Feeling, walking, looking - a research seminar

This performance research seminar is part of the School of Performance and Cultural Industries research seminar series.

Join us for 3 talks presented by academics in the School.

Emma Bennett, Teaching Fellow in Contemporary Performance, will be preseting: Funny Feeling: Theatrical Labour in the ASMR Roleplay Video

‘Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response’ (ASMR), a term that began appearing on online discussion forums around 2009, describes a pleasurable tingling sensation experienced in response to certain audiovisual and interpersonal ‘triggers’. A growing number of homespun ‘ASMRtists’ have garnered sizable followings on YouTube, posting videos characterised by close-up direct camera address, whispered solicitude, and acutely amplified sounds of stroking, brushing and tapping. Roleplay videos form a significant sub-set; here a performer will address, gaze into, and even stroke, the camera as if it were the face of the viewer. This mediated, deferred encounter is often played out to imitate a professionalised scenario of care, such as a medical examination, sleep clinic or spa treatment.

Acknowledging the ways in which ASMR’s whispered address can appear spectacularly odd when shared publicly, I will reframe the relaxation role-play video as a curiously labour-intensive mode of performance. By fictionalizing the encounter between producer and consumer, ASMR role-play, I will argue, works hard to maintain the soft, reassuring illusion of its own aesthetic and/or therapeutic autonomy from the exploitative relations of capital. As a politically ambivalent transformation of anxiety into comfort, ASMR might thus be productively considered alongside what Lauren Berlant has named as cultural forms that facilitate the ‘pulsations of habit patterning that make possible getting through the day’ .

Dr Joslin McKinney, Associate Professor in Scenography, will be presenting: Embodied Encounters with the Scenographic City 

‘Encountering an urban place, one feels the materiality and atmosphere with all the sense and potentials of one’s own body, with one’s corporality’ (Lars Frers and Lars Meier, Encountering Urban Places, 2007).

In my current research I am exploring how a notion of scenography that emphasises processes of formation through the flows and forces of gathering matter could help us understand the materiality of the city as an active and affective component in the relationship between people and their environment.

Two overarching questions that guide this research are:
How do the spatial, atmospheric, material dimensions of the urban environment exert agential capacity on bodies?
How can scenography contribute to an understanding of embodied experience in urban environments?

In this visual presentation, I will consider my own embodied encounters with the material of the city as an expanded form of scenography. By paying close attention my multi-sensory experience of the city I try to capture the active interplay of my seeing, sensing body and the materiality of urban space through provisional, proto-scenographies, that is, moments when material elements coalesce and seem to present themselves as an affective encounter, or as Karen Barad says, when ‘matter comes to matter’. The interplay between body and material can be considered as a form of the agential ‘intra-action’ between entities of all kinds, human and non-human, that Barad describes.

By combining scenographic and new materialist approaches, I propose it is possible to enrich bodily-based research into urban experience and to develop an aesthetics of being in the city that operates at the interface of materiality and imagination.

Dr Aylwyn Walsh, Lecturer in Applied Theatre will be presenting: A poethics of black looks in 9 parts: Performing South African queer black optimism

South African choreographer Mamela Nyamza and lesbian photographer Zanele Muholi are the focus of this presentation. The artists foreground a DIY/ punk influence as well as a queer assemblage of looking back through blackness – or what Alexander Weheliye calls Habeas Viscus. This presentation seeks anarchism’s epistemologies in the syncretic forms that emerge in these works. This approach positions the body, a coded, multiple and intersectional/ DIY aesthetic as foregrounded. I see this as a resistance to staging unitary identity politics: an anarchic, processual erotics of queer black optimism.

The cultural and social context in South Africa is steeped in economic inequalities, gender based violence and systemic homophobia. The state is characterised as ‘developing’; still emerging from the long history of Apartheid oppression. Resultingly, cultural productions almost 25 years post-democracy can seem stuck in a directionless mire of protesting inequalities while nonetheless replicating them thematically and aesthetically.   

The artists I analyse transgress these culturally conservative trends. They stage queer erotics in the context of tensions between white conservativism and African traditions that eschew non-normative sexualities. Both poles valourise aesthetics that are sanitised yet traditionally inflected.  What is offered by Nyamza’s choreography, and Zanele Muholi in her portraits is the positioning of resistant, radical figures that undo the understanding of hierarchies. I will argue that this is performed explicitly through an optimistic ‘look’ that forms a critical challenge to the flow of desire in performance.

The presentation works through Fred Moten’s theorisation of Black Optimism in order to explore the significance of utopian re-positioning of Black Femme and Black lesbian bodies. This is valuable for an emergence of hopefulness in what might be called an afropolitan (decolonial) cultural revolution.


All welcome, to book your place please contact Linda Watson l.m.watson@leeds.ac.uk

Location details

Dance studio, stage@leeds building
University of Leeds