Is performance non-reproductive?



Christopher Mitchell is an artist who uses the name William Stopha in his artistic guise. Stopha’s main premise is borrowed from Blais and Ippolito [1] who said that the commodification of culture and the processes of technological innovation make us sick or make society in some way sick or dysfunctional. This is likened to a (controlling) viral onslaught on our bodies, and the provision of art is comparable to augmenting our immune systems by providing antibodies to fight the virus.                      

A particularly appropriate remedy for this sickness, argues Stopha, is provided by alternative artists and thinkers through performative work; performance is not commodified, it cannot be bought and sold like traditional art. Performance is a collaborative process involving one or more artists who act as facilitators for exploring and making meaning with their audience. Peggy Phelan, in discussing the integrity of performance, says “performance honours the idea that a limited number of people in a specific time/space can have an experience of value which leaves no visible trace afterwards.” [2]  Stopha is a spoken word/poetry performance artist who also uses film and music. The platform for his art is both live performance and his website, www.williamstopha.wordpress.com  At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2008, he performed the piece Will Stopha is Feeling a Little under the Weather – a direct reference to a viral infection. He put on his Fringe performances free, but nevertheless this does raise concerns that there is inevitably some bow to commodification because of cultural restraints and social norms associated with public performance. [3]

He quotes Phelan’s thesis that “Performance in a strict ontological sense is non-reproductive”. [4] The idea of non-reproduction here has more than one meaning. It can imply that something is not reproduced in terms of not repeated (each performance of Feeling a Little under the Weather was different); it can also mean non-reproduction in terms of availability to view at another time. But the very technology is essential in facilitating access to his work (blogs/you tube/video archive). In Stopha’s argument this is part of the viral cause of our society’s sickness. There is thus an inherent contradiction in that the use of contemporary technology is part of reaching his audience, but as a consequence may put that audience (us) at risk of feeling under the weather.

This anomaly is impossible to resolve; nevertheless I liked the accessibility of Stopha’s work, his logical thought processes and his reference to theory. I am in agreement with the argument of art as a curative power, but I think there are other forms of contemporary art besides performance which are equally valid in this context (not commodified) such as 2009 Turner Prize winner Richard Wright’s wall paintings. [5] They too are good prescriptions for a healthy society.


[1] Blais, J & Ippolito, J (2006) At the Edge of Art, London: Thames & Hudson, cited in  http://williamstopha.wordpress.com/2007/05/14/performance-and-poetry-resisting-the-commodification-of-political-art

[2] Phelan, P (1996) Unmarked, The Politics of Performance, London and New York: Routledge. p 149

[4] Phelan, P, (1996) Unmarked, The Politics of Performance, London and New York: Routledge cited in http://williamstopha.wordpress.com/2008/11/27/project-evaluation/

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