Upcoming Talks & Lectures

By far my favorite form of intellectual discourse is verbal. Perhaps it’s the repressed performer in me, but I would always prefer to give a talk or seminar and discuss and debate ideas than have to wrestle these ideas into coherent text by myself. (Research and writing are often lonely and dreary, however much I enjoy the topic or ideas.)

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Keynote Panel with my favorite surveillancists: James Harding and Elise Morrison

I was very grateful, then, to have had the chance to present and listen (mostly listen!) at a great symposium at Bard College last September: Spectatorship in an Age of Surveillance. Organized by Miriam Felton-Dansky and Jacob Gallagher-Ross, this event continued an ongoing discussion on digital dramaturgies among theater and performance scholars and artists. (See Theater magazine’s issues 42.2 and 44.3 for publications from this ongoing discussion.)

 

Next up this month, I’m excited to visit the University of Texas at Austin to talk about my ongoing work in digital historiography and performance and to meet with faculty and students investigating digital technologies in culture. We’re placing particular emphasis on gaming and since I’m still working my way through Total War: Empire (and have just downloaded Company of Heroes!) I’m delighted to continue this conversation with colleagues across disciplines (and pick up some ideas and tips along the way). If you’re around the Austin area October 20-21, stop by! Some of this research will be forthcoming in Theatre Journal the special issue: Theatre, the Digital, and the Analysis and Documentation of Performance edited by Joanne Tompkins. Looking forward…

Farewell Utrecht and Digital History

I’m both excited (and a bit melancholic) to announce that on 17 December, I will deliver the Christmas lecture on “Why Theatre?” at Het Huis. I’m honored to be a part of this great series at Het Huis, one of my favorite performance venues in Utrecht. Het Huis has sponsored a number of excellent talks and performances over the years, so it’s a real pleasure to participate especially as part of the Christmas-time celebration. I’ll be speaking about my current research project on digital historiography and performance.

But, it will also be bittersweet as my final presentation during my time in Utrecht. On Wednesday, I’ll meet with the Performance and Media seminar for the last time and by the end of the month, I’ll be headed back to the US. My time in Europe has been both stimulating and restorative and I’m very grateful to the excellent staff at the Fulbright Center in Amsterdam for facilitating my fellowship and to my wonderful colleagues at Utrecht University, who have been so generous and welcoming. I’ve also been lucky to have been able to visit with artists, colleagues, and friends at other institutions and, predictably, the time has gone by quickly.

Hopefully, I can deliver a good-bye talk that is worthy of the generosity I have received here.

Robots and Performance

Next month I’m delighted to present at a special session on “Robots and Performance” sponsored by Robot Culture and Aesthetics (ROCA), a research collaboration among faculty at the University of Copenhagen and Aalborg University in Denmark. It’s a privilege to be on the ROCA advisory board, so I’m very excited to present in this venue. And, Copenhagen is one of my favorite cities.

“Machine Vision: Robots, Cinema, and Posthuman Performance”

The presentation with Elizabeth Jochum (Aalborg University) and Gunhild Borggreen (University of Copenhagen) is scheduled for 14.00h on 10 October at Københavns Universitet Amager, lokale 27.0.09, bygning 27, Njalsgade 136, 2300 Khb S. There’s a Facebook event announcement here.

Performing Economies – Buffalo, NY

This past weekend the Techne Institute presented the spring colloquium, Performing Economies. Organized by Stephanie Rothenberg (Assoc. Professor – Visual Studies) and Paige Sarlin (Asst. Professor – Media Study), the gathering connected prominent guest and performers with faculty, staff, and students from UB with community partners working in diverse areas of Buffalo, NY. The conference presentations were superb, and the conversations they generated demonstrated the potential for artists, activists, and scholars to connect and collaborate in many ways. The conference really felt like the beginning of something significant. It was a pleasure to attend and a privilege to participate.

As the Director of Techne, I was asked to share some remarks to open the conference. Here is a copy of my comments. More reports and documentation will be appearing on the Techne website, but in the meantime, I wanted to share my thoughts on this conference and why the framework of performance is critical as we consider the evolution of diverse living environments and economic contexts.

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As we’ve been preparing for this colloquium, I’ve had a number of people ask me about the title of the colloquium Performing Economies, particularly the performing part. By now, many of us are familiar with the language of an economy measured by its so-called performance. To wit, a recent Forbes article asked, “Is Russia’s economy under-performing?” The Brookings Institution website has a section entitled “US Economic Performance,” and in December 2013, the website Rediff ranked the “best and worst performing economies” for the previous year.  This is what performance theorist Jon McKenzie referred to as “the efficiency of organizational performance,” contrasted with the “efficacy of cultural performance,” and the “effectiveness of technological performance” [cf. Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance, 2001].

Even beyond these contexts, the language of performance has become ubiquitous to contemporary life. We evaluate both our own job performance (here at the University, we follow defined “performance programs”) and that of our cars. In 2011, Subaru launched an entire ad campaign entitled “pure performance”:

Our online social media exchanges have all the hallmarks of ongoing mini-performances, complete with lights, camera, and audiences. We talk about sexual performance, athletic performance, computing performance. There is, as I recently discovered, an International Society for the Performance Improvement dedicated to serving, among others, “high-performance organizations.”  We can purchase supplies and self-help guides to give provide us with “high-octane performance” when regular, old performance isn’t enough.

But, I think it’s worthwhile to note that this colloquium is “performing economies,” a gerund verb form that suggests a state of becoming as both noun and verb. We can see here both the performance of different economies as well as economies that are still coming into being, those conditions that are constituting themselves through performative action: reiterative, repetitive acts that constitutes being. It is in this repetition that we see the radical transformative power of performance as a perpetual state of becoming, a constantly updating creation validated by collective, communal witnessing.

Since coming to Buffalo with my family in 2005, I’ve seen first-hand the power of such acts, as various groups—cultural, organizational, technological—have sought to perform and re-perform new Buffalo identities into existence. That is, we can observe not only how the economy performs, but also how we and others can collectively perform and revise our economies, how we can perform new identities of our post-industrial city, how we can re-stage our own realities. Over the next few days, Performing Economies offers the chance to consider these ever-evolving performances through a variety of perspectives and I’m delighted to be able to share in all of these performances—artistic, intellectual, political, social, environmental—as evidence of new potentialities. Or, as  quote from the anthropologist Richard Bauman:

“Perhaps there is a key here to the persistently documented tendency for performers to be both admired and feared—admired for their artistic skill and power and for the enhancement of experience they provide; feared because of the potential they represent for subverting and transforming the status quo. Here too may lie a reason for the equally persistent association between performers and marginality or deviance, for in the special emergent quality of performance the capacity for change may be highlighted and made manifest to the community.”

With this in mind, I welcome the forthcoming changes to the status quo and salute the marginal deviance to come over the next few days.

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Thanks to all who attended and we’ll look forward to seeing everyone next year at “Structures of Digital Feeling,” a consideration of affect, perception, and communication in the context of digital culture.

Talk at Cornell – 11•19•2013

November 19, I’ll be talking about digital historiography and performance at Cornell as part of the New Directions in Media and Performance Studies Speakers Series. If you’re in the Ithaca area, stop by!

Details: https://events.cornell.edu/event/sarah_bay-cheng