PSWG: September 18, 2012

John Cooper, a fellow convener of the PSWG and research assistant to Joe Roach at the Yale Center for British Art, presented a talk entitled Art / Performance / History.  This deliberately broad set of categories set the stage for John’s close readings of several specific images – mostly paintings and drawings –  that depicted dance and performance in India, England, and the Caribbean.  These images, which he writes about in his dissertation project Imperial Balls: An Art History of Sex, War, and Dancing in India, England and the Caribbean, 1800-1850, are also part of an online archive that John is creating to make visible the history of art and performance of British imperialism.

John introduced the cultural background of the paintings he would read by describing Imperialism as the substance from which these paintings and performances emerged.  The paintings were “history made visible,” as conditions of imperialism and the mixing of cultures convened in these material objects and plastic gestures (paraphrased from John’s talk).  The paintings that John chose to show us were ephemera of dance and performance in India, drawings and paintings that he had collected from national galleries in the UK, India, and the US.  While these paintings had been preserved in various galleries, they have not been gathered under a cohesive frame, an archival architecture that would somehow legitimize them as part of the history of dance and performance that circulated within and between colonial India, England, and the Carribean.  John intends his online archive to provide such a frame, establishing an alternative historiography for these paintings.

The online aspect of his project – and more specifically the process of building and using a digital archive – is what I will focus this post on, even though his project is interesting in many other rights as well.  Of particular interest is the opportunity that John’s digital archive provides for creating new taxonomies for analyzing colonial art, as well as new taxonomies for analyzing images of dance.  For example, early in his talk John focused our attention on the word ‘adornment’, using it to classify a structural quality of performance that would help us read the images of dance.  Linking the etymology of ‘adornment’ to ‘performance’ and its derivatives through Latin, John established the notion of ‘adornment’ as a category of analysis that could be used to connect the images across the disparate continents, cultures, and bodies they portrayed.  At another point, John paired images of dancing bodies with images of other objects in motion, in order to set in motion new ways of seeing the depictions of cultural dances.  Images of traditional Indian dances, as well as British ballet dancers, were paired with a bronze sculpture of a dancing Shiva, a photograph of an Indian hill town, botanical illustrations, textiles, and a chart classifying different hand gestures or mudras.

These strategies re-organized and multiplied the frames through which we could read these images of dance. By applying a different key word or image, as it were, John could extract, re-group, and pair different images according to different categories of analysis.  From an historiographer’s perspective, the ability to sort and group such images, previously housed in random personal collections around the globe, according to different categories of analysis is highly useful.  These processes of digital sorting and re-grouping are exciting in that they can unsettle established hierarchies of analysis and provide new frames through which to view the evidence and ephemera of colonial performance.  The question that I will leave readers with, then, is about the politics of digital archiving.  If national galleries and personal collections can be critiqued for solidifying certain (dominant) historical constructions of imperialism and performance, what are the politics of creating a more fluid, sortable digital archive of images?  What new models of usership (as opposed to simple viewership in a brick and mortar gallery) does it imply?  What new territory does digital archiving open up to perforamance historiographers in the 21st century?

Elizabeth Wiet – October 2 – Jack Smith, Charles Ludlam, and the Objects of Camp

My paper is propelled by a series of interrelated questions concerning the uses of Camp—and its relationship to queer community formation—in the work of Jack Smith and Charles Ludlam, both of whom have been lauded by various admirers as the “father” of (contemporary) queer theatre. If Smith’s influence is so strongly felt in the work of artists as diverse as John Waters, Robert Wilson, John Vaccaro, and Andy Warhol, then why has his name largely dropped out of popular consciousness? If Camp is a performance style marked by “excess” and aimed at producing queer social visibility, then why and how does Smith use it to stage his own disappearance? If Smith is a notoriously antipathetic (and antipersonal) performer, then how does Ludlam’s performance style, which owes much to Smith, become indistinguishable from his affability and personableness in the reception surrounding his performances? How do Smith and Ludlam negotiate their relationships to the “objects of refuse” that litter their stages and their scripts, and how do those relationships alter the affective resonances of their performances? How does the relationship Smith and Ludlam establish with their audiences affect our understanding of their relationship to their communities? By framing my analysis in terms of the way Smith and Ludlam have been variously received by their successors, it is ultimately my goal to complicate our understanding of queer performance as a genealogy.


Elizabeth Wiet is a doctoral candidate in English working at the nexus of performance studies, queer theory, and affect theory.


John Cooper – 18th September – Art / Performance / History

'Spanish Dance. (El Jaleo de Cadix.)'
‘Spanish Dance. (El Jaleo de Cadix.)’ (mid 19th C, New York) hand-coloured lithograph, N. Currier (publisher) Victoria and Albert Museum

John Cooper, a phd candidate in the Art History department, co-convenor of the PSWG and Graduate Research Assistant at the Yale Center for British Art, will workshop a part of his dissertation Imperial Balls: the Arts of Sex, War and Dancing in India, England and the Caribbean, 1800-1850.

This session will present a body of colonial images drawn from India, England and the Caribbean which show dancers dancing from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  These medium-sized graphic works on paper broadly represent: nautch dancing in India, ballet in England and social dancing in the Caribbean. Being the remains of both art works and performances, what particular status do they have in the history of art and empire? How might the disciplines of Art History and Performance Studies collaborate to produce readings of such interdisciplinary documents?

The starting point for addressing an answer to these questions will be the practice of ‘adornment’ which lies nested and as yet unclaimed in the etymology of the word ‘performance’. Close visual analysis of key images in the history of art, dance and empire will investigate how context adorns the dancing figure with the complexity and contradictions of colonial history.

Elise Morrison – Discipline and Desire: Surveillance, Feminism, Performance


Discipline and Desire: Surveillance, Feminism, Performance investigates the emergent genre of ‘surveillance art,’ or art works that centrally employ technologies and techniques of surveillance to create theatre, installation, and performance art.  Theoretically grounded in cultural theory, feminist theory, and performance studies, and focused on practices within performance and new media art, this book project examines the wide variety of ways in which surveillance artists tactically utilize material technologies of surveillance to politically and aesthetically address a multitude of social, political, and technical issues raised by increasingly pervasive surveillance around the world. By appropriating surveillance technologies from military, state, and consumer markets into public and private spaces of performance and interactive installation, surveillance artists re-contextualize these technologies and the power dynamics that historically attend them, provoking critical inquiry of the disciplinary functions of the human-technology interface of surveillance.  The book explores a range of surveillance art works by groups such as The Surveillance Camera Players, the Institute for Applied Autonomy, and the Shunt Collective, and artists as Sophie Calle, Jill Magid, Steve Mann, Janet Cardiff, Mona Hatoum, Giles Walker, and Edit Kaldor, each of whom stage performances and interactive installations that show up, critique, and/or re-structure dominant surveillance technologies and techniques.  Though most contemporary surveillance artists do not draw explicit allegiances to feminism, this book argues that such artists are in implicit conversation with feminist approaches to defining, critiquing, and building alternatives to a dominant, disciplinary gaze in visual culture.