- Performance and Technology: Practices of Embodiment and Interactivity
Performance studies and technology have had an interesting relationship of late. With performance studies’ firm beginnings in ritual and body politics, technology was sometimes seen as an encroachment or nuisance that problematized the activity of performance and the presence (or absence) of the body. The rise of digital technologies (visual, haptic, and aural) for use in screens and projections during the 1970s and 1980s changed this situation drastically, because it allowed the performer and technical crew to position the body in another space of performance: the virtual. Additionally, with technological innovation occurring at a rapid pace due to digital industries such as video games and the Internet, bodies and sites of performance can now feature telepresence—simultaneous activity in the real and the virtual—and a re-imagining of representation itself, spawning a concurrent questioning of identity as semiosis and process.
Performance and Technology is a useful collection that inspects recent experiments, concepts, and technologies. As Susan Broadhurst and Josephine Machon write in their introduction, “Body, Space, and Technology,” two key features of the works discussed in the book are, first, “the absolute centrality of the digital,” and second, “an emphasis on the corporeal in terms of both performance and perception” (xvi); thus “the readings proffered in this collection stress the emotive, the ludic, and the sensate, since in many art forms the body is primary yet transient” (xvi). Accordingly, this is not a heavily theoretical text that seeks to position itself as a conceptually new assessment of performance and technology; instead, the contributions are largely discussions of recent practical attempts to explore where and how the body is onstage when technology is an essential part of the performance. That said, several [End Page 652] essays do formulate a theoretical explanation of what these technologies mean, and how, when they are deployed, meanings often become fluid and dynamic. Susan Melrose uses Žižek’s reading of Gilles Deleuze in order to consider how virtual time functions in performance, and how this plays out amid the clash of poststructuralist and post-postmodern theories of embodiment. Broadhurst writes in “Intelligence, Interaction, Reaction, and Performance” about the tensions that arise out of the physical and the virtual, and examines how these tensions open new spaces of meaning-making and representation because of their slippage and plasticity. Similarly, Sarah Rubidge uses Bergson, Deleuze, and Guattari in order to discover ways that, in complex interactive systems, feedback can have equal impact on the artist and audience.
Of course, Johannes Birringer appears here with a familiar reading of dance and technology, particularly telematic dance, that considers how massive, multiplayer, online role-playing games such as Everquest and World of Warcraft feature similar structures that parse the role of player and avatar, presence and virtual extension. Two essays ask important questions about bioethics and technology: first, Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr from Tissue Culture and Art Project (a collective that examines the new interface among the biological, the artistic, and the technical through the bioethics of fabrication) inspect the questions surrounding tissue engineering and the ontological status of the engineered tissue in the context of art; and second, Petra Kuppers studies Aimee Mullings’s radical self-reconfigurative work regarding “how the aesthetics of presentation can engender a useful ambivalence towards the addenda of disabled people, undermining stereotypes of tragedy and negativity” (169).
Finally, Philip Auslander, in “Afterword: Is There Life After Liveness?” revisits his concept of “cultural economy” (194), posited in his important work, Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture, observing how digitization continues to morph and compete with other forms of cultural representation. This is an interesting and provocative capstone to the book that asks many of the same questions posed by Liveness: Does the presence of technology onstage engage an audience differently than live bodies? Does it supersede live performers because of its cultural ubiquity and therefore “steal” the audience’s perceptual focus? Who has power over perception and how does it shift? Auslander finishes with...