My thesis interrogates the possibility of an ekphrastic mode of performance art documentation. Performance scholars such as Matthew Reason and Christopher Balme have written about ekphrasis and performance, but take their definition of ekphrasis from literary studies and art history: disciplines which emphasise the double representation of ekphrasis as a verbal representation of a visual representation.
A careful reading of Ancient Greek progymnastmata makes it clear that ekphrasis was also a means of recovering past events and lost objects, and that absence is its defining feature. I will argue that ekphrasis is therefore particularly suited to performance art, which as a medium is always wrestling with its own absence. I contend that both the function of classical ekphrasis – recovering past events and lost objects – and its form – live performance – make it a unique framework within which to situate a mode of performance art documentation.
This dual nature of ekphrasis as both a means of documentation and a mode of performance is reflected in the structure of my thesis: part one will investigate ekphrasis as documentation and examine the ways in which it acts as a reification of performance in the absence of the event; and part two will explore ekphrasis as performance, examining the ways in which orality, text and memory inform contemporary performance art practices. This thesis offers a response to the theoretical binaries that pervade the discourse on performance and live art practices: presence and absence, disappearance and documentation, orality and literacy, past and present.
Having previously studied for my undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University, I received a Postgraduate Alumni Award in order to undertake my doctoral studies. The University of Bristol is a natural fit for my project as it provides me with the opportunity to work with two fantastic supervisors, Dr Dorothy Price (History of Art) and Professor Simon Jones (Drama: Theatre, Film, Television), as well as proximity to the University’s internationally renowned Theatre Collection and Live Art Archives.
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