Paper presented at Performance Studies international #20 in July 2014 in Shanghai


‘Passively’ Performing—Re-investigating the Transformative Potential of Performances

This paper investigates how performances may potentially transform its community of spectators, following theorisations on the subject by Erika Fischer-Lichte in The Transformative Power of Performance (2008) and Jill Dolan’s Utopia in Performance (2005). According to Fischer-Lichte, performance can transform the passive spectator into an actor as it collapses the divide between art and life. Dolan proposes that audiences form temporary communities as sites of public discourse, which could model new interactions with the public sphere after experiences of performances. I argue that these accounts on the ‘transformative’ potential overly detail on the positive affects and do not consider the extent of negative aspects nor the indeterminancy of a performance’s reach.

In performance art, instances where artists do not ‘speak’, ‘act’ or ‘perform’ may be identified.  An example is Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (1964-5, 2003) where she allowed audience members to cut off pieces of her clothing while she sat on stage motionless.  While performers actively step into the frame of ‘performance’, they remain relatively ‘passive’ throughout and depend on audience members to become active participants in the event.  Through this genre of what I term ‘passive’ performances, I will re-examine the concept of ‘transformation’ of audience communities into actors, and discuss how the socio-political impact and implications of this for the larger public may be assessed and theorised.