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Empty Stages, Crowded Flats – Performativity as Curatorial Strategy Review by Beatrix Joyce

Read a review of Empty Stages, Crowded Flats – Performativity as Curatorial Strategy by Beatrix Joyce.


‘Empty Stages, Crowded Flats – Performativity as Curatorial Strategy’ addresses the newly established and growing field of performance curation. With the inclusion of twenty ‘case studies’ dating as far back as 1969, the articles chronicle the shift of performance out of the proscenium arch theatre and into alternative spaces of the public domain. By documenting a selection of ‘staged situations’, pilot projects and radical experiments, the compilation demonstrates the sheer wealth of possibilities within the curation of performance today.

In a refreshing mix of writing styles, creative descriptions and loose interpretations of the projects were placed alongside academic essays. Karin Harrasser playfully composed an ‘alternative alphabet’ as a means to reflect on performance and Tim Etchells’ entry read, much like his work at large, like poetic prose. In keeping with a progressive editorial approach, the terms ‘performance’ and ‘performativity’ were employed in multiple ways, hereby escaping an inflexible definition. Performance could refer both to its traditional connotation of ‘relating to the performing arts’ (dance, theatre, staged acts) and its adopted usage within the visual arts (Krakow’s happenings, Fluxus, un-staged acts). Its usage within social theory (‘performativity’ after Judith Butler) was also incorporated, hereby proving the term to be open and lucid, evidently crossing from the threshold of the arts into the realm of sociological and philosophical thought.

A recurring theme was the breaking down of the distinction between artist and curator. The adoption of performance works into the programmes of galleries and museums poses a challenge to the traditional functionality and alleged separation between the role of artist and curator. Increasingly, curators are working as freelancers and are employed per project while artists become self-organised and initiate their own, privately funded, crowd funded or non-funded projects. The relationship between artist and curator, as demonstrated by ‘Empty Stages, Crowded Flats’, is no longer clear-cut and therefore calls for fresh understandings of what a given job role might entail.

Although touched on briefly with the mention of Tino Seghal, famously the first performance artist to have sold his pieces as art objects, hardly any attention was given to the financial structure of performance art. A reflection on the economic position of performance in relation to the capitalist, product-driven structure of the visual art world would have added an extra spark of contemplation. A prominent question within the field is undeniably the economic (in)compatibility of performance – would the introduction of new bureaucratic structures support and emancipate performance artists or would the wide-scale recreation of works from contracts disrupt or even destroy the magic of performance?

‘Empty Stages, Crowded Flats’ gave a brilliant insight into the practice of curating performance and prompted many questions that will undoubtedly gain weight in the years to come.


Empty Stages, Crowded Flats: Performativity as Curatorial Strategy is the fourth book of the publication series Performing Urgency. The series focuses on the relationship between theatre and politics, and asks: How can theatre engage in contemporary social and political issues without compromising art or politics? What kind of knowledge or impact can art generate that activism and theory alone cannot? What are the processes and methodologies of political theatre today? It aims at a broader discussion of the conditions, aesthetics, concepts, and topics of contemporary performing arts.

House on Fire, Alexander Verlag and Live Art Development Agency, 2017. 15.5 x 22.5cm, 159 pages, paperback with black and white photographs throughout. 

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