Submission for the Site ‘Suspending Absence’ after the Lost Bergen Crisis Collective! 11^th^ SAR International Conference on Artistic Research 2020

Reading in Performance


Emilie Gallier


‘Reading in Performance, Lire en Spectacle - The solitude of reading merged with the collective nature of an audience’ is my practice-as-research PhD (successfully defended in January 2021, Coventry University). This research offers to sit with readers in performance and to examine the documents they hold in their hands. What happens in performances when the audience is reading? For this practice-as-research, reading is a hyphen between the intensely discussed concepts of performance documentation and participation. In performances where the audience reads, documentation made for this audience is taken beyond questions of conservation, robustness, permanence, and availability. Reading is proposed as an implicated gesture of participation; a kind of participation that composes with withdrawal. ‘Reading in performance’ focuses on the solitude of reading merged with the collective nature of an audience in order to observe (and practice) our implication in the imaginations of others. Performances where the audience reads are proposed as dramaturgical tools to experience and rehearse the impersonal, to acknowledge that images in us do not belong to us.

The performance for the theatre space ‘Papier multiforme, Papier comestible’ is the fifth chapter of my dissertation. Presentations of the performance in 2020 were cancelled. The performance as chapter, which was to deliberately perform a vanishing trick for the future of the thesis, became a gap earlier than planed in this thesis. To the readers of my thesis, ‘Papier multiforme, Papier comestible’ is a ghost, haunting it. The performance inspired my use of characters in the thesis’ introduction: the bookworms, the hostess, the magician in doubt, the evaporated writer, the ghosts, a dance that has never been danced. The performance influenced the format of my thesis, which includes absence (the gone performance, dissolved documentation, and participation through withdrawal).


‘Papier multiforme, Papier comestible’ was last presented on March 7th 2020, at the theatre Frascati, in Amsterdam. Nina Boas, Camille Gerbeau, Katinka Marac, and myself, were preparing for a rehearsal in Bergen in the end of that month, in anticipation of a UK premiere in May 2020. Arranging practicalities for the rehearsal, I exchanged a few emails with the technician of the University of Bergen, Olav Tveitane. We were organizing the delivery of the four meters long roll of black paper that is at the core of our performance. On March 10th, 8.29am, I read: « Dear Emilie, I hope you have not sent the paper roll - if not, please put it on hold for a few hours. I’ll get back to you. Best, Olav ».

‘Papier multiforme, Papier comestible’ is on hold for many months. Books of edible paper that perform in this piece went to the storage where they reached their expiry date.

Page of the edible book ‘Papier comestible’ (2020)

Pressing pause on a moving image does not stop the movement. But there are flickers, interference and cuts.

March 10th, 2020, 8.33am, I write: « Yes, I will wait, Best, Emilie ». In the waiting, I turned to practices of ‘Papier multiforme, Papier comestible’ that were not being public (yet). At rehearsals for that performance, we practiced reading with a tactile gaze: an indirect way of reading through association of ideas. The daydreams emerging from this tactile gaze helped us sense what we called the ghosts of our performance: characters, things, landscapes, stories, and presences we did not directly perceive in the performance. Attending to these ghosts during rehearsals, we were able to invoke them in the moment of the performance, so they would be with us through their absent presences. After we pressed pause for ‘Papier multiforme, Papier comestible’, this practice of the tactile gaze moved out of our rehearsal space to take the space of the telephone.

I hold my phone, I dial and enter a listening space.

This space is a cave with multiple entrances, like tunnels.

It is an arena, a circus.

It is a black box theatre without walls.

It is a womb.

I am in this space and at the same time I am in a room with a window.

There is the view from my window.

I hear voices, allo, allo, hi.

‘Papier telephone’ is a phone performance, which joined the collection of practices – ‘Les papiers’ - connected to my research on reading in performance. Although the performance over the phone departs from the situation of co-presence of readers in the theatre space, ‘Papier telephone’ continues my engagement with vicarious participation in performance (after Sruti Bala) that composes with withdrawal and absence. Reading a book, readers are in the present absences of other voices (the authors, characters). Similarly on the phone, callers are in the present absences of voices, interference, and textures. The format of the phone enables some practice of absence, distances, and some kind of blindness between the agents of ‘Papier telephone’ who do not hold a document in performance but who hold their phone, who are not physically seeing others on the other side of the line but who sense their presences. In this sensorial distribution, images surface. The act of seeing withdraws and turns into a tactile act, seeing is a dance and an imagining in relation. Callers of ‘Papier telephone’ are invited to doodle while listening. Doodling is experimented as a device showing our entanglement. Our implications with the imagination of others is rehearsed, and further practiced through listening in, listening out, and possibly doodling with a pen on paper.

Callers who hold the line of ‘Papier telephone’ host the polyphonic dance(s) in delicate invisible ways. The collective phone call is an invitation to use performance as a divination device, helping us through a collective act to move towards our imbricated futures.

The doodle of a caller of ‘Papier telephone’, June 2020.


Feel invited. Listen to one or more recordings of ‘Papier Telephone’.




Another way to be the host of our rehearsal is to ask us for a phone call. You can invite a group of callers and ask us to practice ‘Papier telephone’ with you.

Since March 10th 2020, edible books ‘Papier comestible’ perished and turned into ‘Papier incomestible’, small solitary book performances that you can also hold and host. https://www.booksonthemove.fr/produit/papier-incomestible/

Back side of the postcard inviting callers of ‘Papier telephone’ in October 2020.

‘Papier incomestible’, March 2020