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Friday March 15 | 13:15 - 14:45
De Brakke Grond | Rode Zaal 
Drawing on critical and activist practices at the same time as being institutionalised in both educational and commercial domains makes Performance Design an internally antagonistic field. Mirroring Jon McKenzie’s work (2001), this gives rise to both a more or less problematic complicity with cultural affirmation and a commitment to transformation as central, yet contradictory, objectives. The overall aim of our proposed panel is to address this polarity, arguing that besides contradictions this also yields a potentially productive tension between instances of institutionalisation and intervention; institutionalised transformation and institutionalised anaesthesia.

The panel will bring together contributors to an anthology on ‘Performing Institutions’ that is currently being co-edited at Performance Design at Roskilde University, Denmark, and other invited guests.

Franziska Bork Petersen is an assistant professor in Performance Design at Roskilde University. She completed her PhD in Theatre Studies in a collaboration between Stockholm University and Freie Universität Berlin, and is currently working on a book about how notions of the body and utopianism relate.

Panel participants Anja Mølle Lindelof, Performance Design, Roskilde University Ulrik Schmidt, Performance Design, Roskilde University Michael Haldrup, Performance Design, Roskilde University Kasper Risbjerg Eskildsen, Philosophy and Science Studies, Roskilde University Franziska Bork Petersen, Performance Design, Roskilde University Patrick Blackburn, Philosophy and Science Studies, Roskilde University
Individual contributions:

Performance and Higher Education: A Historical Perspective
(Kasper Risbjerg Eskildsen)

Modern higher education, as it emerged at German universities during the Enlightenment, is focused upon the teaching of practices. Its primary purpose is not to convey philosophical ideas or a body of knowledge, but to discipline students to perform certain tasks, such as working in a laboratory, sorting through archival documents or teaching in secondary school, in a uniform and predictable way. It delivers performance. The success of this vocational ideal of higher education has resulted in ever-increasing institutionalization, from the philosophical seminars of the eighteenth century, to the teaching laboratories of the modern research university, to the standardized accreditation and evaluation schemes of today’s mass university. The teaching of practices, however, also once served a different, and partly contradictory, critical ideal of higher education. Like its vocational counterpart, this critical ideal aimed at the students’ personal transformation, but the transformation did not serve standardization. While existing within higher education, it remained antagonistic to institutionalization. Challenging institutions became a part of the education itself. This stance, I argue with examples from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was made possible through a different kind of performance, which promoted alienation and estrangement. The educational method was partly forgotten with the rise of the mass university. However, recovering its history may deliver inspiration to resistance today.  

Institutional Anaesthesia: Experiments with Sensory Deprivation in Art, Science and Technology from Gestalt Psychology to 1960s Psychedelia and ESP (Ulrik Schmidt)

Since the early 1920s, sensory deprivation chambers and other techniques for experimenting with audiovisual anaesthesia have played an important, albeit somewhat marginal, role in the development of the interdisciplinary field between art, science and technology. The collaboratory project E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology), active in US during the last part of the 1960s, is one of the most prominent examples in this history of cross-institutional anaesthesia. Here, established avantgarde artists worked together with prominent engineers, psychologists and medical scientists to study the limits and potential expansions of the human mind through extreme, ‘intoxicating’ manipulations of the sensorium by ‘pure’ audiovisual means and without the use of chemicals.

In the presentation I will discuss this explorative dynamic between scientific investigation and psychedelic artistic experimentation with anaesthesia by focusing on the so-called Ganzfeld (‘total field’) experiments and auditory deprivation chambers developed by E.A.T. artists James Turrell and Robert Irwin in the 1960s in collaboration with experimental psychologist Ed Wortz – accompanied by brief excursions to Ganzfelds in 1930s Gestalt psychology and in the parapsychological argumentation, made since the 1980s, for the existence of ESP (Extrasensory Perception).

What do people see or hear when there is nothing to see or hear? What are the potentials of and questions raised by audiovisual anaesthesia experiments in the cross-institutional field between art, science and technology? Is sensory intoxication, as the experiments seem to ask, in fact an aesthetic Urform in its own right? Or is it rather a historically parenthetic, artificial effect that have proved highly compatible with different subcultural environments and ideological beliefs because of “the Ganzfeld’s uncertain empirical status” that, as Brian Massumi has described it, can be, “wishfully interpreted as a threshold to a ’deeper,’ collective consciousness”. 

Butchers and Butterflies: the Dance of Performance Philosophy (Patrick Blackburn)

Many aspects of classical Chinese philosophy – the schools and ideas that flourished in the 500 years preceding this founding of the first empire periods in 221 B.C.E – can be viewed as reflections on performing the self in institutional contexts. Intervene, by meticulously performing the rituals, is a central message in the teachings of Kongzi (Confucius). Nonsense, counters Zhuangzi: rather enter an intoxicating world of talking animals, butchers who have turned the meat carving into the purest of performances, and sages who dream of being butterflies. To use Edward Slingerland’s formulation: classical Chinese philosophy performs an endless dance between Try-Hard-Not-To-Try, Stop-Trying, Try-But-Not-Too-Hard and Whatever! This dance - and the paradox of wuwei that sets in in motion, offers a refreshing take on intervention, institutions and intoxication.

Performance Design as education of desire (Franziska Bork Petersen and Michael Haldrup)

Given the institutionalisation of Performance Design as a study programme at Roskilde University, we take up the (educational) delights and challenges this implies. Confronted with the ubiquitous presence of pre-programmed desires we propose that Performance Design can play a role in the education of utopian desire. Such education offers a potential and systematic creation of spaces that enable us “to imagine wanting something else, something qualitatively different” (Levitas 2013: 113). Performance Design is uniquely suited to such an educational task, because it can function as a framework for not only designing alternative ways of being through affective interventions and estrangements, but also playing them out in performance.
In this contribution we address questions such as: Given its own ambivalence between affirmation and transformation, how does Performance Design relate to the utopian functions compensation, critique and the instigation of change? What kind of transformation/ intoxication does an institutionalized Performance Design allow for? As a place for systematic experimentation with experiences, what has Performance Design to offer the university and vice versa? And how is the exposure to affective estrangements turned into education?
In attempting to answer these questions, we draw on particular examples of performance design (such as work by Tomás Saraceno and Johannes Paul Raether), highlighting how they work with the parameters ‘time’, ‘space’ and ‘body’ and how this may form a basis for a programmatic (utopian) education of desire.

Performing Institutions as Structures of Care (Anja Mølle Lindelof)
Much research on institutions looks at them with suspicion. With a sceptical view of institutions as a site for hidden exploitation. As disciplining agents. As stiff conventions. As politically legitimised mechanisms of exclusion. The hermeneutics of suspicion regards, as media scholar Paddy Scannell puts it what is hidden in things as the deception of power which it is its critical duty to unmask. And while this is certainly true, it is not the only way to understand how institutions work. Scannell suggest instead an approach that is based on what a hermeneutics of trust that understands the hidden as a structure of care, and in my presentation, I’ll discuss where it takes us if we see performing institutions as care structures.
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