On Disfiguration


Performance Research

Vol. 23, No. 6: ‘On Disfiguration’ (September 2018)

Issue Editors: Stephen Barber & Richard Gough

Proposal Deadline: 27 November 2017

This issue is intended to open up original explorations of disfiguration as a means, process, idea, imagery or entity, and as a way to reflect on performance. Disfiguration often implies a process by which an external presence overhauls or negates the body, but the body may also itself exact its own disfiguration (as in many Viennese actionist performance-art experiments of the 1960s, and contemporary manifestations of such preoccupations) or else undertake an act that dissolves any coherent sense of what the imagining or delineation of the body may entail. ‘Figuration’ is itself—as something pre-existent, vulnerable to the imminent cancellation, ‘twisting’ (to use the term of the contemporary artist Richard Hawkins) or mutation that its prefix in disfiguration suggests—a mobile and transformative entity that may overhaul its own status, by, for example, dissolving it, freezing it, lacerating it, blinding it, fragmenting it, or removing its conceptual basis. Disfiguration appears notably in eras of acute social and corporeal crisis and conflict.

Disfiguration often entails some kind of obsession or preoccupation with the human body as having once held a form that now no longer holds true, or has been covertly stolen, infiltrated and duplicated—so the body now requires an urgent performative intervention, as in the demands for reanimation or autopsying that Artaud calls for in his final radio work of 1947–8, and that will manifest itself (in that instance) as a work of dance: ‘When you will have made of it a body without organs …/Then you will teach the body to dance back to front/as in the delirium of dancehalls …’ Works preoccupied with disfiguration may not form the active agents of disfigurement, but instead are dealing with the remnants, detrita and traces of corporeal disfigurations that demand a countering process, to propel the body still deeper into disfiguration, or beyond disfiguration, either to return it to its pre-existent status or else to generate a new manifestation of corporeality, as Artaud envisaged in that final work. Bataille, too, in contrary ways, envisions the body in multiple forms of disfiguration.

Disfiguration’s primary manifestation is one in which the body is so fundamentally altered that it is no longer sensorially recognizable, and is wiped and subject to oblivion: disfiguration, in that sense, in its most extreme form, is propelled by an act that constitutes an all-engulfing negation of the body and a collapsing of all of its attributes, including all corporeal theory. As well as disfiguring the body itself, processes of disfiguration may also consume the totality of the media by which performance survives: for example, the annulling of digital data, the burning of celluloid or the all-out destruction of paper-based archives. As such, disfiguration’s insurgence may form the antithesis of performance traditions, histories, genealogies and lineages.

A less negation-intent disfiguration may transform the body into corporeal shards and ruins—or, when the body has entirely vanished, into echoes and haunted resonances, or retinal after-images and blurs. It then holds a particularly distinctive or ghostly presence in urban space, as explored in much post-1960s Japanese performance art and dance. Performance and artworks concerned with the act of duplicating, collaging and plagiarizing the figure often intend not to erase it but to supplant or re-inflect it. An elapsed performance may have already rendered the body so fragile, voided or traumatized that disfiguration forms the process by which such corporeal striations and ruptures are then mapped, so that disfiguration may form a neutral process that simply probes and documents the body’s already-achieved disassembly.

Disfiguration may also encompass and inhabit unfamiliar zones of time and space in which the body’s annulling or contamination is conceived as being so irrecuperable—or the body’s obsolescence so total—that its performance now needs to be re-thought from zero, as in spectacles in which the body’s figuration is entirely absent, or has been digitally replaced. Disfiguration may, for example, take place in the volatile interstice between performance and moving-image media in their many forms, through a process by which the body is transacted between those two entities (performance and moving-image media) and endures such outlandish corporeal mutation or reactivation, annulling all pre-established formula for coherent identification, that it is uniquely disfigured in those zones between performance and moving-image media.

In all of its manifestations, disfiguration forms a process of marked transformation in the status of the body that invites performance’s imprints, excavations and soundings.

Topics addressed may include the following, but the parameters of this call for papers are open to any manifestation of disfiguration in any context of performance research:

—Expressionist dance works, such as those of Anita Berber, and their links with Expressionist cinema

—The work of Antonin Artaud, Georges Bataille and other figures concerned with theoretical (or actual) processes of disfiguration

—Viennese Actionist performances and their filmic counterparts

—Francis Bacon’s work as an inspiration for performance artists, dancers and moving-image artists

—Ankoku Butoh and other forms of Japanese dance

—Disfiguration as a ‘twist’ of the body, as in the contemporary artist Richard Hawkins’ engagement with Tatsumi Hijikata’s scrapbooks

—Performance art and theatre oscillating between digital data and corporeal acts, as in the 1990s work of Dumb Type, but also in contemporary works

—Filmic performance documentation as an active or intentional disfiguration of the body’s time and space

—Transformations of scenographic space that entail corporeal disfigurations, as in recent works by Romeo Castellucci

—Voice/Vocal works that rend or disfigure the performing body (for example, Korean P’ansori, the historical tradition of castrati and the contemporary practice of ‘extended vocals’)

—Worldwide rituals and traditions of physical disfiguration, emaciation, scarring, amputation or amendment (for example, traditional African ritual practices and ceremonies, Asian practices of body modifications and trance piercing and contemporary body art)


Proposals: 27 November 2017

First Drafts: March 2018

Final Drafts: May 2018

Publication: September 2018

ALL proposals, submissions and general enquiries should be sent direct to the PR office: info@performance-research.org

Issue-related enquiries should be directed to the issue editors:

Stephen Barber (stephen.barber@kingston.ac.uk)

Richard Gough (cprgough@gmail.com)

General Guidelines for Submissions:

Before submitting a proposal we encourage you to visit our website (www.performance-research.org) and familiarize yourself with the journal.
Proposals will be accepted by e-mail (MS-Word or RTF). Proposals should not exceed one A4 side.
Please include your surname in the file name of the document you send.
Please include the issue title and issue number in the subject line of your email.
Submission of images and visual material is welcome provided that all attachments do not exceed 5MB, and a maximum of 5 images.
Submission of a proposal will be taken to imply that it presents original, unpublished work not under consideration for publication elsewhere.
If your proposal is accepted, you will be invited to submit an article in first draft by the deadline indicated above. On the final acceptance of a completed article you will be asked to sign an author agreement in order for your work to be published in Performance Research.