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Sara Warner

Cornell University
Object Lessons: How History Matters in the plays of Adrienne Kennedy and Suzan-Lori Parks
United States
This paper will discuss how two examples of theatrical activism have negotiated the politics of the post- or para-human (Rotman 2008) brought to the fore by virtual media and environmental change. Such politics rethink what it might mean to assemble a collective and rehabilitate embodied gesture as political action. In the case studies, humans and non-humans, experts and non-experts are convened in different configurations through performance, challenging stratifications of knowledge-making and modes of political representation. Manchester-based UHC Collective have combined art and activism in relation to a range of political objectives. In their 'ExtInked' project begun in 2009, they attempted to stimulate inter-species solidarities through tattooing 100 volunteers with drawings of endangered species. The act of tattooing and the gesture of wearing /representing another species constituted a new form of eco-political participation through the skin. Artist activist, ‘the vacuum cleaner’, has drawn on his own health and police records, collected through the Data Protection Act, in his 2013/14 solo performance entitled 'Mental'. In the work, via an act of excavation and translation, he reconstructs his autobiography both with and against his printed sources. These practices should be seen within the context of work on citizen science in their privileging of unauthorised expertise and creation of new solidarities (Leach et al. 2005). However, they also draw heavily on modes of theatricality in their gestural vocabularies and point towards a performance politics beyond a conservative vs. progressive binary.