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on performativity

christoph de boeck     print
In the following text I want to present a general framework which outlines some ideas that are important for my work with audio, new media and performance in the context of .x-med-k. workshops.

Performativity is a concept that has been widely used in very different domains. One such domain is the technological context, where the notion of performativity refers to the qualitative behavior of a machine. Technology is evaluated in terms of achievement, power, capacity, precision, speed and other parameters of operation. Business management, a discipline often related to the field of technology, also employs the concept of performativity as a tool in the organisation of people and corporations, dividing functions and sequencing tasks in order to optimize workflow and maximize results. In the cultural domain the idea of performativity is familiar in a another, scrutinizing way. In the course of the twentieth century this idea underwent a critical transformation, shifting from a concern with the actor’s or dancer’s capabilities and technical virtuosity towards the questioning of theatrical mechanisms, thereby drawing attention to the forces operating behind cultural peformance. Brecht unmasked the theatre as an industry of entertainment very similar to that other workfloor – the enterprise structure. Parallel to Brecht’s innovations, ‘performance’ developed as a genre from within the historical avant garde and went through a revolutionary phase in the sixties. Still today it propagates self-reflexivity and examines expressions and rules of performativity present in several layers of society. In an attempt to provide a general theory of performance, Jon MacKenzie wrote a book examining three fields in which the concept of performativity functions. In his preface regarding the policital significance of the cultural performance phenomenon he concludes that it has become defined as a “liminal” process, “a reflexive transgression of social structures.” (Jon MacKenzie, Perform or else: From discipline to performance, Routledge, 2001)

Choreographer and video artist Heine Avdal (Norway/Belgium) and myself investigate how the concept of performativity in a technological environment or network can intersect with the concept of performativity in the context of a performance space. We would like to develop a performative event in which the space where this event unfolds is treated as an interface. This interface could well be identified as a mediating environment in a confrontation between audience and performer, as well as a medium for translating an imaginary world into reality, or a space where sound and image solidify for a limited amount of time. This performance concept was developed by Heine Avdal, and his research has been taking place within a trajectory of different public events. //one example is enough?//
In one of his public events, called IN_LINE, Heine Avdal elaborated upon the idea of an interface by rendering visible the lines of perspective, which are established both by the gaze of the audience as well as by the camera and videobeamer onstage. A pattern of lines populates the stage: the performer grabs them as if they were tangible threads and tapes them to the floor. Next up in Avdals line of thought is a visualisation of the idea of a network. This is where the performativity of technology meets performativity as an artform. Avdal wants to trace the paths of data processing and to investigate how movement can be derived from the schematic organisation of technological media. A fine example is a visual programming environment like Max, where you can send data from one processing unit to another, a process which is represented by lines and boxes onscreen.

I am involved in developing an audio concept and system which can correspond and interact with the movement of data and bodies. My purpose is to represent network communication through the distribution of sound energy in a system, in a visual and sonic form. Sound is fundamentally determined by its temporality and is therefore a suitable medium to express the performativity of a network. Both data flow and sound energy are immaterial and develop over time. They are both performative in the sense that they produce effects in physical reality. This is the relationship I want to concentrate on in the production process of Some notes are, a collaboration with Heine Avdal.
.x-med-k. workshops allowed me to work on specific projects, some of them related to my future work, to develop my knowledge of a programming environment, and most importantly to get in touch with other people’s ideas and tools.

Brief overview of projects Avdal and I have collaborated on:

Performances of terminal (2002) and closer (2003), together with choreographer Yukiko Shinozaki. The three of us founded deepblue, a production structure for performance and other media. Both for terminal and for closer I developed – working both on dramaturgy and on sound – an audio concept that played an important role in the discursive framework of those productions. Our next collaborative effort, "Some notes are" performance will premiere in Kaaitheatre in Brussels in June 2006.

You can find more information at




okno --- koolmijnenkaai 30/34 --- 1080 brussels --- belgium --- steklo♥okno.be --- tel +32 2 410 9940