This first edition of the Arts and Media Archaeology Summer School focuses on the entangled relation between performance and media culture and the history of science, knowledge and ideas.

Art and performance mirror what moves in the world. They can provide entertainment, emotion and intellectual challenges for varying audiences and are significant forms of communication about topical issues. In the nineteenth century, popular theatre, performance and displays were platforms where eager spectators could engage with themes of evolution, astronomy, anthropology and colonized territories. Encouraged by the burgeoning development of science and technology, and supported by changes in transportation, education and social mobility, nineteenth-century culture witnessed a proliferation of travelling shows and exhibitions. Such shows were part of a nascent entertainment industry that took place not only in learned environments and lecture halls but also in theatre and opera houses, spilling out into the public space, the boulevards and the fairgrounds.

More information

This Summer School will provide participants with an interdisciplinary framework for the analysis of science performance and the ways in which knowledge was mediated through popular entertainment and displays. Combining concepts from cultural and performance studies with the histories of science, knowledge and media, allows us to focus on both discursive articulations and imaginations of scientific knowledge as well as more implicit forms of information and understanding. Since performance is not primarily a verbal medium, it was also a site that facilitated the circulation of implicit knowledge and social values of health, gender, nation, class or race.

Moreover, the perspective of performance studies more broadly helps to gain a better understanding of how the history of science, knowledge and ideas took shape in institutionalized centres for science and knowledge such as universities, observatories and public lecture halls. Historians of science and knowledge have pointed out that the authority of academic expertise always remains a socially constructed, inherently unstable form of authority, based on performative conventions and strategies – a set of socially accepted behaviour characteristic to the role of a scientists. To look credible and affirm their authority, scientists need to play upon the expectations, existing social and professional roles, images and narratives that their contemporaries would recognise and associate with serious scientists. Performers of scientific entertainment, in turn, skillfully exploited these performative conventions, by appropriating certain discourses, costumes, and props to style themselves as scientists and claim a scientific authority.

The Summer School will also focus on the venues in which knowledge took shape and was disseminated. In museums and world exhibitions, scientific objects and inventions were meticulously displayed, staged and framed for a wide audience. Scenography was aimed at confirming the scientific claim. But whereas museum displays predominantly concentrate on representations of the natural order, the entertainment side of their business often exploited an opposing fascination with what might be ‘out of the natural order’. In so-called freak shows, human zoos and variety theatre, racial diversity and gender difference were explored through burlesque impersonations and character sketches. Nineteenth-century entertainers did not have the same intellectual responsibilities that rested on those who represented scientific, educational or political institutions. The latter sought to control the parameters of research and establish a model of knowledge. Science popularizers and entertainers had less strict deontological constraints and were free to also question, critique and reinvent those parameters.

Day to day programme

The 5-day programme consists of public keynote lectures by Sofie Lachapelle (Dean of Arts at Wilfrid Laurier University, CA), Machiko Kusahara (Waseda University Tokyo) and Erkki Huhtamo (UCLA), 15 lectures by national and international experts in the fields of Art, Performance and Media studies and the Histories of Science and Knowledge, and 5 presentations by artist-researchers, providing a more practice-based approach to the subject.

Monday 4 Sept: Setting the Stage – Knowledge & Performance

  • Nele Wynants (University of Antwerp) – "Performing Science, Mediating Knowledge: Introduction"
  • Sven Dupré (Utrecht University & Amsterdam University) – Lecture "Knowledge and the Arts: Actors, Performance, Conservation"
  • Karel Vanhaesebrouck (Université libre de Bruxelles) – Lecture "On the Popular and some other Historiographic Misunderstandings"
  • Sarah Vanhee (freelance artist Brussels) – "bodies of knowledge"
  • Sofie Lachapelle (University of Guelph) – Public keynote Lecture "Science on and for the Stage: From the Street Fairs and Magic Shows to the Opera Houses of Nineteenth-Century Paris"

Tuesday 5 Sept: Venues of Knowledge Performance

  • Charlotte Bigg (Centre A. Koyré, CNRS Paris) & Thomas Mougey (ESHS,  LUCK Lund Centre for the History of Knowledge) – Lecture "Performing science at the International Exposition Congresses"
  • Leen Engelen (Luca School of Arts, Leuven) – Lecture "The Panorama"
  • Student Presentations: poster session 1 (work in progress)
  • Wesley Meuris (artist-researcher Sint Lucas Antwerp) – "Extended Gaze"
  • Field Trip I (FOMU) – visit Kaiserpanorama
  • Film screening Broken View, a film by Hannes Verhoustraete (KASK School of Arts Ghent), with introduction and Q&A

​Wednesday 6 Sept: Staging Knowledge​

  • Parveen Kanhai (independent researcher) – Lecture "Amassing Objects, Exhibiting People"
  • Sarah J. Adams (Ghent University & University of Antwerp) – Lecture "Racialization and Theories of Race in Dutch Theatre (1800)"
  • Evelien Jonckheere (University of Antwerp) – Lecture "Faces, Physiognomy and Caricature"
  • Student Presentations: poster session 2 (work in progress)
  • Doina Kraal (freelance artist) – "A Phenomenology of the Peepshow box: The Peepshow Box as a Model for Research and Artistic Practice"
  • Machiko Kusahara (Waseda University Tokyo) – Public keynote lecture "Japanese Touring Attractions"

Thursday 7 Sept: Media and Networks of Knowledge

  • Joe Kember (University of Exeter) – Lecture "Magic Lantern Lecture Networks"
  • Eva Andersen (University of Antwerp) – Lecture "Knowledge Networks"
  • Bart G. Moens (Université libre de Bruxelles & University of Antwerp) – Lecture "Transparent images? On objectivity and photographic lantern slides (1890-1920)"
  • Student Presentations: poster session 3 (work in progress)
  • Peer to peer feedback session(s) student presentations
  • Erkki Huhtamo (University of California, Los Angeles) – Public keynote lecture “Topos in Disguise: Media Archaeology as Topos Study”
  • Evening programme – Magic Lantern lecture and performance by Kurt Vanhoutte & Ditmar Bollaert and Els Prevenier​

Friday 8 Sept: Objects of Knowledge (venue: GUM Ghent)

  • Kurt Vanhoutte (University of Antwerp) & Thibaut Rioult (University of Antwerp) – Lecture "Charged Objects: The Embodied Knowledge of Things"
  • Deirdre Feeney (independent artist) – Lecture "Knowing through practice: The hidden life of lenses and other stories"
  • Marjan Doom (Ghent University) – "Curating Science"
  • Field Trip II – Guided tour Ghent University Museum (GUM) + botanical garden and green houses and/or workshop
  • Workshop – Curating Scientific Objects: tbc
  • Concluding round table debate

University of Antwerp City Campus
Photography Museum (FOMU) Antwerp
Ghent University Museum (GUM) Ghent
Mutsaardstraat 31, 2000 Antwerp
Walking distance from train station Antwerpen-Centraal
Waalsekaai 47, 2000 Antwerp
Tram 1 and 10 or bus 13 and 14 from train station Antwerpen-Centraal
Karel Lodewijk Ledeganckstraat 35, 9000 Gent​
Walking distance from train station Gent-Sint-Pieters

Target group

This Summer School is aimed at research MA and PhD students and more advanced artists and scholars in the field of Arts, Performance, Media and Cultural History. In a five-day programme, they will deepen their understanding of how performance played a crucial role in the circulation of science, knowledge and visual culture; and shaped modern Western culture. By also considering the interplay between present-day media performances and the archaeological traces they carry, the programme moreover aims to unearth often overlooked relations and prehistories of so-called ‘new’ media.

The Summer School will enable junior academic and artistic researchers to become acquainted with a variety of concepts, methods, and approaches in the fields of cultural and performance studies and the histories of science, knowledge and media and to enter into dialogue with a number of specialists in those respective fields. Sessions are meant to be informal in nature and will consist of 

  1. an extensive introduction by an international speaker,
  2. a discussion based on a set of texts that will be made available to read beforehand,
  3. and an invitation to present research in progress in interactive poster sessions.

The following questions will be the focus of the plenary discussions: What is the relation between performance, science, knowledge and their objects and media? How can performance mediate scientific ideas or insights? What is the role of the venue, the props and costumes in the way knowledge is staged and received? Which forms of knowledge are communicated through bodily expression, imagery, narratives and imagination? What kind of knowledge is contained in scientific objects, media and technologies? And how does their meaning change when they move from the lab to the exhibition space or the theatre where they interact with an audience?