Performance as Research Working Group 

 Proceedings of the meeting at the IFTR (International Federation for Theatre Research) conference, University of Hyderabad, India 6.-10.7.2015. 


Myer Taub


Loathing an item of food, a piece of filth, waste or dung. The spasm and vomiting protect me. The repugnance, the retching that thrusts me to the side and turns me away from defilement, sewage and muck. The shame of compromise, of being in the middle of treachery. The fascinated start that leads me toward and separates me from them (Kristeva 1982:230). 

No, as in true theatre, without makeup or masks, refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. These bodily fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands, hardly and with difficulty, on the part of death. There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being (Kristeva 1982:231). 

Working with waste has turned everything inside out. For the past twelve months I have been working on an ongoing research project associated with the themes of waste alongside ideas of performance, narrative and concept and in that time I have begun to realise that waste is a disobedient form, that in being radioactive signals a particular kind of live-ness that embodies an affect of protest and disobedience. Waste is a complex phenomena that will resist being managed but rather calls for an alternate procedure of re-management. Consider some of Kristeva’s approach to abjection as a ‘ fascinated start that leads me toward and separates me from them’ (ibid), positioned also ‘as the border of my condition’ (231) signalling how inversion enables the translation of my practice and research experiences while reflecting on working with waste in the past year (2014-2015) in a project I will later contextualise called The Social Life of Waste / Art. (SLOW). The very vastness of the contemporary metaphor of waste, as a social-cultural and political schema of human condition is invested also as bodily assemblages that ‘disturbs identity, systems and order...’ (1982:4). Thus waste evoked in the embodiment of its practice is much an inversion as it is a disturbance in the reflection of the practice. 

These are corollaries of agitation, with which I want to extend the reflective narrative of the research further, informing an overarching metaphor to the shape of the research narrative: in both its making and its reflection, and furthermore to consider how a reflexive mechanism within the research might operates or perform the very inversions, and disturbances that evoke waste, agitating (agitating and inverting) not only social and cultural parameters but the very borders, demarcated by what is defined as research itself. This narrative forms part of a protest, not only in evoking waste as a form of protest but by using also core examples of protesting with waste to exemplify the value and the predicament of waste and to suggest how this paper itself protests, performing protest against fixed identities, systems and order. And – (So as to further paraphrase Kristeva), in order to consider how in utilising notions of the abject is to protest against a system that means ‘without either wanting or being able to become integrated in order to answer it, it reacts, it abreacts. It abjects. (Kristeva 1982:231) and therefore disobeys. 



Here are three images without a context. I want to return to them later. 

]But first more of the context. These are of course all reflexive moments of putting back a paper with degrees of various kind of disturbances that in turn present mechanics of how we understand making meaning from the things we do and make. So to provide a context of this paper two things need to be put at the fore: one that this paper has had its first public presentation and performance at the Performance as research working group panel at the International Federation of Theatre Researching Hyderabad in 2015. In this presentation I tried as I do presently to reflexively present my research in a manner that reflects and embodies dramaturgically the histories of its own making thus the paper as it presented waste attempted to turning everything inside out: 

(Video insert is shown) 

Video Insert: “Trasher Hunt” (Maboneng, Johannesburg, filmed with local Basotho waste-pickers, author and Chris Saunders. 2014. 6:04mins) 

(Once the video insert is complete, without any explanation, the author/reader reads the following text that is also projected to an audience) 

One: Loss

I have a habit of losing things. Recently, I lost a notebook. This notebook.

(Lifts up notebook and shows it)



Fig 1. Of notebook. 

It happened last week, (30th June 2105), a Tuesday evening during the first workshop of the first regional meeting of SLOW: The Social Life of Waste – Art. A multi-disciplinary research project and network based in the Southern African Region of four of its cities: Harare, Maputo, Pretoria and Johannesburg, whose network includes artists, academics, activists and waste workers who want to explore various possibilities of Waste-Art (multi-disciplinary art works based on artists utilizing waste / trash / garbology / recycling / up-cycling and permaculture, and who want to understand how these practices may be shared as new pathways out of poverty and as resistance to environmental violence). 

This notebook, in fact is a back up notebook - one I use and call upon when my other notebooks are lost. So its status, is like being a back up, or like a reservist’s archive – a relic to other notebooks, lost or trashed, and thus has a considerable status... And in it, I have notes, notes I can trace as chronological features of loss and absence as much as they fetishize and chart the beginning of my mourning of the loss of a notebook. I mourn the loss of a notebook because I believe the loss of this kind of document is irretrievable, a loss: deep and personal, suggesting something about myself as a failure, looser, and or victim... Who would take my notebook? I asked, as the SLOW network of artists and researchers sat down for dinner in Pretoria on that Tuesday evening. ... What a waste of thought, documentation, ideas as I considered how the theme of waste had once again extended beyond in its initial theme of working with trash. My sense of loss here was aggravated by both a feeling of personal loss, and of someone else’s’ loss. This was Louis (not his real name) a white Afrikaans anthropology research student attached to the SLOW network who had his wallet stolen out of his bag on the second day of this first regional workshop meetings. When I had discovered my loss, I then aligned it to Louis and felt that had there was an association between these two moments of loss that occurred during this project-of whiteness, privilege, vulnerability... I became alarmed how this network fuelled with such good social intentions, was also providing safety for a malevolent thief in its midst, and if this was the case, was this thief’s intent of sabotaging, both network and project, stealing from its comrades, the participants. So angrily I made my feelings quite public, at this Tuesday night workshop dinner - alarming most participants. Their alarm now also aggravated by my growing outburst: “How could you care for the social life of waste when there is such a lack of empathy for these examples of loss?” I suggested searching every participant at the restaurant, this upmarket Greek restaurant in the upper class Pretoria suburb of Waterkloof. My aggravation was refuted and calmed by my more reasonable colleagues who assured me that my notebook was not lost nor stolen;? rather I had left it behind at the guesthouse. Which later I discovered to be true so it was there... Naturally I apologized profusely to everyone. Most, in good humour, asked if this was a performance as intervention - so to channel the real loss emanating from the loss of Louis’s wallet, which was never found. 

I use this example of my lost notebook and the lost wallet because it indicates a need to understand how the transversal is not only a mode of exchange that is particular to this project as a network;? but becomes the shape of the dimensional method of practice. The dimensional methods of practice that such a diverse network might collectively embody so as to co experience and co create. Here lines of transmission and contact made between difference embodied in race, class, distance, regions, freedom, labour, culture and capital subjectively occur not only in the content of research – in the idea of waste, as an energetic mode of failed but reproducible and redeemable systems, but also is systems made in between people, from different diverse spaces and places, as regional neighbours who are attempting to build relationships and commonalities out of the broadest themes of waste It also points to the roles we might consciously and unconsciously perform when undertaking such a project and embarking on such a network. These are roles I myself continue to draw on, embody, activate and resist - the roles of the loser, the agitator, the victim, the oppressor, the activist, the interventionist, the facilitator, the administrator, the neighbour and conversationalist - all performed as and fronted from within the dimensions that waste can embody. For beyond its obvious environmental concerns, in this case of waste as environmental as loss and as tragedy, it is possible to extend and recycle its points of crises as structural transmissions of the transversal that can engender systems of co-creation. 

Two: Systems (Methods) 

I want to peer further into my notebook where I have made such a sketch of this kind of system that might not only inform some more of this project / network but how I - within the project and its network might be able to perform in its so to as to suggest it as a ecosystem of performance. 


Fig.2. Peering further into the notebook to find a system. 

(Scrutinizes the notebook and shows off one of the drafted systems) 

Baz Kershaw indicates how the interpolation of the visible made invisible in performance is to ‘expose the paradoxes involved in using tools–in this case the dramaturgical and performance tools–to dismantle what the tools have made’ (2007: 259). Kershaw, as I understand it - is specifying how integrating and disintegrating- performance and ecology-is an example of the possible traversable nature in their interrelation. Felix Guattarri writes how: ‘More than ever today, nature has become inseparable from culture;? and if we are to understand the interactions between ecosystems, the mechanosphere, and the social and the individual universes of references, we have to learn to think ‘transversally’ (135:1989). Thinking transversally is an opportunity in this reflection to expand on - the above and the below - to consider how the contextual exchanges in the research might become methods that integrate artistic practice and waste as traversable modes of research translation. 

What I am really implying here is how a method will inform a methodology of translating a practice that is informed by its own content. And is that possible? If the content is waste– ---- and the aim is to recycle waste - How is it to perform waste? Furthermore how does performance become a mode of recycling and how might waste embody a method that will inform a methodology of practice and research. 

Fig. 3. Highlighting quotes concerning the above. 

• ‘Surely the state is the sewer. Not just because it spews divine law from its ravenous mouth but because it reigns as the law of cleanliness above its sewers’ (Laporte, History of Shit). ?

• ‘The civic toilette was about controlling markers of organic time so that time might be endure the markers of death;? those of blood, excrement, secretions, rotting and dead matter. It therefore involved the deepest fears and anxieties of those who governed and those who were governed’ (Patrick Joyce 2002: 107). ?

• Talk Shit (phrase sourced from the everyday)

Three: Conversations (Methodologies)

If the above provocations / quotations might inform how exchange managed between content and form in particular in the genre of waste will present a trajectory from method to methodology, I would like to consider how this is a dialectic that elaborates conversation as a methodological stating point. ?

And before I continue to elaborate on exchange as value lets me start with my justification of exchange as conversation as a starting methodology. The conversation is staged, but also spontaneous, reflective as it is reflexive. It is as Monica Szewyck suggests a demand ‘to suspend, boggle or otherwise challenge available discourses and we turn to develop a discourse to elaborate evasions, deferrals, or misunderstandings of its available notions (2010:1). 

In order to begin to watch what we say - the project and its networks began only to talk for six months without any other activity. Here were its only potential participants talking, and talking, and talking about its possibilities without any real actions. The actions collectively could only occur when we had spoken together about what things mattered. This took time and there were complexities about subjectivity, relationships between artists and researchers, concerns about ethics, power, homogeneity, autocracy and exclusivity. Talking eroded some of these concerns and began to represent the network. During our first regional workshop in Pretoria two participants from one of the Harare regional partners, Kufunda Village facilitated the shape of the first workshop through their “Art of Hosting” – which is a particular yet also freely associated and interactive form of activating collectives to speak on their own terms - in order to speak freely, to “check in” and to “check out”, to host ideas as much as to harvest them freely in order develop individual and collective contributions to the network so as to form ‘a web of practitioners and not an organization’ (Kufunda 2015) 

Four: Institutions (Interventions as Resistance) 

The network in resisting organizational structures still remains with in the domain of the infrastructure of the university. A complex paradox of both support and lack of it, considering how the institution and its inhabited spaces itself might be remapped though performative acts of resistance. Here I would like to briefly allude to the history of the poo protest in specifically the Western Cape. Protests launched by pitching human faeces at most provincial legislative buildings as a series of protests against poor protest delivery in this province of South Africa 2013. This has recently culminated in throwing human shit at the statue of the colonialist Cecil John Rhodes. University authorities as a result of the poo protest that manifested into the “Hash-tag Rhodes Must Fall” campaign in April 2015 eventually removed the statue. Poo protests as per formative gestures, using human waste as agent of change have occurred in South Africa, in Zimbabwe, Guantanamo Bay, Belfast, and in Jharkhand State where protestors organized a mass public shit in. Abhay Xaxa leader of the Jharkhand dump demonstration is quoted as saying how ‘protest is not a new form of agitation in fact throughout history whenever oppressed masses have dropped their shit as arsenal, rulers have been shaken because it marks the beginning of social uprisings (India Resists 2015) 


Five: Place (Intervention as Dwelling)

(Talks about the next series of photographs without written text only spoken word)

Fig 5. Hulene Landfill, Maputo 2014. Finding “Pretty Woman” 

Fig 6. Hulene Landfill, Maputo 2014. Becoming “Pretty Woman”

Fig 8. Hulene Landfill, Maputo 2014. Being “Pretty Woman” 

Six: Values: (Exchanges) 

(Presents one more quote, and if there is time, a spontaneous memory without image/only memory) 

The theory and praxis approach of the projects emanating from how this network draws on the ‘social life of things’ perspective by understandings things (as commodities or as gifts) as developed by Arjun Appadurai (1986). The notion of exchange considers conversations as part of this currency of exchange not only as an methodological enquiry of the project but also points to exchange as a possibility of translating the interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary links of the project as part of a performance as research enquiry. 

Seven: Perforations (Technologies of the You)

(Talks to the audience) 

I want to perforate this present enclosure by asking you to find a piece of paper alongside you. Write on it how you feel about waste. Crumble it up as if you are about to throw it away and then don't, give it to the person next you, and ask them to open up your wasteful ball of waste and have an intimate conversation. Thank you. 

True exteriority 

Maxwele Chumani as an extension of this paper not an after thought. In the past year there have been a series of protests in South Africa driven by students at the universities who have demanded transformation including language policies, the dismantling of contested colonial statues and tropes on campuses and the end to student fees culminating in two specific movements: #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall. The significance of waste in relation to this dissent is that when these protests began it was signalled by a University of Cape Town activist and student protest leader Chumani Maxwele who in April 2015 threw faeces at the statue of colonialist Cecil John Rhodes that promulgated the beginning of the nationwide student protest and the dismantling of the contentious statue itself. Several months later I travelled to Cape Town to interview Maxwele who had just been released from prison because of his involvement in the fees protests at the university. Below are my notes of the interview that will inform a follow-up paper to the present one. 

Protest and Chumani Maxwele: “The issue of poo is very metaphoric for us,’’ said protest leader Chumani Maxwele. “We’re using metaphor for us to explain our collective black pain. We show our collective disgust.”(Online Al Jazeera April 2015) 

The intersection and timing of our meeting 

1)  Specific acts of protest ?

2)  Value of Protest ?

3)  The discourse of protest remains ?

4)  Specific acts of protest means

“there are non specific acts tom protest” – non violence is non specific rather they are popular acts of politics – vs confined vs categorization vs specificity but what then happens when the gesture becomes specific? - when the protest becomes qualified ?

Problems of castigation of protest of violence vs vandalism?These are epidemics and philosophical and were inter-related to present protest 

5)  Didn’t invent it.

6)  Already had actions of protest poor people history of the protest - expulsion of the domestic.

7)  Reverted and inverted the domestic space – contrary to the specific

8)  Question of the affluent vs the and below

9)  The movement is historical, colonial, post-colonial, about site, historical, realistic

10) Linked specifically and deemed to be about waste of histories....

11) The violence here is a careful act of violence

12) Blackness is fearfulness

13) Fears of losing government subsidy

14) Stomach politics

15) Pain and real suffering

16) People are expressing private expressions of pain

17) The careful act of violence is a deliberate act as not to fit into stereotypes but to affirm the role of the intellectual – to speak truth to power

18) The discourse remains everyone will interpret the discourse

19) Ritualized because of the idea of what remains

20) Site c – leave with porta loo -day – took a taxi- driven by a immigrant – site 

and space and objects have to intersected metaphorically poo of the people

21) Values the value of shit

22) How to solve the temporal is through this remain of new value

23) Epidermis of art within protest 

24) The geology of the stone and memory and immediate faith

25) What is obscene and grotesque is now veiled and affirmed in the spirited of a creative act of performance and gesture 


Arjun Appadurai. 1986. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in cultural perspective.  New School University: New York.

Dominique Laporte. 1978. The History of Shit. The MIT Press/

Baz Kershaw. 2007. Theatre Ecology: Environments and Performance Events. Cambridge University Press.

Kufunda Village: [O]. (Accessed May 2015).  

Felix Guattari. 1989. The Three Ecologies. ed. Chris Turner in New Formations. (8)131-147.

Patrick Joyce. 2002. The Social in Question: New Bearings in History and Social Sciences. Routledge: London and New York

India Resists: [O]. (Accessed May 2015).

Monica Szewczyk: Art of Conversation. [O].  and (Accessed May 2015).

Julia Kristeva. 1982: The Powers of Horror. Columbia University Press: New York.