In the space of a few weeks I’ve had a bit of writing success: I’ve had my Progress in Human Geography paper published on ‘Advancing the Geographies of the Performing Arts: Intercultural aesthetics, migratory mobility and geopolitics’; and I’ve had a paper accepted for Area which will be out soon on ‘Material Migrations of Performance.’ As always, if you don’t have access, but would like to read these, then email me and I’ll send you a copy.
I feel like the Progress paper is based on many years of thinking about different areas of research in theatre studies and geography that finally connected when I started getting to grips with my research from Cambodia. What I argue in the paper is that geographers have long engaged with performance as a concept, but what’s happened is that it’s become used in that performance studies sense where almost everything has become performance and we are performing all the time – i.e. we’ve moved from performance to performativity. This is a really fruitful way of thinking about lots of different geographies but what’s been lost in the process is that engagement with the creative skills of the performing arts. When you then look at what geographers have researched in relation to the performing arts specifically, it is much narrower, being based around particular theorists, types of performance, or geographical phenomena, in which, inevitably, landscape looms large. I’ve nothing against this, indeed, I’ve worked and published on these things, but equally it doesn’t completely capture my research or practice. Simultaneously, we are having this extremely influential creative re-turn in the discipline, the geohumanities is on the rise, and yet whilst this often focuses on ‘art’, the performing arts at times feel peripheral in these discussions.
So, in this paper I basically say geographers, let’s have a deeper engagement with the theories and practices of the performing arts, like we are doing with other arts and humanities disciplines. Let’s expand our conception of what ‘the geographies of the performing arts’ might be. I don’t want to be prescriptive in how this might proceed, but, for me, I’ve found work on interculturalism and creative migration really useful. Attending to cross-cultural encounters, particularly as they are created through the transnational migration of performers and their works, opens up the spatial intersections between culture, body, and the nation-state. Once you start exploring this, it becomes apparent that the performing arts are a highly political part of civil society, and in some parts of the world, this makes them a threat. These political dynamics mean we enter into the thorny terrain of geopolitics, and theatre studies has reached much further into this domain than geographers might expect. These spatialities all coalesced when I started thinking about dance in Cambodia because classical dance is so closely aligned with both the state and the legacies of genocide that attempts to experiment with bodies are attempts at experimenting in (trans) nationality.
The Area paper on ‘Material Migrations of Performance’ takes up the migration and mobility theme but thinks more broadly about the ‘stuff’ of performance. Geographers (me included) have this obsession with bodies when it comes to performance, and to a lesser extent, bodies in landscape or place (I’m guilty again) but when working in theatre you realise there’s a lot more to performance. There are scripts and sets and costumes and music and lights and and and…. they all have geographies too. I’ve written about scripts before, but not from a materialist perspective. It’s impossible to divorce these from bodies; bodies perform words, and they are dressed up and lit to perform in particular environments, but we can pause a bit and think about these other materialities of performance and how they have their own geographies. In the paper I write about costumes, scripts, and performance form (when you turn a live multi-media multi-sensory performance into a solely visual one) to start getting at some of these dynamics in relation to transnationalism. Shifting the focus onto materiality also opens up other areas of inquiry that geographers have been less attentive to in the rush towards creativity, such as the influence of capitalism on international arts festivals. What also happens is that our understanding of what the geographies of ‘a work of art’ might be also multiplies because it becomes apparent that any work is composed of all these different material entities, all these bits and pieces that each have their own spatial hi(stories). I think I may have just written that better here than in the paper! You can judge!
If you’re wondering what’s next, well, I’m working on a paper about race, racism and creative migration in theatre. If this gets published it will be a miracle because race makes everyone edgy in the establishment and, of course, it’s me, so it will be controversial. We will see……