User:Max Dovey/Reading Writing Research Methodologies/maxThesisoutline

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Thesis Outline 3.0

The sense of presence:
How does the use of media technology challenge the notion of live in performance art?

This thesis will look at the relationship between performance art and technology within critical field of live performance. There is a history of works from the Futurists to Fluxus pieces that employ aspects of computation and automation to realize and act out a performance. I am going to trace this history to support my investigation into the current discussions regarding the use and application of technology in performance. There are two key texts that will be used as references when analysing performance art’s use of technology in live work.
Phillip Auslander in ‘Liveness : performance in a mediatized culture’ (1999) and Peggy Phelan ‘Unmarked: The politics of performance’(1993). The two texts present differing views on the value of performance and how performance (as a medium) is altered with the use of technology. Both these texts address specific performance art practices and the relation to technology but neglect a field of work that uses computation in the live performance of the work. The selection of art works I present in this thesis will support my critique of both Auslander and Phelan, but also contextualize my practice-based research. This will present an alternative to understanding the complicated relation between live performance and digital technology that I investigate with my studio practice.

Section 1: Performance art

    • Key questions:
    • Why performance art?
    • What am I not looking at (performance art and media representation/ Documentation)?
    • What kind of performance art? Why these pieces?
    • What kind of technology?
    • Why does the use of technology in each piece make it unique and helpful towards the arguments by Auslander / Phelan.

Summary: Define performance art and its specific ontology (it is based upon a physical presence and a temporal present of (human) being.)(Phelan)
Performance art defines itself on the principles of physical presence and a temporally present aspect to make it live. Since its inception at the beginning of the 20th century it has challenged how physical presence of a body and a temporal duration can be altered with the application of technology. This aspect of performance art history will help us understand the current debate regarding performance and digital technology Although these works don’t all explicitly use ‘digital’ technology, the methods can be understood now as application of technical mediums and computational mediation in the performance of the work.
The art works that I have selected serve to illustrate the divide between man and machine by simultaneously applying both a physical presence of a performer alongside a media or technology that both operate concurrently to produce the work. I am not going to talk about the relationship between performance art and media representation (commonly referred to as documentation) as that is not technology applied into the realization of the work.

(Possible) Performance art examples:

    • Futurists – Use of mechanical devices in performance to create a ‘synthetic theatre’ they wanted to create a theatre without physical presence. That can then be seen later on in telematics experiments (sher doruff)
    • Fluxus – Conceptual art movement , Fluxus performance pieces based on scores, that the work can be acted out in both a different time and place. That the time-based recording of a work can be acted upon by someone at a different time or place. So that the artworks just needed physical presence. Without the physical presence but just the time based technology. (John Cage, happenings, Yoko ono)
    • Dan Graham – present continuous pasts. A room covered in mirrors with a video camera recording the physical actions of the viewer. The recording of the camera is relayed to a video monitor so that the viewer sees both themselves in the mirror and themselves with an 8 second delay in the video monitor. The work is created on the physical presence of the body (the viewer) and highlighting the delay in the video camera depicting your actions.
    • Contemporary – my work, physically embodied talking alongside technical interpretation to realize the work.
    • Why I am excluding net art telepresent performances –
    The performances of Sher Doruff and the Waag connected! Program serves to connect to locations to make them a ‘live’ connection. It seems more a performance of the technology rather than combining the physical and temporal presence of both man and machine. For me, What this type of work does highlight is the importance of the physical presence of an audience and what is lost when two performers or live acts are simply telepresent connected. It proves what is lost in telepresence. ‘sensing presence’ research. The aura of technology. Something is lost when the technological apparatus is put at the front of an encounter.

Section 2: Theoretical Context

    • Key questions:
    • Why am I looking at these two authors?
    • Why is it important now?
    • What has changed? Has anything changed since they were written?
    • What are there views?
    • What do they miss/ not address?
    • What do I want to summarize from them?


Some contemporary case studies that demonstrate the importance of live in mass culture but also the tension between the physical and technological in live performance. By looking at performances artists application of technology in the realization of live work I will show how the two views of Auslander and Phelan have enfolded and enhanced each other.

Theoretical context (summary)
The theoretical context I will use to analyze these performance works is currently situated between arguments put forward by Phillip Auslander in ‘Liveness’ (1999) and Peggy Phelan’s ‘Unmarked’ (1993). Although different in opinion they both apply ideas from Walter Benjamin’s ‘Art in the age of technical reproducibility’. Auslander applies Benjamin’s theory of reproducibility to all performance genres that use a technology in the production of the event. He does this to stake his claim that ‘all performance is now mediatized’ and that live performance serves mediatization.
His definition of mediatizaton is intentionally vague to support his general analysis of all performance and its complex relationship with technological and the media. The important aspect of his views for my discussion is his views on performance art, automated chatbots and his discussion with Peggy Phelan.

Peggy Phelan opposes Aulander’s view that all performance serves to be mediatized and argues that it is ontologically distinctive to any technological reproduction.

Phelan - ‘performances only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of reproductions of representation, once it does so, it becomes something other than performance’ (Phelan: 41)

I will address what Phelan means and demonstrate how some performance artists have subverted and experimented with the idea of presence in performance with technology. This will allow for a greater understanding of Auslander’s view within a performance art history, rather than the current debate that opposes each other, I see both views as supporting one another in some regard.

Section 3: My Verdict

    Key questions – How does the work I have presented disrupt views put forward by Auslander/ Phelan? To look at ‘live’ within a temporal history, how it has become a commodity and how does that affect the value of performance art? Have networked communication technologies co-opted the nowness or the notion of live? Is the debate they are having outdated? Does Phelan take into account the use of technology as part of the performance or is she only referring to media representation of performance art? Am I choosing a camp or am I making my own camp?


This is where I bring my own work in line with the performance art history I have presented in chapter one. This aligns my position in relation to Auslander/ Phelan debate. Look at the contemporary relevance of the debate within a wider field. What is changing in technology and performance that means this subject retains urgency?

Contemporary examples that disrupt the debate, bots, cyborgs generative data. Performance art in current cultural context, what can we learn about its mass reproduction?


  • Liveness and Performance in a Mediated Culture, Phillip Auslander, 1999
  • Digital performance: A History of New Media in Theatre, Dance, Performance art and Installation, Steve Dixon, 2007
  • Unmasked: The politics of performance, Peggy Phelan, 1993
  • Theatre and Performance in Digital Culture, Matthew Caurey, 2006
  • Art in the Age of technical reproducibility, Walter Benjamin, 1936