Sumarsam // March 3, 2020

Epistemology, Lights, and Power in Javanese Wayang Puppet Play

Sumarsam, Tue. March 3, 2-3pm. 220 York Street room 001

Integrated with gamelan, dance, and visual arts, and its endemic to socioreligious life, Javanese wayang puppet play commands deep aesthetic, religious, and emotional adherence. However, since the 1980s wayang performance has gone through radical transformation, involving the adaptation of Western technology and theatrical idioms. The tendency to spectacularize the play—the use of bright electric light sources (sometimes with many colors) and elaborate amplification systems with large speakers, the featuring of several female singers and stand-up comedians, the incorporation of Indonesianized Western pop music and Western instruments, and so forth—has brought about pro and con discussion of the present and future wayang.

Sumarsam has played Javanese gamelan since childhood. He was also trained as puppeteer. He holds a BA from Indonesia music academy, MA from Wesleyan, and PhD from Cornell. Currently, he holds the status of Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music at Wesleyan. His research on the history, theory, and performance practice of gamelan and wayang, and on Indonesia-Western encounter theme has resulted the publication of numerous articles and two books: Gamelan: Cultural Interaction and Musical Development in Central Java (1995) and Javanese Gamelan and the West (2013). Sumarsam’s recent research focuses on the intersections between religion and performing arts. He is the recipient of a number of fellowship grants and awards, including the NEH and the ACLS fellowship, and Indonesian Bintang Satyalencana Cultural Award. He was recently named the 2018 honorary membership of the Society for Ethnomusicology. This year, he is a Yale ISM Fellow.

Jonah Westerman // Feb. 18

Performance ca. 1979: The Invention of an Artistic Medium and Some Consequences

Jonah Westerman, Tue. Feb. 18, 2-3pm. 220 York Street, room 001. 



This talk details how the discursive invention of “performance” (circa 1979) in the pages of journals and scholarly histories dedicated to new modes of artistic activity blazed a decisive trail through roughly thirty years’ worth of critical confusion. Over that period, art historians and critics had struggled to come to terms with a postwar emphasis on process in artistic production—from Jackson Pollock’s “action painting” to the globally dispersed form of the “Happening” to Fluxus “Events” to new collaborations between the visual and performing arts (like Robert Rauschenberg’s projects with Merce Cunningham). “Performance” (as an all-encompassing term) arrived at the end of a thirty-year expansion in art and claimed this multi-faceted territory as its own. This invention of “performance” secured legitimacy for a widely disparate range of practices. This paper not only traces this process of invention, but also elaborates its unintended consequences. First, I argue that the critical construction of performance as a medium brought artistic practices designed to flout convention under the regulatory gaze of a new essentializing vision. Second (and more importantly), these artworks’ claims to social and political experimentation became limited as well, insofar as the newly codified medium privileged individuality as the site of cultural significance. Each of these disciplinary presumptions has constrained and haunted our discussions of performance art ever since.

Jonah Westerman is Assistant Professor of Art History at Purchase College, State University of New York. In 2016-17 he was Chester Dale Senior Fellow in Art History at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. From 2014-2016 he was Postdoctoral Research Associate at Tate in London, where he collaborated with Curatorial, Research, Collection Care, and Archive departments on Performance at Tate, a project that produced an institutional history, as well as new strategies for collecting, displaying, and commissioning performance. He is co-editor of Histories of Performance Documentation: Museum, Artistic, and Scholarly Practices (Routledge, 2018). Most recently, he has published an essay on work by Anne Imhof in the summer 2019 issue of Artforum and completed an article about performance and museums for the forthcoming edited volume, The Methuen Drama Companion to Performance Art (Bloomsbury, 2020). He is currently working on a book titled The Invention of Performance: An Archaeology of Contemporary Art, which historicizes and theorizes the changing meanings of the word “performance” in relation to the artworks it is meant to describe over the last forty years.



Alex Pittman // Feb. 11, 2020

The Reserve Army of Affectivity: Surplus, Service, and Psychodrama in the work of William Greaves

Alex Pittman, Tue. Feb 11, 2-3pm. 220 York Street, Room 001.

A detail from the Criterion Collection cover of Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, which features a still from the set overlaid with a psychodramatic tool known as a sociogram.

This talk examines the uses of psychodrama, a therapeutic theory and technique that deploys theatrical strategies of role play and reenactment, in several works by the filmmaker William Greaves. It focuses in particular on In the Company of Men, a 1969 documentary that both tracks and attempts to contribute to efforts to use psychodrama to repair communication between white factory foremen and black men who had been labeled “the hard-core unemployed.” Situating psychodrama as simultaneously a cinematic technique, a gendered strategy of racial governance, and a model of workplace training that was anchored in the emergent social conditions of the deindustrializing United States, this talk proposes a theory of “the reserve army of affectivity” in order to understand the power dynamics that Greaves’s film documents but does not quite name: that is, the process of putting people who have been consigned to the status of industrial and social excess into service for the emotional training of capital’s managers.

Alex Pittman is a term assistant professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Barnard College. Currently he is working on a book titled Capital in the Flesh: Constrained Intimacies in Black Art after Deindustrialization, which examines the politics of gender in the work of black performing and visual artists as they grapple with transformations of labor and social reproduction in the United States since 1968. His research on the intersections of race, sexuality, labor, and aesthetics in the work of artists such as Doreen Garner, Harry Crews, Tehching Hsieh, and Lucille Ball has been published in Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the ArtsWomen & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, and Social Text’s Periscope.

Celebrating Jessica Berson at Yale // Fri. Feb. 28, 2020


Celebrating Jessica Berson at Yale

Friday February 28, 2020: 2-5 pm

Dance Studio
Broadway Rehearsal Loft
294 Elm Street
New Haven, CT

Please join us in New Haven for a gathering to celebrate the life and work of Jessica Berson (1972- 2019), hosted by the Performance Studies Working Group at Yale.

Between 2011-2016, Jessica made major contributions to building the dance studies curriculum at Yale. She designed and taught such new courses as “Theories of Embodiment,” “Dance, Commerce, and Capital,” and “Dancing Desires,” and made her mark on the core course, “The History of Dance.” In 2016, she hosted an extended residency for dance-theater artist Tim Miller, and in 2017 she studied disability and sexuality in the UK on a Fulbright Fellowship. An inventive artist-scholar and a warm and generous colleague, she danced, directed, and authored numerous articles and the monograph The Naked Result: How Exotic Dance Became Big Business (Oxford University Press, 2016).

We will gather together to read excerpts from Jessica’s work, remember her incredible teaching, and make space for anyone who wishes to say a few words in her honor. Afterward, we’ll gather at The Study (1157 Chapel Street) for drinks.