Performance – A different perspective on the work of Chris Mitchell, week 4

Student with learning difficulties – please read fast to get better comprehension of text.

I found Chris Mitchell’s performance work to be extremely stimulating, mostly due to the fact he had chosen to subvert the traditional written conventions expected from academia and in doing so had made it more accessible. The written word in academia seems to have an authority that cannot be matched by any other method of expression. I felt that the the type of word spoken poetry and visuals utilised by Chris, really worked in addressing and questioning pre-existing academic formats. I was happy to also discover that his university had allowed him to submit his dissertation through the method of performance, how refreshing!

In the session of performance I attended I was able to grasp the theory regarding the ‘antidote to a sick society’, in a much quicker way than if I was to read it from an academic book. I believe that there is an over – reliance in current academia to utilise unnecessary complex technical language just to fit into an elite theorist academic ‘club’. I feel that performance, especially the method utilised by  Chis or William Stopha (Chis’ stage name) can go a long way in deconstructing some of the unnecessary complexity and rigidity presented by the academic written word. One of the reasons I feel I was so receptive to Chris’ work was that I have been introspecting my learning difficulties dyscalculia and possible non verbal learning disorder and  have discovered that I find solace in the rote spoken word. My prime method of assimilating and retaining information is verbal; even when I write or read, the voice in my head vocalises it for me, as I am unable to visualise anything –  I do not have a mind’s eye. Instead my mind’s ear allows me to assimilate the visual into a way I can interpret and understand. Without the use of visual memory, I rely heavily on rote or repetitive memory and like Chris, can recite long streams of learned text from memory. So a performance of theories, in a dynamic verbal manner is a perfect method of assimilation that suits my style of learning.  There is a growing consensus amongst the learning disordered community that rather than a deficit, these difficulties are merely different ways in thinking, and perhaps even a result of being ‘left out’ of constructs built by society, in what is now in the west a very visual culture. Needless to say, I was unsurprised to learn that Chris too had found solace in the spoken word due to his own learning difficulties with the written word. If I had my way, I would like others and perhaps myself to personally deconstruct, challenge and assimilate more academic literature in this manner. There are however complexities in using performance in this manner, Peggy Phelan in (148, helan,P., 1996. Unmarked: the politics of performance London: Routledge) identifies that performance is a live and instantaneous event that cannot effectively be reproduced, or even if recorded,

Performance’s only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation or representations of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance. To the degree that performance attempts to enter the economy of reproduction it betrays and lessens the promise of its own ontology. (148,helan,P.1996)

In academia this could pose problems, and I am sure this is one stance  that  academic purists could take when objecting to the idea of  performance; that the written word can be reproduced in a potentially unaltered, enduring format and could arguably be made more accessible this way through essays and books.  Personally, although I recognise this potential problem in the reproduction of performance, I am willing to pass it over as I believe the accessibility of the theories and concepts outweighs this arguably negative aspect, not only for people who learn in a different manner such as myself, but for a new generation of students who have grown up with new technologies and multimedia – which as well as displaying text, can showcase audio and visuals in a very accessible manner. Even whilst watching a reproduction of the performance I saw Chris perform via the internet (which you can also do here) I noticed I was still as receptive to the theories and ideas, just as I was when I saw it live. So although performance has its limitations, I hope Chris continues to perform in this manner  and hopefully will encourage others to do the same. I for one will be checking back to see if there are any new recordings of his performances online, reproduction or not.

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2 Responses to Performance – A different perspective on the work of Chris Mitchell, week 4

  1. Clare Gosling says:

    Alexa, I like how you commented on how you found it refreshing that Chris’s dissertation was performed instead of handed in as a word count format, I think it is very interesting how often students with learning difficulties become very creative. I saw the other day a man who was born blind, with autism and with severe learning difficulties perform. He has been called a musical genius and was the most amazing piano player I have ever seen and had the whole audeince (a big audience) at the royal albert hall captivated. He can play any song, in any key upon request. It was very inspiring that someone that started out in life with so many obtacles has overcome them and hqas used the fact that he can’t see to channel it into his piano playing. The words that have really stuck in my mind from Chris’s performance were. “It’s home made but it’s never ever average” I don’t know why but maybe because he repeated it several times. It is nice to see someone dealing with the theory in such an exciting way, you could really feel that he loved doing what he does. Clare

  2. Alexa says:

    Thanks for the reply,

    Do you know who the man you went to see at the albert Hall was? I would be very interested to look him up. It sounds amazing.

    It struck me that I too have an ability with music, to be able to play along to something after I have heard it only once. I can play on most instruments whether or not they are in tune and get the right notes. It makes up for not being able to read notation or tabs!

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