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MATERIAL MATTERS: Towards a New Materialist Approach to Contemporary Performance Art.

Research project

Fellow: Roels Lieze

Supervisor: Vanhoutte Kurt

Duration: 01/10/2017 - 20/10/2021

21st century questions about the ways in which we produce and consume our material environment have given rise to a new focus in contemporary performance art. A growing group of artists are taking the stage to explore the performative entanglement of human beings and material objects – more often than not by drawing on themes of 'waste' and 'labour'. By doing so, they also ask for new modes of performance analysis and interpretation that allow for an understanding of materiality as inherently performative. As of yet, most performance scholars still state that the co- presence of human beings is the most fundamental characteristic of performance art, which results in the reduction of objects to their decorative status or to their function as documentation of the live performance that is lost for good. This project aims to make these present-day performances comprehensible through the recent insights of new materialism. New materialism is a current of thought that puts forward the idea that all matter has the ability to act in this world, and that agency is distributed amongst materialities in space and time. This indicates a remarkable shift: objects are no longer perceived as passive things ruled by human subjects, but valued as animate beings that can exert an influence on other (human) beings. By connecting these concepts of new materialism to traditional key-notions in the debate on the ontological characteristics of performance art and performance experience, this project pursues to establish a mode of analysis that allows for a focus on how human and nonhuman actors interact and generate new meanings within this performative entanglement.

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