Repeating and disrupting embodied histories through performance: Exhibit A Mies Julie and Itsoseng

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Peer-Reviewed Research


The concern about South African arts being - as Achille Mbembe claims - ‘stuck in repetition’ can be challenged by examining developments in the performance arts which deliberately employ repetition. In these cases repetition is played with not just as a process of voiding or emptying out, but also to reconceptualise and embody historical and lived experiences. This can involve re-enactments of images, texts and theatrical styles which are worked upon and productively problematised through performance as a live event. In looking at the performance aesthetics of repetition, Diana Taylor’s The archive and the repertoire (2003) provides a useful context, since Taylor’s work straddles the disciplinary intersections between performance studies, anthropology and history. As point of departure, this article focuses on three works produced at the 2012 National Arts Festival, since the accumulation of new and not-new works viewed in quick succession offers scope for identifying aesthetic trends and shifts. Brett Bailey’s Exhibit A, Yael Farber's Mies Julie, and Omphile Molusi's Itsoseng, for instance, demonstrate various aspects of an aesthetics of repetition. The embodied histories that are performed in these works throw up a number of paradoxes. However, the productions do not simply circulate performing bodies as empty aesthetic images, but as transmitters of cultural memory, as well as witnesses to states of profound transition that engage both performers and audiences alike.