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On Anthropomorphism, Performance Research 20.2 (April 2015)
full name / name of organization:
Shaun May, University of Kent
Edited by Richard Allen (University of Worcester) and Shaun May (University of Kent)
Proposal Deadline: 6 June 2014
The term ‘anthropomorphism’ relates to a complex of interesting and mutually contradictory ideas, which this issue aims to explore. On the one hand it is used to refer to something that resembles a human, and on the other hand it refers to our natural tendency to read human characteristics in the non-human object or animal. An interrogation of anthropomorphism suggests that there is not a singular line dividing the human from the non-human but a vast terrain that houses the comical, the uncanny and the abject. In a reversal of Bergson’s famous maxim (1980), Simon Critchley argues that the thing that gives us the impression of being human invokes laughter (2002: 58), but Masahiro Mori’s ‘uncanny valley’ suggests that the almost-human object is often repellent (1970). Moreover, in the anthropomorphic animal we sometimes glimpse the reflection of mammalian urges and finitude that, in our ambitions for transcendence, we humans often strive to forget.
Bruno Latour complicates things further when he insists that ‘anthropos and morphos together mean either that which has human shape or that which gives shape to humans’ (2009: 237). Homo sapiens, more than any other creature, exists in a world of artefacts -- objects that are arguably both man-made and man-making. Yet the environmental crisis surrounding us demands that we move beyond practical utility and relate to the more-than-human world in terms of its more-than-humanness. In this way, the demand of ecology might be understood as a demand to critically examine this anthropomorphism. What precisely this involves, and whether it is actually possible, are open questions that the proposed issue hopes to address.
In short, the aim of this issue is to elucidate anthropomorphism in its multitude of aspects, thereby shedding light on discourses around object theatre and ecological performance that aim to understand the more-than-human world in a way that goes beyond ‘mere’ anthropomorphism. To do this it will draw on voices from a range of disciplines including performance studies, fine art, sociology, philosophy, ecology and psychology. Each in its own way grapples with the boundaries between the anthropomorphic and non-anthropomorphic -- often disagreeing about where one draws the line and what traversing it tells us about humanity and the world beyond it. In doing so, this issue of Performance Research 'On Anthropomorphism’ will open up perspectives on contemporary, cross-disciplinary and experimental performance and their relation to discourses on, and beyond, anthropomorphism.
Practitioners and work that contributors might touch on include, but are by no means limited to: Miet Warlop’s sequences of object actions and materially obscured human figures; Philippe Quesne and Vivarium Studio’s dense object-led dramaturgies and ecological images; the shifting human figure through Dieter Roth’s large scale video installation Diaries; Haroon Mirza’s sculptural sound installations of drones, buzzes and beeps; Phia Ménard’s dancing bags in L’après-midi d’un foehn and Vortex; Paul McCarthy’s animated humanoids and performance masks and props; Jan Svankmajer’s stop-motion animation; Nathaniel Mellor’s Shakespeare-performing robot heads and what Nenagh Watson calls ‘Ephemeral Animation’.
We invite contributions that interrogate any of the ideas and practices mentioned above, and particularly ones that address any or all of the following areas:
Ecology and Anthropomorphism:
‘On Anthropomorphism’ invites artists, poets, practitioners, theorists and writers to submit proposals for unpublished and critical articles (between 2,000 and 6,000 words), documents, texts or artist's pages, which address anthropomorphism in relation to contemporary performance practices.
ALL proposals, submissions and general enquiries should be sent direct to:
General Guidelines for Submissions: