Theatre Machines: PhD Development

I have undertaken a lot of practical teaching in the department since November and now I can return to the PhD.

Here is a brief update on my thesis plan, having long since moved beyond  framing the work within the notion of the ‘post-dramatic’ (a term that, I feel, has become misquoted and simplified, rendering it unusable when talking about visual work of this nature). Subsequently, the theoretical framing has become concentrated around Agamben and Kantor.

PhD Performance Practice Year 3 part-time

Theatre Machines: A practice based enquiry into the performance of objects. (Working Title)

Revised Thesis Plan (Artist Book )


Forget Kantor?


Chapter 1: The Anthropological Machine. (10,000 words)

Chapter 2: How to build a String Machine Part 1: Reading Objects. (10,000 words)


Chapter 3: The Stuttering Machine. (5000 words)

Chapter 4: How to build a String Machine Part 2: Performing Objects. (10,000 words)


Chapter 5: The Laughing Machine. (5000 words)

Chapter 6: How to build a String Machine Part 3: Cabinets of Wonder (5000 words)


Documents of Practice.


The book is the hard document of the thesis and organises the material generated from practice and critical reflection acting as both document and extension of creative practice. It is to be regarded as an integral part of encountering the practice and in this respect extends the curation of the materials generated from it. The book will be organised into three sections: Object, Animation, and Affect. Each section will consist of two chapters: an Essay that puts forward the theoretical concerns of the thesis and a section of an Instruction Manuel; How to build a String Machine that will be interleaved throughout. This structure reflects the intuition of the practice rather than the chronological execution of it so an unfolding of critical questions will made explicit alongside the unfolding of practice throughout. In this respect, the chapters can be read consecutively to chart the logic of the making process or as two individual sets.


Forget Kantor?


Chapter 1:  The Anthropological Machine. (10,000 words)

–          The object as disruptive device and punctuation. – The Theatre Machine as Anthropological Machine (Agamben)

–          Kantor Literature on the evolution of the bio-object

–          Objects/Props and ‘accompaniment’ to the actor (Brecht’s theatre poem W’s  Props)

–          Human/inhuman – the beast – the open – Remnants of Auschwitz etc.

–          Mini case studies of particular objects from Kantor’s work.

Chapter 2:  How to Build a String Machine Part 1: Reading Objects (10,000 words)

  1. Inventory: The chapter will begin with an inventory of the various instances of practice including contexts, objectives and initial details of each cabinet of work and a code that aids navigation through the instruction manual.
  2. The Prop Store: Object selection and reading objects – Theatre phenomenology nonhuman performativity, materiality and object agency –  the storage and discovery of object, the notion of overspill and object biography. (Miller, Latour, Rayner, O’States)
  3. Tool Kit: A pictorial description of the String machine kit and essential tools required for construction and observation and recoding.


Chapter 3: The Stuttering Machine (5000 words)


This essay will consider how moments of theatrical failure offer the possibility of the appearance of the human in mechanised theatre forms. Starting with Kliest’s perception of grace in his essay On the Marionette Theatre (1810) it will follow the logic of theatrical experiment to mechanise the human. Edward Gordon Craig’s theory of the Ubermarionette, Oskar Schlemmer’s Theatre of the Bauhaus and Tadeusz Kantor’s Theatre of Death (1975) will be utilised to trace this logic.  It will expand upon how the original intent was the eradication of failure as a precursor to grace but once realising this impossibility the forms embraced human failings, the breakdown becoming built within the mechanism itself. As Nicholas Ridout states “Theatre is a machine that sets out to undo itself. It conceives itself as an apparatus for the production of affect by means of representation, in the expectation that the most powerful affects will be obtained at precisely those moments when the machine appears to breakdown” (2006)

This chapter extends the thought of the first essay by taking the thinking of the objects as ‘things in themselves’ to putting them to work through animation at the point they encounter the human (the human encounters them) through a process of intentionality.

Chapter 4: How to Build a String Machine Part 2: Performing Objects (10.000 words)

  1. Space: A note on the black box theatre and fieldwork. (A History of Western Performance Space, David Wiles)
  2. Construction: Grey description of assembly, Sound, Light, Principle objects, secondary objects and materials, the cabinet (The control mechanism for the machine which refers to Agemben’s note on Gesture). Reference made to the construction techniques of other practitioners Fischli and Weiss, Jean Tinguley, Michael Landy, and Heath Robinson.
  3. Sketchbook: The function of the sketchbook in the design and planning process as well as sequence projections.
  4. Testing: Sequence making and testing the mechanism, potential of collapse.  Figuring myself within the mechanism (in reference to Kantor) and the operational function of the machine.
  5. Performance: Final sequence and the experience of performing.


Chapter 5:  The Laughing Machine (5000 words)


Henri Bergson makes the assertion in Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (1900) that the origin of laugher emanates from a person who gives us the impression of a thing, a behaviour that we think we can predict, that appears machine-like or ‘thingly’. Expanding upon the theatre machines of the previous essay this chapter will consider the affect of laughter that emerges when the human appears through the machine. Fischli and Weiss’ The Way Things Go (1987) and Jean Tinguely’s nonsense machines will be considered as exemplary forms of this affect as well as expanding the notion into the unsettling balance between humour and terror that such forms provoke, returning again to the bio-objects of Kantor.

Chapter 6: How to Build a String Machine 3: Cabinets of Wonder (5000 words)

1. Cabinets of Wonder: Reflective practice/documentation of final performance. Acting as a conclusion.

2. Principles of Making: A conclusive manifesto of making (that might also be interleaved throughout the thesis as concluding points at the end of each chapter). These principles offer a reflection on the notions of intuition and revealing and defining the common sense processes of the maker in the particular context of the practice.


Documents of Practice

The additional documentation material of all of the instances of practice will be added at the end of the book to offer a more complete picture of the practice in addition to the material within the main body of the thesis. This is to consider questions of what is left behind and to offer a transparency to the process as a whole.


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