The project aims at providing an adequate theoretical framework for abject images and performances in late twentieth-century theatre. The resulting concepts will be applied to two case-studies of abject theatre: the work of Sarah Kane and the performances of the Italian Socetas Raffaello Sanzio.
The first part starts out with an investigation of the fundamental concept abject art, more specifically obscene and morbid theatricality, to denote firstly sexually abject images and secondly images connected to death, disease, cruelty and anatomy. In order to provide a connection to existing research in the visual arts and literature, the performances will be analysed as to their images, speech and actions. This will open the possibility of specifying the aesthetic impact (Wirkung) of obscenity and morbidity in the performance arts.
After this clarification the project follows two distinctive paths. The first path focuses on the concept of representation. We will consider if obscene and morbid images are best understood as `heterogenous' images, following the lead of Georges Bataille, or as the result of a specific perceptive mechanism which `obscenicizes' the represented objects, following the studies on the abject in art by Julia Kristeva. In the course of this investigation the question will also be considered why so many of the artists connected with abject art stress the ritual or sacred dimension of the representation of abject objects.
The second path takes the concept of performativity as its starting point. In this research phase abject performances are no longer considered as primarily representational, and instead we analyse how they actively involve the spectator in the obscene or morbid acts performed on stage. Various examples of cultural performances (Singer) such as animal sacrifices or ritual mutilation, which inspired performance artists in the second half of the twentieth century, will serve as the focal point for treating this question.
Closing the theoretical section we turn to some concrete examples of abject theatricality. The work of Sarah Kane is considered first. Starting out from the statement of George Steiner that the possibility for tragedy has vanished in the postmodern age, we propose to consider Kane's pieces as just such `postmodern tragedies'. The tension generated by representation and peformance of the abject is central to this investigation.
The second case-study centers on the work of Romeo and Claudia Castellucci's Socetas Raffaello Sanzio. Their performances are studied in the light of Antonin Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty, a main inspiration they acknowledge themselves. Whereas Artaud's work is limited to abject speech and images, however, their work will be seen to incorporate the important addition of the `grotesque body' in the framework of Artaud. The research project finally considers other examples of abject theatricality in late twentieth-century theatre, such as the work of Heiner Müller, Jan Fabre and La Fura del Baus.