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  • Writer's picturePosthuman Art Network

Yiou Penelope Peng

Yiou Peng, previously trained as a pianist and a scholar in cinema studies at Smith College, University College of London/Goldsmiths, is now a PhD. candidate at Freie Universität Berlin for her research on the corporeal trans-formations between nonhuman and human entities in performance. She extends Karen Barad’s philosophical concept of “posthumanist performativity” in to the realm of performance art. By interweaving Rosi Braidotti’s critical posthumanism, Lynn Margulis’ endosymbiotic theory, the Daoist concept of "Wan-wu" (the myriad happenings) and performativity, Yiou attempts to create a posthuman dramaturgy that examines the “be-coming” and “being-toward” process among various forms of living and non-living beings.


I would like to present my ongoing doctoral project "Towards a Posthuman performativity" as the initial research proposal that I would like to contribute and share with the posthuman artistic research community. How do we understand critical posthumanism in the realm of performance studies? How do we describe a performative happening when machines and screens no longer serve for humanist purposes? How can we address a character when there is no name, no gender, no race given, when a character only exists as flux of collective narrative in relation to other human and non-human entities? In recent years, posthuman tendencies as such have emerged in performative happenings that question human-centric cultural and social values. By accepting and emphasising the nonhuman agencies as autonomous, affective entities in relationality, these performative happenings are radical resistance to the man-made anthropocentrism as the primary human condition. In order to better recognise, describe and understand the non-human agencies in this resistance, performance studies demands a shift of perspective because the traditional anthropocentrism approach coupled with a socio-cultural specific notion of humanism is not able to explain the complexities entangled within this emerging future of performance art practices. Based on performance analysis and critical posthumanism in the light of new materialist tradition, this research attempts to interweave a trans-disciplinary assemblage, including vocabularies, methodologies and perspectives that are sufficient to describe, recognise and analyse these hybrid performative phenomena. Bridging and adapting Karen Barad’s concept of “posthumanist performativity” into performance studies, this research argues that the presence of the non-human agencies with their entanglements of human agency create a posthumanist performativity (PP). PP can be considered as an attempt to accept and recognise the non-human agencies as autonomous entities free from fulfilling the humanist instrumental purposes. This symbiotic (trans-)formation furthermore leads to a set of unpredictable qualities, provoking and speculating new insights and possible relationships among matters, machines, bodies, aliens, cyborgs, humans…To provide in-depth analysis in relation to the subject matter, this research mainly focuses on the performative happenings created by four artists/artist collectives: Susanne Kennedy’s Coming Society (2019) and Ultra World (2020), Tianzhuo Chen’s An Atypical Brain Damage (2018), Trance Demo(2019), Trance (2021), Saša Spačal’s Syncness (2015), Touchscaping (2017), Mycomythologies series (2020/2021), and Zheng Bo's Plant Politics. My doctoral research seeks to contribute to a better understanding of performative phenomena in the era of the sixth extinction of species and rapid climate changes (Davis, Turpin, 2015) to fundamentally transform the pain of “anthropocene” into possible futures of performative arts that are interweaved with various species and entities: be it human, non-human, and everything in between and beyond.


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