Towards an Ecological Performance Aesthetic for the Bio-Urban: A Non-Anthropocentric Theory

Woynarski, Lisa Christine (2015) Towards an Ecological Performance Aesthetic for the Bio-Urban: A Non-Anthropocentric Theory. Doctoral thesis, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.


As current precarious ecological conditions require urgent and multi-scalar responses, performance has an opportunity to creatively respond to the ecological situation, opening up new ways of thinking and engaging the public’s imagination. Problematising differentiating practices that divide humans from ‘nature’, I suggest performance may highlight the interconnectedness of humans and the more-than-human world by theorising, revealing and critiquing ecological relationships. My research into an ecological performance aesthetic takes up this opportunity and conceives of new ways of critically thinking about performance. I engage a range of ecological philosophy, combined with ecodramaturgical analysis of performance, to theorise the intersection of performance and ecology. Ecodramaturgy (May 2010) combines ecocritical and applied approaches to performance with ecological ways of performance-making, and represents a critical extension to the discipline of performance studies.
Drawing on the ecomaterialism of Bennett (2010), Latour (2004), Alaimo (2013) and Barad (2012), I theorise ‘nature’ as a set of interconnected relationships, which disrupts the binaries between urban/nature, nature/culture, human/nonhuman. I coin the neologism the bio-urban to reflect the vibrancy and material agency of ecological relationships in urban settings. The focus on urban-based practice resists the rural bias present in much ecological writing (Harvey 1993b) and addresses a gap in scholarship around urban ecology in relation to performance. This research centres on a wide variety of illustrative, broadly site-based performance events, including urban gardening performances (and my own practice), walking and cycling performances, installation, live art, theatre pieces and work in places such as streets, mountains, (urban) meadows, cemeteries and rivers. I consider the way in which performance engages with the world, through the interrelated and overlapping discourses of postcolonial ecology, human geography and urban ecology.
An ecological performance aesthetic informs modes of practice, presentation and reception, within current ecological conditions. From the provocation of the bio-urban, I theorise immersion and ‘environmental participation’, drawing on the corporeality of our relationship to the space around us, following ecological phenomenology. I then examine oikos as (earthy or planetary) home and consider it in relation to dwelling, suggesting that ecological performance opens up a space for critiquing these ideas. The complex relationship between the local and global is characterised in performance through eco-cosmopolitanism (Heise 2008). Finally, I suggest a non-anthropocentric paradigm for performance, one that employs an ‘ecological anthropomorphism’ that accounts for the material agency of the more-than- human, as well as the human as a geophysical force (Chakrabarty 2012). The aim of the research is to articulate an ecological performance aesthetic, extending and developing the field of performance and ecology.


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