We are a research group at the University of Aberdeen from a diverse range of disciplines in the College of Arts and Social Sciences, all with a shared interest in performance in all its forms – from theatrical and musical performance to performance in the sphere of the visual arts to religious practice and ritual. Under the rubric of “performing the past,” this group seeks to identify ways of employing performance to bring past events, figures or works of art to life through various performance media (sound, light, choreography), so that phenomena from the past emerge as presences whose fascinating and often uncanny otherness can be experienced in the present moment and made accessible to a wide array of audiences. Consequently, a focus of the group is public engagement, as researchers in different fields come together to utilize performance to showcase their work in various strands of the humanities. It is also focused on research-led teaching, and integrating performativity into the classroom experience.
Our approach to this topic is based on recent developments across performance studies, media theory, visual culture, sound-studies and post-deconstructive thought (particularly the work of Jean-Luc Nancy and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht). These developments indicate a shift of attention away from an engagement with art whereby the primary focus is on the transmission, interpretation or attribution of an identifiable meaning or significance. Instead, scholarship across these fields has increasingly focused on the performative and material specificity of art and creative practices, and on the way in which these produce or perform ‘presence’ as a tangible, material, perceptual event, however ephemeral or fleeting this may be.