Body Hegemonies 2017: An Experimental Transfer, the performance/symposium under investigation in this article, emerged as the second stage of what has developed into a three-tiered research project titled Embodied Discourses. The project was initiated in 2016 with the international workshop Shifting Memories - Moving Histories: Remembering Postcolonial Cologne, involving international artists, dancers, activists, social and earth scientists, and psychotherapists, from Australia, Indonesia, Israel, Canada, South Africa, and Germany.

The multidirectional methodology of Michael Rothberg heavily influenced the initial workshop. Rather than viewing histories of extreme violence such as slavery, colonial genocides, and the Holocaust in competition with one another, instead the workshop applied a critical lens of one historical form of violence onto another so that an understanding of the dialogic intersections, repeating patterns, and power constructions underlying various forms of violence emerged (Rothberg 2009). Incorporating previously devalued non-European epistemologies — as exemplified in Ramon Grosfoguel’s (2011) concept of the ‘Pluriversal’, Walter Mignolo’s ‘Border Thinking’ (2009), and Enrique Dussel’s concept of ‘Transmodernity’ (Dussel 1993) — allowed for thinking beyond a purely Eurocentric modernist knowledge canon. Additionally, the diverse group of international workshop participants were asked to reflect on and speak about what role the key concepts of embodied/materialised memory, competing histories, and power relations play in their various disciplines and subject positionalities. The insights gleaned from this dialogic exchange revealed an incredible diversity of traces of and interconnections between epistemic colonial trauma, scars, and memory that are contained in bodies, human remains in museums, the archive, educational institutions such as the university, landscapes, plants, animals, and the earth, thus making new ways of experiencing and understanding historical human and non-human entanglements and their consequences possible.


By the end of the workshop, all participants were so moved and inspired by the new insights and the red thread that emerged from the interwoven aesthetic, affective, sensory, theoretical examination of the common themes, that it was decided to continue working in this transdisciplinary way on future projects. The choice to narrow our investigation down to the body was intuitive. We wondered how histories of violence that have haunted the formation of modernity and shaped the current dominant discourse become inscribed in bodies and in their interactions within the institutional power structures within which they attempt to negotiate their expression.


We decided it would be interesting to engage in a dialogue with an expert in the field of the topic we wanted to investigate. We agreed it would be a productive exchange if it were a dialogue that was based on mutual interest, and that the flow of questions worked both ways. During these initial concept-devising conversations, it transpired that the people we were interested in speaking to were friends and colleagues living overseas. Here is where the idea for the video conferences entered the thinking. The more we thought about it, the more interesting the idea became to us. We asked ourselves if and how it would be possible to engage in a conversation of mutual interest that could avoid the violence of ‘capture’ and representation that so often happens in academia, where the researcher analyses and represents what has been learned from the investigated Other.


The idea of a laboratory and experimental transfer began to emerge out of these questions. We decided it was important, considering the different and often violent effects of hegemonic structures on different bodies, that it was crucial to find ways of talking with one another that remained dialogic, resonant, and respectful of these differences. At this point, as a way to critically intervene in this potential power imbalance, we decided that we would invite our collaborating partners to be involved in the creative process of shaping the final performance. The experimental transfer partly aimed to find out whether this is even possible via digital conferencing technology, in what would necessarily be a short production time, due to the usual financial constraints of funded performance work. We wondered to what degree we could achieve this experimental transfer, what possibilities or limitations we might come across in the process, and how this relatively short exploration would shape the final result.


The experimental transfer also examined the limits and possibilities of knowledge transfer in merging the boundaries between academia and art by couching the performance, which was already a hybrid collaboration between artists and academics, within the framework of an academic symposium with invited guest speakers. 


For an introduction and links to the Body Hegemony topics, biographies, and websites of the Cologne performers and their video conference collaboration partners please see the Task and Cast section of this article.