Signs of life, signs of the times: and if all artists are semioticians?

Melrose, Susan (2009) Signs of life, signs of the times: and if all artists are semioticians? In: ADSA Conference, Boom or bust: economies of production and exchange in theatre, performance and culture., 30th June - 3rd July 2009, Edith Cowan University, Curtin University and Murdoch University, WA, Australia. . [Conference or Workshop Item]

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I have used the term “artists” in my title, but I have added the term “expert practitioner” in order to raise the issue of expertise in the experienced performance-maker. I have often indicated that the theorisation of practitioner expertise, from a practitioner-centric perspective, continues to be singularly absent from the larger body of Performance Studies writing produced over recent decades, despite the fact that an engagement with precisely that expertise tends to be implicit in academic judgements of practitioners’ work that is considered to be of interest. While a research enquiry into training for performance has emerged over recent years, I find it curious in its limitations: it stops short of expertise and how one might acquire, develop and evaluate it, and its theorisation still tends to take an anonymous “the performer” as its object, rather than the performance-maker as researching subject. Meanwhile a research-focused account of the creative processes specific to named, “signature” practitioners continues to be relatively rare, in part, as far as I can tell, because some of us, in the university, fail to acknowledge the research-methodological rationale for such an enquiry in all of its detail. Signature practices, where those practices are effectively inseparable from the engagement and the person and the sensibility of a named practitioner, aspire to a singularity that social sciences-influenced theoretical writing finds hard to contemplate.
I want to attempt to set up and pursue a number of lines of enquiry today, one of which, plainly, has to do with the currently fashionable and relatively under-theorised time and times (in comparison with many writers’ engagement with the strongly visual spaces, places, bodies and faces of performance). I propose to show you two short professionally produced pieces of performance work. Both clearly “have something to do with” the contemporary real: in the first, Rosemary Butcher’s Six Frames: Memories of Two Women, the piece was made in a research as well as a professional framework, as a result of an outside commission. The second, a staging to camera of Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, was made in what emerges as a relatively curious professional context – i.e. by the daily newspaper The Guardian. Churchill’s piece has the curious distinction of being the dramatic work most recently banned by the BBC. I want to show you, in addition, a few recently published examples of visual art practice, by cartoonist Steve Bell, each of which is professionally and one might say almost urgently embedded in the everyday. I want to look at the ways this particular and popular artist figures the political real, while also intruding explicitly, into that figuration, those semiotic complexities that an onlooker might interpret, in everyday terms, as indices of or pointers to attitude, ethos, political position, and critical intervention through an everyday mode of cultural production.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Keynote)
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Performing Arts
A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Performing Arts > Dance group
A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Performing Arts > Theatre Arts group
Item ID: 3068
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Susan Melrose
Date Deposited: 16 Nov 2009 10:59
Last Modified: 10 Jun 2021 08:54

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