Performing the Matrix. Mediating Cultural Performances (2005)


30 July - 4 August 2005

While matrix is a well established concept within different scholarly fields, it has recently become a popular catchword through the homonymous Wachowski brothers' film. As both a traditional concept and a popular phenomenon, "matrix" can take on a new value when reconsidered in the light of performance studies. Contemporary debates and discussions on cultural performances necessarily reflect on the medial preconditions of these performative activities themselves.

A behind-the-scenes look at theatre, ritual, sports, events will reveal a productive mediating structure metaphorically described as "matrix". This mediating structure and its materializations are fundamentally reshaping modern culture. Accordingly 'politics of visibility', 'media networking', 'telepresence' and 'liveness' are considered to be understood as performances of the matrix. If so, how does this understanding of cultural performances 'as always already mediatized' influence contemporary concepts of performance and media? The conference title "Performing the Matrix – Mediating Cultural Performances" not only refers to the International Postgraduate Programme "Performance and Media Studies", it also reflects our desire to come to terms with a telematic future through investigation of today's concepts of media and performance theory.

If mediatization is a structure that conditions different materializations and modes of communication, the analysis of this matrix apparently will have to focus on the interplays and interrelations that generate it. Thus the conference will be less concerned with media specificity (e.g. of TV, theatre, film) or the categorical differentiation of analogue and digital media, of reference versus simulation etc, but rather with processes and effects of the media-matrix.

The mediatized structure of performance deeply affects the methods of cultural and textual analysis in so far as the conduct of research could be considered as a process of mediatization and performance itself. Images seem to resist description, audio-visual documents in performing arts and hypermedia call for a reading of traces rather than an examination of static objects. Writing about performance and mediatization resembles a dramatic scenario of self-reflexivity (e.g. through performative writing, performance as research) instead of following formal logic. The conference sets out to discuss this double exposure of thematic and methodological issues within the field of performance and media studies.

The conference will be structured in three different sections in which we will discuss the theoretical approaches in performance analysis, the methodology of performance and media studies and the interrelation of cultural performance and politics. Each section will be concerned in its own way with questions of narration and navigation, resistance and
effectiveness and the performance of the matrix.
Section A: Contemporary Approaches to the Theories of Performativity and Media
Section B: Mediated Narrative – Telling (Hi)Stories
Section C: Politics of Performance – Performance of Politics


A Contemporary Approaches to the Theories of Performativity and Media

Taking as a starting point the recent discussion of mediatization and representation in the field of performance theory (Philip Auslander, Peggy Phelan), this conference group sets out to investigate the performative dimensions of the new media. Participants in the meetings of this group will give papers focusing either on theoretical problems or on more practically-oriented case studies, addressing such issues as the tension between text, score, structure and its performance, liveness and mediality, fictionality and reality. How can performance both as cultural performance and as theoretical concept be related to the intertwined media landscape? How can we understand effects of presence and resistance within a system of reproducibility and mediatization? The presentations mainly focus on theories and works of art originating from the last three decades of the 20th century.

B Mediated narrative – Telling (Hi)Stories

Media perform (hi)stories of the matrix. The logic of these narratives calls for a re-reading of methodological approaches. Accordingly, analysis of contemporary and historical narration must invest in a double perspective: Investigating the different narrative structures (discussed as genre, authorial perspective, hybridity and citational logic of sujets) on the surface while at the same time observing how narratives depend on and are shaped by the performance of the media-matrix. Given this, how can we come to terms with the analysis of visual media forms? Which tools of analysis are available and how can they be applied effectively? There is not one predominant form of representation within the amalgamate of image, text and sound. How do narrative conventions and new forms of narration influence present day communicative processes? How do the narrative bodies of historical performances inscribe themselves into the performance of cultural memory and archives of particular theatre and media forms? The intertwined and always shifting connection between text and image characterizes our perception of the present as well as our concern with the past, questioning at once our position as researchers and the nature of the objects we investigate. This conference section wishes to explore two main issues from the numerous questions that this topic raises. The first panel approaches contemporary media forms from the angle of expanded narratology. The second panel deals with images and texts as resources for historiographic writing and performance conography.

C Politics of Performance – Performance of Politics

This panel seeks to examine the interrelation of performance and politics within a postcolonial context. What are the social and political achievements of postcolonial performance today? In an age where the performative trope pervades public spaces, can subversive action still be theatrically reclaimed? On the other hand, can performances truly mark forms of public intervention and socio-political action? The panel consists of papers which examine how the spheres of political and theatrical action increasingly merge into a liminal space and suggest ways to fruitfully understand their dialectics. The focus will be either on analysing the performativity of political events or on the relationship between performance, postcolonial theory and identity politics related to case studies in the field of theatre/dance.

With participation of:
Marie Ines Aliverti (University of Pisa)
Christopher Balme (University of Amsterdam)
Mita Banerjee (University of Siegen)
Baz Kershaw (University of Bristol)
Michal Kobialka (University of Minnesota)
Friedemann Kreuder (University of Berlin, FU)
Martin Puchner (Columbia University, New York)
Karl N. Renner (University of Mainz)
Kati Röttger (University of Mainz)
Marcus Stiglegger (University of Mainz)
Malgorzata Sugiera (Jagellonian University, Krakow)