinki – Helsinki Bound

A Key Group formed by Claudia Ricca, Dami Bacchiddu, María Eugenia Cairo, Camila Kevorkian, Belén Martinez, Florencia Mazzadi, Guiomar Peñafort, Florencia Pumilla and Martina Prystupa

Lagunaries arises as a practice in common from an online virtuality imposed in the context of isolation by the Covid-19 pandemic. Taking possible affections, bodies, knowledge and genealogies as repertoires, we look for altered ways to make the word act [to speak out], breaking the hegemonic devices that allow the transmission of knowledge and being together, while hacking its binary logic. This group laboratory made up of dancers, performers, educators, researchers, filmmakers and archivists, takes the construction of collective knowledge and the potential of the virtual body as its nodal axis of research.

We perform theories, we investigate modes of escaping the lineal narrativity, using polyphonic and choral forms of thinking / moving / saying / existing. We inhabit the irony of a virtuality that imposes a distance on us and at the same time it hacks all geographical borders. A practice that does not yet have a name, a performance that is always provisional, weaving voices and actions through listening and activating our own and other people’s writings.

We ask ourselves: What is knowing/knowledge? What/where is its archive? How is collective knowledge built? What do we need to know about the other to build a common doing, an affection? What can a collective body do? What can a virtual/digital encounter achieve?  What will change when we meet in person?

Hacia Helsinki / Helsinki Bound is a series of online encounters, between January and May 2021, through which to expand our enquiries. In April/May, we will meet for the first time in person, at the Helsinki and Finlandia Streets, in Villa Carlos Paz, Argentina.  In June, during the Philosophy Performance Problems 2021 Conference, we will host an online space where we will share a reel of our in-person encounter, while we carry out a live intervention using texts, readings, sounds and actions to create a cartographic sketch around our research questions. The audience will also be able to intervene during the live performance.

Hacia Helsinki / Helsinki Bound is what happens to this territory built in virtuality as we move closer to an in-person encounter and beyond. Nine beings, the desire for a journey towards a common geography/knowledge/territory.
Keyword: Collecting knowledge

Key Group 6: Unnamed Autofictions: Dissonant Co-labouring

A Key Group formed by Nik Wakefield, Daniela Perazzo Domm and Diana Damian

Collaborators of the Working Group in Theatre, Performance, and Philosophy of the Theatre and Performance Research Association proposes to engage with collaboration itself as a problem.

While collaboration has become ubiquitous in today’s cultural economy, its ‘social halo’ often prevents us from considering co-labouring, or the actuality of the everyday compromise with structures and scales beyond the control of the individual. Collaboration has come to stand for generous, consensual, humane working practices of genuine experimentation, sharing and discovery; yet, its critical potential as a modality that decentres the idea of authorship and dissolves the boundaries between artistic disciplines and professional roles is diluted by its comforting allure. In dialogue with Bojana Kunst’s critique of collaboration as a guarantee of visibility and ‘one of the most fetishized fields of the present day’ (Kunst 2015: 78), with Claire Bishop’s exposure of collaboration’s implicit association with ‘dematerialised, antimarket, politically engaged projects’ (Bishop 2006: 178), with Julietta Singh’s (2018) critical and decolonial undoing of the notion of mastery and with Roberto Esposito’s (2010) understanding of community as a duty towards the other that strips each member of their individuality, our group will testify to and confess of the crimes of collaboration. Can collaboration ever fully account for plural and heterogeneous positions, overcoming the partiality that the idea of working with those who already have something in common necessarily implies? In drawing attention to the implicated stickiness of inevitable consequences, known and unknown, that occur in collaboration, and attend to the politics of co-labouring, we propose to engage with different adjacencies and with the potential of dissonance (Moten and Harney 2013) within collaboration.

As co-conveners and collaborators of a working group, our work mostly consists of arranging moments for other speakers to share research. Collaborators of the working group will contribute partly fictionalised problems of collaboration. The presentation will theorise alongside these autofictions. We will use a method of collaborative presentation that disrupts the regime of authorial visibility. Our approach will avoid the imperative for possessive authorship by anonymising and fictionalising particular examples of working together. Stripping labour of its named owners/authors de-instrumentalises collaboration by altering the terms of visibility. This is an attempt at destabilising what is possible in performance philosophy scholarship by encouraging both disavowal and creativity as critical possibilities.