This line of research concentrates on the performative aspects of culture at large and art in particular. The notion of performativity, although differently defined in diverging fields such as linguistics, sociology and philosophy, generally implies an outspoken attention for the way in which both language and non-verbal expressions act rather than what they literally mean.
The research group Visual Poetics accordingly circumscribes the subfield of Performative Poetics as inquiries into the artistic strategies that constitute the work of art and provoke a specific aesthetic experience. In addition to close studies of the workings and effects of artistic objects or events, Performative Poetics also includes a broader scope by taking the more general cultural conditions into account, both historically and contemporary, in order to uncover how theatrical procedures are adopted and exploited within socio-cultural phenomena.
The importance accredited by Visual Poetics to performativity ensues from the widespread influence the concept has wielded within the humanities, leading to what has been identified as the ‘performative turn’.
In general terms, this Kuhnian shift in paradigms substituted the formerly dominant textual model of cultural analysis, in which culture was considered a relatively stable but above all decipherable text, with a more constructivist view in which the continuous and reiterative dynamics of behavioural patterns and cultural processes are seen as constitutive of both human identities and social realities. Specifically in relation to theatre studies, the focus on performativity has been crucial in emancipating the discipline from its embedment in the tradition of literature theory and in establishing the field of ‘performance studies’.
Within this relatively young academic domain, close attention characteristically went beyond the text in order to scrutinize the workings of theatrical events (including happenings, body art, avant-garde theatre) as well as to analyze social behaviour, gender roles, political manifestations or sport events in terms of ‘performance’.
Although the notions of performativity and performance have been criticized as they were sometimes too easily applied to all sorts of phenomena and hence demolishing any distinction between art vis-à-vis reality, Visual Poetics does adhere to the orientation towards the performative due to the possibilities it offers for gaining a profound understanding not only of the specific workings of art, but also of the relationships which societies maintain with principles that are in fact theatrical in nature.
The research conducted within Visual Poetics reflects the continued effects of the performative turn in two different ways. On the one hand, research focuses on the correlations between theatrical practices and socio-cultural realities, such as early and mid-nineteenth-century melodrama and historical parades in their function as important instruments in the consolidation of young nation states; the culture of the spectacle emerging in modernity and the concurrent planetarium performances devised to demonstrate innovations in science and astronomy to the popular audience; or mass spectacle in the interwar period.
On the other hand, current research shows an explicit focus on the performativity of the artwork by uncovering artistic strategies, often characteristic of remarkable tendencies in both the historical and present-day art scene. Topics include postdramatic aesthetics in contemporary text theatre; immersion as art historical principle in visual arts and recent intermedial performances; re-enactment in contemporary dance and performance art; pictorial traditions in early movie; the aesthetics of cinematic delay and aspects of slow motion in French impressionistic and avant-garde cinema; and the filmic appropriation of narrative principles in 1910s and 1920s American cinema.
How to quote: De Laet, Timmy. "Performative Poetics." Research Centre for Visual Poetics. Universiteit Antwerpen, May 2012. Web. (Date of access)