Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Theorising Performance and Technology: Aesthetic and Neuroaesthetic Approaches

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Theorising Performance and Technology: Aesthetic and Neuroaesthetic Approaches

Article excerpt


In this article, it is my intention to examine and compare aesthetic and neuroaesthetic theorisation in order to provide interpretive strategies that would be capable of addressing sophisticated technological art practices. In doing so, I will provide a study of two mutually enhancing approaches to this analysis - namely, the writings and aesthetic theorisation of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and a neuroaesthetic approach linking performance and art practices to neuroscientific research in order to provide some understanding of the biolog- ical underpinnings of aesthetic experience. It is my belief that these diverse approaches have much to contribute to interpreting such developments. Due to the vast amount of research undertaken in this area, visual perception is central (though not exclusive) to a biologically related approach. The general direction of such research illuminates the problem as summarised by Francis Crick: 'It is difficult for many people to accept that what they see is a symbolic interpretation of the world - it all seems so much like "the real thing'".1


Performance - an extensive but, for some, challenging zone between drama, dance and happening - has entered new territory which reflects our enveloping experience of the contemporary world, capturing that primitive sense of interactive consciousness which Heidegger called simply 'being in the world'.2 In a short period of time, there has been an explosion of new technologies that have infiltrated, and irreversibly altered, our lives. The consequences are not without problems, but these developments have given performance practice powerful new dimensions.

As far as performance presentation goes, it seems to have developed from sporadically held events, staged in 'real time', in obscure venues, with the minimum of props, into multimedia stagings, attracting large audiences and employing a panoply of technological devices. Its artistic ambitions, too, appear to have enlarged, embracing multi-layered content which attempts to address more elusive and broader themes, reflecting our enveloping experience of the contemporary world. Of course in this period there has been an increasing mainstream acceptance of stage practices which depart radically from textually based drama or traditional dance, as witnessed by the immense impact of Bausch's Tanztheater. It is my belief that our changed technological resources constitute a critical factor in this evolution. The analogue processes of film and magnetic tape have frequently served in the past as components and amplification of live performance, but their rela- tionship to the latter was one of simple synchronicity: they ran on their course inexorably, and the performer/s would coordinate to a greater or lesser degree with them.

In the last two decades, however, the development of digital processing facilitated an unprecedented interactivity between performer and device (characteristically demonstrated by Troika Ranch, among others), bringing hugely increased computing power to these functions, and, in virtue of its ability to break down information into mutable combinations of bits, the opportunity to mould and sculpt, so to speak, the qualities of the presented material. Digital technology transformed a fundamentally passive, recipient relationship of performer to media devices, into one of active reciprocity and joint enterprise. I would suggest that, culturally, as a result of these developments, our sense of bodily frontiers has undergone a radical expansion, and so too has our conception of the 'incarnate' nature of consciousness, in which respect I regard Merleau-Ponty's theorisation as pivotal. I also contend that the above-mentioned field of neuroaesthetic analysis might provide some insight into why the more obscure instances of contemporary performance have the artistic value that we apparently accord to them.

It is my belief that such exemplary features demand a new mode of analysis, which foregrounds the inherent tensions between the physical and virtual. …

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