Dienstag, 11. Januar 2011


a site-specific research and an institutional critique
thoughts about the theatre frame in contemporary performance art

from Ilka Theurich

The word theatre means "place of seeing". The ancient Greeks understood theatre as an art form that the definition of tragedy, comedy and other forms of single lock developed. The Greeks also developed the concepts of dramatic criticism, acting as a form of a career and theatre-architecture. In the modern world, these forms have been interpreted and adapted in thousand different ways to the modern needs. Over the centuries, from the poetic drama of the Greeks and the Renaissance, theatre became a more realistic style in the Western world. This trend has previously been dominant especially after the industrial revolution.

For me as a performance artist there is now the big problem, that all actions I do inside a black box (a theatre stage), might be perceived as theatrical gestures from the audience. I think whether conscious or unconscious, for the majority of the visitors it is difficult to view performance art without forgetting the frame of the theatre and its history.

When actions are taking place on stage they always will be associated with experiences and viewing habits of this specific site. A theatre director or actor has very different formal questions which he or she would like to explore on stage, in contrast to a visual artist. And for me performance art arises still out of the visual arts.

The concept of the cognitive "frame" in human behavior is central in performance theory. The notion of framed behavior has been used in the analysis of face to face interaction (Goffman 1974), theatrical and ritual events (Schechner 1993, Turner 1982), trance phenomena (d'Aquili, et. al., 1979) and sporting events (MacAloon, 1984). But for me a performative action can be more and should be more than this, also out of an analytic view point. In my performances for example I am searching for moments in everyday life where a 'poetic encounter' could arise. A moment of an intense experience, a moment where I can become one with the world of the other and a moment where the encounter will be saved in my body as a trace. A sociologist or teacher would probably speak of mirroring or a classical learning process. The encounter, which I would ground performance art on, is one of an energetic flow. I want to describe a perceptual state that occurs beyond a rational organizational and experiential encounter. Personally I explore in performance art a form of attention, namely the moment of encounter as an aesthetic category. For me the moment when the encounter occurs, is the purest form of an aesthetic of existence. Only when the performance artist is in the non-acting-mode, "in the intensity of situational experience, a unity of self and the world will be felt" (www.asa.de). This creates for me an energetic experience and perception that takes place beyond representation.

There is basically nothing wrong with a black or a white space as long as they are occurring in a real life surrounding. From the perspective of my own artistic production and out of my dialogical approach towards the artist-audience relationship, I really can not create what I want in my performances if I am working inside a black box of a theatre. In the theatre space the alchemy of everyday life is destroyed through the symbolic character of the affected area - theatre is pure representation. It just acts as if. During a performance inside a theatre-architecture nothing more than mimicry and mimesis is coming out of it. A real encounter can not take place.

For me it is clear that if I want to work as a performance artist in a black box, then I must question this architecture. Just as a media artist has to be questioning his or her technical resources, too. The architecture is already performing, before I even set a foot on the doorstep.


d'Aquili, Eugene G., Laughlin, Charles D. and Mc Mannus, John eds. “The Spectrum of Ritual” New York: Columbia University Press, 1979

Goffman, Erving “Frame Analysis” Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974

MacAloon, John, ed. “Rite, Drama, Festival, Spectacle” Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1984

Schechner, Richard “The Future of Ritual” London and New York: Routledge, 1993.

Tannen, Deborah “Framing in Conversational Structures” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993

Turner, Victor “From Ritual to Theater: The Human Seriousness of Play” New York: PAJ Publications, 1982

Turner, Victor “The Anthropology of Performance” New York: PAJ Publications, 1986