Lee Campbell and Ope Lori
Date: Wednesday 2nd November 2011, 2-4pm
Venue: Green Room, Chelsea College of Art and Design, Millbank
In attendance: Deniz Akca, Susan Barnett, Lee Campbell, Maria Christoforatou, Ali Goodyear, Maria Kheirkah, Catherine Long, Ope Lori, Robert Luzar, Keivan Sarrafan,Trish Scott,Charlotte Webb
Apologies: Ann Course, Elizabeth Manchester
Lee Campbell is an Associate Lecturer in Theatre Studies at Wimbledon and a visiting artist at CSM, undertaking research at Loughborough University supervised by Dr. Gillian Whiteley and FREEE collective’s Mel Jordan. His practice-based MPhil/PhD entitled ‘How to make a witness’, deploys theatricality within the extended white cube and interrogates performance art’s capacity for absence and presence, embodiment and liminality. By staging public performance-art spectacles that shift the status of all participants, protagonists and audiences alike to witnesses, he attempts to understand how the role of the witness has a responsibility in producing evidence of what the event was. www.leecampbellartist.blogspot.com
Lee presented an overview of his research, titled ‘How to Make a Witness’. His project engages current debates on the documentation of live performance by shifting the status of the protagonist and audience to that of ‘witness’. He listed 8 key concepts, or ‘keywords’ (after Raymond Wiliams) in his project:
1) liminality 2) location 3) temporality 4) ‘theatrical persona’ 5) liveness
6) reflexivity 7) witness 8) recording)
These key concepts, taken from the critical framework of performance art, are deployed as methods or ‘survival tactics’ in his research, and the research process is understood as a bricolage of these tactics. Lee emphasised how useful the PhD has been for clarifying and establishing his relationship to the terms on which he bases his works and hypotheses.
He considers the research process to be ‘liminal’ – a transition state between two points. For Lee, research is like the time-based medium of performance itself, unfolding in real time and subject to change.
He talked about cultural theorist Peggy Phelan’s take on the issue of documentation– she’s anti- performance documentation, and thinks the ontology of the performance itself is paramount. He also noted her account of performance art itself as a liminal phenomenon, situated somewhere between theatre and fine art. This gives rise to questions about where performance art should be located.
Responding to a quote by Tim Etchells, Lee distinguished between the terms ‘spectator’ and ‘witness’. Witnessing can take 2 forms of engagement, either by chance or choice. When an audience knows what they’re going to see, their experience of the performance is pre-conditioned.
For Lee, protagonist and audience are observing each other in the performance. He talked about the responsibility of the audience to provide ‘evidence’ of what occurred in the performance, thus making them responsible for how a performance lives on.
There was substantial discussion about forms of documentation: Lee talked about the materiality of the record in relation to a series of works ‘paintings of a performance nobody saw’. He talked about a drawing’s capacity to be a recorder – to be a witness, describing drawing as a liminal, non-traditional form of recording a performance. The idea of ‘over-recording’ came up – the idea that documentation takes over! Performative writing – the ability of text to account for an event, vs ability of image to account for an event.
We discussed the idea of the theatrical persona, and what kind of license that gives the performer.
Ope began her presentation by contextualising herself, stating “I speak from the position of being a black, lesbian, second generation, middle class woman, living in London.” She then went on to show a series of videos to demonstrate the ways she has dealt with and started to define her research question within her practice.
In her videos she juxtaposes women of different skin colour, surveying their colour, poses and gazes through the lens of her camera, and investigating the power relationships between them. She is interested in the power of the image to seduce the viewer, in the performance of the stereotyped and the way two bodies inform each other's identity.
Ope presented a video piece in which two women use a gun as a prop, pointing it at each other in turn. The gun is then pointed directly at the camera, creating a tension between the audience and protagonists, and shifting the dynamics between the viewer and the viewed.
For another video piece, Ope was prompted by stereotypical media images of black males in relation to gun crimes in 2009. She was interested in how these images and broader media narratives impacted the public imagination and in whether they may have been projected onto her. Did such images or narratives have an effect on the way she was characterised as the dominant figure in her relationship with her girlfriend?
In revisiting this question during her research, she started to dig into lesbian screen narratives, as an arena where the staging of power dynamics can easily be seen in interracial couples. This started a visual investigation into the ways she could adopt processes of re-visualisation and recoding in order to break up power relations, race, sexuality and gender assumptions/stereotypes.
She then started articulating this visually through her video, 'Man’s Greatest Tragedy/ Who’s The Fairest' by making visible the codes of juxtaposition, colour and non conventional communication. She asked once more, how can the black woman be given feminine status when next to the white woman?
Ope said "One of the reasons into this way of seeing, is, as suggested by Bell Hooks, due to the impact of slavery and imperialism, where black women were seen as surrogate men, due to doing labouring work as well as domestic duties".
Ope drew several references to films such as ‘She Must be Seeing Things’, ‘The Watermelon Woman', ‘The Women’ and Sally Potter's ‘Gold Diggers’ as well as the analytical writings of Frantz Fanon for whom the mark of blackness was equated to masculinity. Fanon's book - 'White Skin/Black Mask' has been a useful resource.
Several questions were put to Ope regarding her desire to reposition the black women on the map as the object of the gaze, in making her spectacle and in giving her feminine status when next to the white woman.
In particular, how might her work be read within feminist discourses, and how will she navigate the pitfalls of objectification and rarification in her own forms of representation?
She was also asked about the importance of using her own body in her videos and whether this was a phenomenological consideration in her work. A discussion about the personal situatedness of practice led research followed.