Beyond the authority of the ‘text’: performance as paradigm, past and present

16 April 2013

CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT



Clare Foster (Faculty of Classics)
Simon Ryle (English, University of Split)
Michael Hrebeniak (Faculty of English / Wolfson College)

Conference Summary

This conference takes place in the context of an accelerated interest in the idea of performance across many Cambridge faculties, which share a common understanding that cultural practices such as music, theatre, literature, film, painting and sculpture simultaneously exist as an object (fixed; a record) and an experience (time-bound; embodied). ‘Performance’ can be seen as the space of negotiation between these states. The assigning of fixed or stable 'meanings' to works of art has been widely challenged over the last century by an increased privileging of the receiving context as a key constituent of meaning. But this move towards indeterminism has traditionally been discussed in terms of unitary readers and viewers, and individual acts of reception.

Performance as a paradigm repositions the intelligibility of works of art as a function of their mixed and multiple audiences: simultaneously implied and actual; individual and collective; past and present - audiences which precede, as well as follow, acts of creation. Performance as an angle of approach asks who an artwork is for, assuming a multiple and complex answer. It views all artworks as implicitly public forms of messaging, or rather, suggests a view of the work as time-specific gesture rather than object, however individually created or consumed. As Simon English said of his land art project ‘England’ on BBC Radio 4, ‘The artwork is us discussing it now.’

We hope to discuss such issues from the perspective not only of the present, but also of the past, acknowledging that understandings of artistic production in other periods and cultures differ radically from those suggested by the separate categories of western modernity, and the distinctions and social values they enshrine.

The conference will consist of three discursive panels, two practical workshops, a special performance of Paper Cinema’s The Odyssey (originally developed at Battersea Arts Centre) with a Q & A/summing up discussion, and in place of the usual conference fare, performance art duo Hunt and Darton’s Cafe (originally developed at ArtsAdmin).






The Junction








Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH), University of Cambridge, the Judith E Wilson Fund, The Battersea Arts Centre, Paper Cinema and The Junction.



Accommodation for non-paper giving delegates

We are unable to arrange accommodation, however, the following websites may be of help.

Visit Cambridge
Cambridge Rooms
University of Cambridge accommodation webpage

NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of accommodation.






Location : CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT

Date : 16 April 2013

16 April


9.30 - 9.50


9.50 - 10.00

Welcome and Introduction

10.00 - 11.30

Roundtable discussion: Re-performance

Chair: Clare Foster

To what extent is performance the remaking of something which pre-exists it? How is performance of the recognisable or familiar distinct from that of self-described original works? What is a 'text' and how does it come to be? How might the ‘occasion’ of performance itself be a space of tradition? If a thing is always also a kind of thing, can recognisable reference - whether called appropriation, allusion, version, adaptation or translation - ever be confined to a singular entity? If not, where is that entity located?

Participants: Professor Robin Kirkpatrick (Italian, Cambridge), Jonas Tinius (Anthropology, Cambridge); Professor Daniel Leech-Wilkinson (Music, KCL); Felix Budelmann (Classics, Oxford)

11.30 - 12.00

Tea and Coffee

12.00 - 13.30

Roundtable discussion: What is performance?  

Chair: Simon Ryle

How is performance a way of thinking about the world? Performances mark a site where an audience gathers. In this sense one might see all artistic practice and exhibition as performance. But as Bill Brown emphasises, all objects are both constituted by and constitutive of the discursivepractices that define their objectivity. Does this mean that objects too are performative – as Jacques Derrida and Judith Butler earlier argued that speech and sexuality alike are performatively constituted? What is to be gained from thinking with and through performance?

Participants: Professor Andrew Webber (German, Cambridge), Daniel Brine (Artistic Director, The Junction), Professor Catherine Belsey (English, Swansea), Professor Steven Connor (University of Cambridge), artist and Cambridge Judith E. Wilson Performance Fellow Caroline Bergvall.

13.30 - 14.30


14.30 - 16.00

Panel - The Public Privacy of Cities: with a jigger of Coincidence / Mirroring

Chair: Michael Hrebeniak

With sculptors Richard Wentworth C.B.E. (Goldsmiths, RCA) and Jack Tan (RCA)

Performance lays bare the way in which objects, space and material reside in a web of meaning inter-determined by their relation to the social (history, power, normative behaviour, culture, conversation) and the philosophical (i.e. performance's capacity to question different optics of knowledge). This session will explore the public privacy of cities and the way they are theatrical.

16.00 - 16.30

Tea and Coffee

16.30 - 18.00

A participant presentation and two simultaneous practice-based workshops

  • Lee Campbell (Loughborough/CSM) and Dr Claire Makhlouf Carter (RCA, 2012): Performance, Participation, and Politeness
    Artists Campbell and Carter will discuss solo and collaborative projects, deploying the term ‘performance’ as a practical tool to enquire into what it may mean to resist and comply with politeness. This will be addressed within the context of participatory art practice to question issues concerning the terms 'audience' and 'participation'.
    For Lee Campbell's recent performances, exhibitions, lectures, and practice-as-research events, see Dr Claire Makhlouf Carter has generated over twenty performance events in art openings, seminar rooms and galleries in the past decade. A full script and related documents for DEMO PENFOLD STREET, Showroom Gallery is in Bring the Dead Back to Life, 2012, Book Works. Her practice-based PhD at the RCA was awarded in 2012.
  • Helen Slaney: Becoming Medea
    A physical theatre workshop in which particpants will be invited to interact collaboratively as a chorus, followed by some voice work based on excerpts from Henry Stead's translation of Seneca's "Medea". The idea is not to perform or present the passage, but to explore the many co-existing ways it can be experienced, in an imagined ‘first encounter’ with a new (ancient) poetic text. The passage will be circulated in advance, and there will be opportunity for discussion and reflection afterwards. Participants should wear comfortable clothing.
    Helen Slaney, formerly co-director of Omniprop Productions (Melbourne, Australia), a community theatre company specialising in staging ancient drama, is currently a Fellow in Classics at St Hilda's College, Oxford. She most recently directed "Medea" (Burton Taylor Studio) and "Prometheus Chained" (Sheffest 2012).
  • Henry Stead: Translation as performance and performance as translation
    A translation workshop, in which participants will be presented with several translations of the same excerpt of classic text and invited to engage with the spaces - and live processes - from which meaning is pulled into instances of formal expression. The workshop will extend the discussion to include cross-media translation, with Stead's recent 13 minute film 'Attis', based on Catullus 63, as an example.
    Poet and translator Henry Stead, Post-doctoral Research Associate for the AHRC-funded project, Classics and Class in Britain (1789-1939) at King's College, London, specialises in the reception of classical culture in British poetry and drama. Recent shows include Prometheus Chained (Sheffield, 2012) and Seneca's Medea (Oxford, 2011). He is currently working on Ancient Dramatic Sketches (NOSTOI), a physical, cross-media reworking of classical myth.

18.30 - 19.30

Pre-performance Dinner at the Junction, Clifton Way, Cambridge, CB1 9GX

Hunt and Darton Cafe (originally developed at Artsadmin at Toynbee studios/Arts Council).

Instead of regular conference fare, live art duo Jenny Hunt & Holly Darton will personally present the conference ‘dinner‘ as art, in a room specially set aside for the purpose at The Junction - not just décor and menu, but servers and served. Hunt & Darton Cafe was one of Live Art Collective East (LACE)‘s sponsorship of eight artists this summer as part of the Cultural Olympiad: see their reviews at the Edinburgh festival:

19.30 - 21.30

Paper Cinema’s The Odyssey -
(originally developed at the Battersea Arts Centre)

We are very excited to be able to announce as a highlight of the conference a performance of Paper Cinema’s Odyssey. Paper Cinema have effectively created a new live narrative medium by combining theatre, cinema, visual art and music, which prompts observations about the generic characteristics of all four media, as well as making available latent qualities in Homer’s original often obscured by the text-driven modes in which we typically engage with such a ‘classic’. The production was recently at the Criterion theatre, Picadilly, as part of the Olympic festival of the arts.

This first collaboration between the University and The Junction enables cutting-edge work of national significance to be brought to Cambridge for the purpose of discussing and theorising about it with the artists in an intimate setting. A post-show encounter with Nick Rawling and others will follow the performance in the Hunt and Darton cafe space.

21.30 - 22.00

Conference summing up