TaPRA 2018, Aberystwyth, Documenting Performance WG: Classes of Categories

Deadline: Friday 20 April 2018

   Theatre and performance, as well as associated categories of visual art and broader modes of cultural encounter, are permeated by questions of ontology. Dilemmas of concept, classification, and relation sit at the core of our field of investigation, both practically and theoretically. In cultural theorist Sianne Ngai’s 2012 return to the problem of aesthetic categories, she proposes the minor, everyday and seemingly fleeting categories of the ‘zany’, the ‘cute’, and the ‘merely interesting’ – in contrast to the well-worn categories of ‘the beautiful’ or ‘the sublime’ – as the tools ‘in our current repertoire best suited for grasping how aesthetic experience has been transformed by the hypercommodified, information-saturated, performance-driven conditions of late capitalism’. At stake here, then, is the question of the connection between experience and our ability to grasp it – and particularly our ability to grasp its transformations. For Ngai, it is in the probing of ‘our aesthetic categories’, in all their inconsistencies and failures, that we find an account of historically conditioned experience.   Within theatre and performance practice, there is sometimes a resistance to categorisation as such. Live Art, particularly, has often been understood as the category of no category, the place where artists (or even non-artists) can challenge or refuse the confining strictures of both delineations of art form, and also oppressive identity categories. Lois Keidan, founder of the Live Art Development Agency, is often quoted as saying ‘The term Live Art is not a description of a singular artform or discipline, but a cultural strategy to include experimental processes and practices that might otherwise be excluded from established curatorial, cultural and critical frameworks’. The value of Live Art, then, is precisely in its strategic capacity to elude definition or categorisation. As time goes by, however, this strategy has led to a set of practices that do come to seem of a particular time and place. And of course, ‘liveness’ has itself become a thorny category as a condition for performance.   Documentation is likewise a fraught concept within theatre and performance, not least because its status is often determined as that which categorises or classifies. On the other hand, it is not always clear what to designate as a performance document and when an object moves across a conceptual boundary to stand as an independent work of art. Further, institutions such as libraries, museums, galleries and archives – which are premised on systems and classes of categorisation – have increasingly become the context for performance, prompting reflection on the ways performance navigates and stumbles on these systems.   In this gathering of the Documenting Performance Working Group, we aim to pay serious attention to the stultifying problems of the category, but also to the value of the category in ‘grasping’ experience and appropriating value. The questions underpinning this call arise directly from our previous two gatherings, which have focussed respectively on the violent problematics of attempting to categorise groups of bodies in order to control their movement across borders, and on the sensibilities and disciplinary proclivities of documenting performance.   For the 2018 TaPRA conference we especially encourage proposals that interrogate their own categories. We invite papers, presentations, performances, but also proposals that approach the category of ‘the essay’, or the ‘taxonomy’. Lexicons, encyclopedias, bestiaries, and cosmologies, and other systems or non-systems are very welcome. Approaches might radically depart from questions at the core of theatre performance studies concerned with:  

  • Theatrical genres and typologies
  • Classifications of performance as ephemeral and thus uncollectable
  • Ontological and epistemological categories
  • Historical biases concerning what ‘counts’ as an artwork, document, or performance
  Of interest at this year’s meeting too are detailed engagements with objects, events, and sites that, following Lorraine Daston (2004), ‘exhibit a certain resistance to tidy classification.’ How are creative categories constituted? How can alternative modes of categorisation be imagined and where are there opportunities for epistemological re-classification and the rethinking of practice? How do possibilities of re-categorisation or non-categorisation speak to issues of expertise and subject specialism during a fraught and challenging moment for contemporary institutions, cultural, creative, and educational?   Please email all abstracts (no more than 300 words in length), an additional few sentences of biographical information and precise details of the audio-visual technology you will need to make your presentation to Working Group convenors Dr Georgina Guy (georgina.guy@rhul.ac.uk) and Dr Johanna Linsley (johanna.linsley@roehampton.ac.uk). The deadline for the submission of proposals is 20 April.   Please note: only one proposal may be submitted for the TaPRA 2018 Conference. It is not permitted to submit multiple proposals or submit the same proposal to several Calls for Papers. All presenters must be TaPRA members, i.e. registered for the conference; this includes presentations given by Skype or other media broadcast even where the presenter may not physically attend the conference venue. If you are an Early Career Researcher, then you are eligible to be considered for a TaPRA ECR Bursary. Please follow this link for more information, and please indicate on your proposal whether you fit this criteria and wish to be considered for the bursary scheme: http://tapra.org/bursaries/    

Please note: only one proposal may be submitted for a TaPRA event. It is not permitted to submit multiple proposals or submit the same proposal to several Calls for Participation. All presenters must be TaPRA members, i.e. registered for the event; this includes presentations given by Skype or other media broadcast even where the presenter may not physically attend the event venue.

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