Saturday, October 12, 2013

In Bodies We Trust Conference

I'm at the performance studies conference at Northwestern University, In Bodies We Trust: Performance, Affect, and Political Economy. My own presentation is tomorrow, but so far I've attended a number of interesting talks.

This morning, Megan Geigner gave an interesting paper on the performance of Irishness at Chicago's Southside Irish Parade, which is a neighborhood St. Patrick's Day parade begun in 1979. The original Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade happened every year from the 1840s to 1901, when it was stopped for a variety of reasons. There is of course an official parade now downtown, but the Southside parade focuses on Beverly and Morgan Park, two neighborhoods on the Southside that have retained large numbers of white residents and so are two of the few integrated neighborhoods on the Southside. It was interesting to hear Geigner talk about how the parade rehearses a set of emotions associated with Irish heritage, even though many of those who go are not of Irish descent. She linked the parade to pride in the working class, regardless of religion and ethnicity.

Genevieve Erin O'Brien gave another talk on LGBT flash mobs in Vietnam. She showed a clip of a news cast in Vietnam in which the reporter had to use the English terms "LGBT" and "flash mob" because those words simply do not exist in Vietnamese. These flash mobs use signs of queerness common in the West, such as rainbow flags, though these signifiers are not easily identified in Vietnam. However, she argued that even in their failure to fully communicate a coherent message, these events were still useful. They build community in the LGBT population and create visibility in the overall culture, even if the overall culture does not quite understand what it is viewing.

The second session I attended included a talk by Veronika S. Boekelmann on how fears of insecurity are changing the way people in Buenos Aires navigate public spaces in the wake of the 2001 financial crisis. It was really depressing to see all of the images of iron bars she showed, as the city becomes more and more security obsessed. It is as if the streets themselves are becoming a sort of prison. Kallee Lins gave an interesting talk on the interaction, or lack thereof, between audience and performers. She spoke in particular about one dance piece, "Night Shift," in which the very separation of the audience from the performers is used to increase the viewer's perception of futility and helplessness. Fatima Chrifi Alaoui gave a paper on the Arab Spring and affective tweets, but that is perhaps better tweeted about than blogged....

The third session I attended included a paper by the art historian Faye Gleisser about artists of the 1970s, including Chris Burden and the L.A.-based collective Asco. This was followed by dance theorist Kate Speer talking (and dancing) about a performance by the David Dorfman Dance Company. The last presenter in the session was Samuel Rowe, who is in the English Department at the University of Chicago. He spoke about David Hume's meditations on miserliness, and how miserliness is actually irrational from an 18th-century standpoint. He has me interested in now reading Hume's Treatise of Human Nature.

That's all for now. Tomorrow I present!