- One Square Foot:Thousands of Routes
During the summer of 2003 my most familiar and inhabited terrain became a single square foot. The One Square Foot project, a creative partnership between the University of Exeter, echo-arts (Cyprus), and Theatre Alibi, was a practical research enterprise initiated and managed by Dorinda Hulton, a professional director and part-time lecturer at the University of Exeter Drama Department. Within this project I was one of three actors, each given the initial task of choosing a square foot and then working with a team of artists from different disciplines to devise a series of solo performances in response to and for that location. Hulton, long interested in developing models that facilitate the actor's creative practice, proposed One Square Foot as a means to explore the impact of different creative methodologies on the actor's craft. As her program note states,
the project places the actor at the heart of generating material for performance. Stories, images and memories associated with a square foot chosen by each performer have found their forms through a series of interactions with creative artists working in different fields.
Hulton had specifically invited me to be a performer-participant in the project because of my critical and practical interest in autobiographical and site-specific work and their inter-relations. This reflection, then, is not on the entire creative process or even on the outcomes of One Square Foot, but rather on a particular set of concerns activated by enfolding autobiographical and site-specific practices.
Moving to Exeter, Devon in 1998, I encountered for the first time the work of Wrights & Sites, creators of The Quay Thing (1998), and the more recent Mis-Guides, imaginative guide books that prompt you to see familiar places in new and unexpected ways. Wrights & Sites introduced me to the term "site-specific performance," and their enduring focus on site has prompted me to take my work on autobiographical performance in a new direction by considering the relations that exist between site [End Page 40] and autobiography. I have begun to explore this through deploying the term "autotopography" that I use here to reflect on the performance devised for One Square Foot. Before turning to autotopography, though, it is useful to rehearse the related but more familiar term autobiography.
Auto: from the Greek, for self, same, one's own; Bio: from the Greek, bios, for life course, or way of living life; Graphy, from the Greek, graphein, to scratch, to draw, to write.
A common-sense understanding of autobiography is that it is the account, or recounting, of one's own life. The life is lived and then the story is told about that life. Life, then, would appear to precede its autobiographical telling and functions as the foundation for that telling. From this perspective, the singular and coherent self exists and can therefore tell the story of this self. However, poststructuralist theory prompts us to turn this commonsense conception of autobiography on its head by reminding us that there is no "self" prior to its performance. The self is a performative, reiterative act, inescapably bound up in the social and cultural discourses that permit certain notions of self to exist (while making other selves inconceivable and/or "unreadable"). Autobiography, a creative act of selecting, of ordering, of editing, of forgetting, of embellishing, of inventing a life is part of this iteration or reiteration of a self. A self is constructed through the construction of the life-story. This, of course, is both the potential and danger of autobiographical production; while it may be a useful and powerful tool of self-determination (particularly for marginalised or oppressed persons) it also functions as an equally powerful apparatus for the cultural reproduction of normative ideas about what constitutes a "proper subject" (and a proper subject of autobiography). The practitioner of autobiography needs to keep this political instability (as both potential and risk) in mind each time they perform a specific self.
Topography: Topos, from the Greek, for place; graphein, to scratch, to draw, to write.
My use of the term autotopography should be distinguished from its application by art critic Jennifer...