Marina Hadjilouca

The Social Turn: The Performance Designer as Trigger for Active Co-existence

PhD Viva completed 2020-2021

The Social Turn: The Performance Designer as Trigger for Active Co-existence

ABSTRACT

This practice-based research asks how performance design can be used towards triggering active co-existence in contested public spaces. The site of research is the south walled city of Nicosia, in Cyprus. 

The investigation aims to find tools for the performance designer to take on a more active political role. To achieve this, the research draws from social art practice. By investigating the role of the performance designer, the research contributes towards the expanding field of scenography, and seeks to establish the contribution of the field towards socially engaged practices (agency of objects, space and materiality, as well as that of the movement of bodies). Through this practice, performance design is taken outside of theatrical orthodoxies and applied as a methodology into the urban site. This process allows the investigation to expand and problematise on the notion of site specificity. 

The practice-based research focuses on Phaneromeni Square, a contested public space due to gentrification, in the south walled city of Nicosia. Nicosia is the last divided capital in Europe and deals with debates around equality and the use of space across lines of ethnicity, class, gender and age, as well as claims to territory and of national belonging, on a daily basis. These debates tend to be overshadowed by the Cyprus Problem, the ethno-national matter that has been at the epicentre of public discourse over the last five decades. As a result, the interest of most members of the artistic community whose work focuses on the walled city of Nicosia, tends to be directed towards the Buffer Zone and the conflicts that arise from the ethno-national matter. This enquiry acknowledges the importance and the effect of the Buffer Zone in Nicosia, which is still in place. However, the thesis chooses to focus on the urgent matter of the growing number of domesticated and privatised public spaces in the south walled city. 

To identify the multiple layers of complexity entangled in these public spaces, the investigation draws from cultural geography, and Doreen Massey’s (2005) concept of the spatio-temporal event. The notions of the political and of agonism, as defined by Chantal Mouffe (2005; 2013), are used to define a new concept: active co-existence. The thesis employs theories on domestication, privatisation and gentrification to outline types of contested public spaces. The theoretical frameworks inform the practice of this research and contribute to the notion of site specificity. The practice is carried out by designing a series of tools for temporary scenographic interventions. The scenographic interventions are intended to: a) be used as methods of research by other artists and designers, whose practice is concerned with contested public spaces, to determine the needs and conflicts between different users and stakeholders; b) act as methods of social engagement and as triggers for active co-existence; and c) be deployed as educational toolkits. Finally, by identifying the role of the performance designer as trigger for active co-existence, the research develops a manifesto for the performance designer as social agent.

Key words: performance design, social art practice, public space, site specificity, conflict.

Website: www.marinahadjilouca.com