Performing Pandemic Grief: The Arts of Losing: on Thursday 17 & Friday 18 November 2022, we hosted an international symposium exploring the role of theatre, performance and related art practice in the experience and expression of grief in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Planned as a hybrid event, taking place online (17 November, via Teams) and in person (18 November, Birkbeck School of Arts), the symposium approached grief as a psychological, medical, anthropological and cultural response to death and loss, including in an expanded sense that includes relationships, employment, social life, cultural participation and life opportunities. Bringing together artists, academics, health and social care professionals, the symposium aimed to explore why and how people grieve and don’t grieve; where and when this happens; the role of art, ritual, social and cultural practices in this process; and the particular nuances of grieving in the wake of COVID-19. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic calls on us to examine our relationship to grief with urgency, owing to the scale of its impact (an estimated 6.5 million have so far died); the ways in which its speed has made grief difficult or even impossible to process; how pandemic grief has become folded into other events, including personal illness and loss, the Black Lives Matter movement (and its losses), the war in Ukraine, the death of world leaders; climate grief; and how social quarantine and accelerated digitization have frustrated established mourning practices and produced new forms. The symposium was spurred by the contention that the arts have emerged as important strategies and practices to support the processing of grief during the pandemic, and it aims to stimulate and support conversations around this phenomenon. The symposium featured three strands: 1) invited specialist keynotes and panels; 2) artist/academic presentations and workshops; 2) a Peltz Gallery/Birkbeck Centre for Contemporary Theatre new digital artwork commission: Danse Macabre by Aya v. O (a.k.a. Yanik Riedo, they/them) and Bruno Vilhar (he/him). Download the schedule, abstracts and biographies here. Supported by the Wellcome Institutional Strategic Support Fund.
Birkbeck Theatre Alumni Annual Lecture: on Friday 9 December 2022, 6-7pm we welcomed Birkbeck alumniJaswinder Blackwell-Pal & Néka Da Costa. They reflected on their creative projects, their research, career paths, and how the MA Text and Performance at Birkbeck prepared them for their current endeavours, research and collaborative theatre work.
Playful States of Mind: on Monday 19 December 2022, 10am-5pm, we hosted a conference presented by the Association for Psychosocial Studies, organised by Lynn Froggett, Noreen Giffney and Candida Yates. What do the terms ‘play’, ‘playing’ and ‘playfulness’ mean in different contexts? How might we understand play as both a doing and a being; an activity and a state of mind? In what ways might play be related to creativity and destructiveness? What kinds of feelings might be enacted, evoked or contained while engaging in moments of play? How do we play and what might we be communicating to ourselves and others, consciously and unconsciously, in our play and in the ways in which we play? Why is a capacity for play so important for our mental health and general wellbeing? How might psychoanalysis and psychosocial studies help us to reflect on our experiences of play? The event offered a series of immersive experiences centred around play, to help us to reflect on and talk about our individual and collective encounters with play. The emphasis was on experience, reflection and conversation. The event was addressed to anyone interested in play, imagination and creativity, and of particular interest to psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, psychologists, counsellors, group analysts, play therapists, creative arts therapists, social workers and social care workers, mental health workers, youth workers, artists, performers and curators, as well as academic researchers and students in the fields of psychosocial studies, cultural studies, and in the arts, humanities and social sciences more broadly. For more information click here.
Performance in a Posthuman Age and The Circus of Freaks: on Sunday 22 January and Sunday 29 January 2023 we presented two online lunchtime seminars as part of an exciting transnational collaboration between Turkey and the UK, delivered in English, with simultaneous translation in Turkish. Performance in a Posthuman Age and The Circus of Freaks is the second research project of digitalLABperformans. The project posits the theories of ecocriticism and ecofeminism in the context of posthuman and focuses on the intersection of these theories and theatre and performance art. The project is supported by the British Council Creative Collaborations Grant Program (@turkeybritishcouncil), and conducted with the partnership of Şule Ateş (dijitalLABperformans) and Seda İlter (Birkbeck, University of London). For more information on Performance in a Posthuman Age and The Circus of Freaks, including the abstracts for the seminars, visit the project website here.
Sunday 22 January 2023, 12:00-14:00 GMT: ‘Posthuman Theatre’, Louise LePage (University of York) & ‘Ecodramaturgy: Theatre and Climate Change’, Seda İlter (Birkbeck, University of London)
Sunday 29 January 2023, 12:00-14:00 GMT: ‘Posthuman Eroticism: The Foundations of Wangechi Mutu’s Counter-Poetics’, Caroline Edwards (Birkbeck, University of London) & ‘Different Forms of Digital Theatre’, Beatriz Cabur (artist and theatremaker)
OSUN Worldwide Teach-in on Climate Justice: ‘Transformative Imagining as Resistance to Reckless Fatalism’: On Wednesday 29 March 2023, 1-3pm in G10, Birkbeck School of Arts, we presented a two-hour collaborative rehearsal/transformation of Zoe Svendsen’s 5-minute collaborative play, Love out of the Ruins (commissioned for the 2021 Climate Action Theatre Anthology). Love out of the Ruins explores imagining worlds other than the “extractive, transactive, individualist, colonising, fossil-fuel addicted ‘high carbon culture’” that we live in, and proposes that “there is no single one-size-fits-all utopia, but many overlapping potentialities, complementary and conflicting – an ecosystem of utopias.” The event invited its participants to a conversation, a polyphony of imagining otherwise. In this theatre workshop, led by various artists from METIS, the participants collaborated with each other in response to the play to “create, imagine, build and make – in full knowledge that we don’t, can’t and won’t know ‘what works’ before we start, or even as we are making this attempt.” This collaborative theatre workshop sought to create space for its participants to “imagine alternative futures” with real possibilities that have been excluded from our collective imaginations as naïve, unworkable or unlikely. This event invited its participants to “a ritual – an invocation to conjure futures we would like to live in, in order to resee what is already out there.” The emphasis was on doing and undoing text as a material to open up conversation about the world we live in, how we can imagine it and its futures differently beyond the given narratives of climate change towards the multiple layers, tissues and issues of climate justice. The two-hour workshop was followed by a 20-minute performance, open to a wider audience, followed by a Q&A between artists, participants and audience. “Activists often speak as though the solutions we need have not yet been launched or invented, as though we are starting from scratch, when often the real goal is to amplify the power and reach of existing alternatives. What we dream of is already present in the world.” Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark (2015 edition). Listen to the two interpretations of the play here and here.
Graduate Research in Theatre (GRiT):
Thursday 23 March 2023, 4-5pm GMT: Maurya Wickstrom (CUNY), ‘The Whale and the Waters: Towards Oceanic Epistemology in Performance’: The Whale and the Waters is the provisional title of a new book project in which Wickstrom is concerned to set Homer’s The Odyssey, Caribbean poet and playwright Derek Walcott’s epic poem Omeros (Homer), his play The Odyssey, and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick into archipelagic relation as oceanic texts connecting slavery, inter-species relation, and alternative (watery) epistemologies. Moby Dick, as the foundation of the project, is an unequaled text for contemporary work in the oceanic, an expansive field in which Wickstrom has been working for the past several years. The 1851 whaling epic yields profound insights into the intersections between race, Indigeneity, Blackness, the materiality of the ocean and the life in it, queerness, the disintegration of Enlightenment ways of knowing/seeing and being, and marine global proletariat labor. The work currently also builds on performances by Bill T. Jones and Mayfield Brooks and Wu Tsang’s film, Moby Dick, along with theoretical interlocuters. Wickstrom will share some of her current thoughts and questions about this project and speak about the process of developing it.