The Conversations (Days 1–3)

Six artists and theorists met over three consecutive days to hold video dialogues with six experts (of daily life). Each of the six participants suggested their own choice of virtual dialogue partner. The invited experts came from different national/international contexts. Each conversation lasted between one and two hours and revolved around the mutual exploration of bodily experiences of (dis)empowerment. Careful attention was paid to ensure that the exchange was as mutual and on equal footing as possible. It was an experimental transfer in as much as the ‘Cologne’ side continued to experiment performatively with the insights gained from the exchange.


Each pair of dialogue partners focused on personal-biographical dimensions as well as the context-specific dimension of the topic of investigation. The conversations were recorded and available as possible audio-visual documentation for the performance. Here it is important to emphasise that the aim was not to reproduce performatively the ‘Other’s’ trauma or experiences of violence, but rather to be prepared to engage in an open and resonant conversation whereby one’s own bodily perceptions and responses to one’s dialogue partner could be historically and structurally translated and located in performance. It was not meant as an exercise of speaking for the ‘Other’, but rather to engage in a ‘dance’ of dialogically resonant and mutually dynamic negotiation. 

After every video conversation, the six participants from Cologne came together to share with the whole group their insights from the video conversations with their partners. 

The Transdisciplinary Compilation — or — Bringing it All Together (Days 4–5)

On day four, the participating Cologne artists met to examine the body of developed material. Using performative techniques (e.g., sampling, deconstruction, transforming) the material was explored, new connections or causal relationships were made transparent, accentuated and slowly brought together into a joint performance.  

The Performance — The Laboratory Goes Public (Day 6)

On day six, the results of the material developed in the laboratory were presented to the public at the University of Cologne. This public showing was flanked by a mini-symposium around the topic of body hegemonies. The symposium aimed to couch the results of the artistic research within a larger discursive context. Two papers were presented in the framework of the symposium.


The guest speakers, Devleena Ghosh and Jules Sturm, were asked to address aspect of bodies within hegemonic structures in their papers. 

Paper 1. ‘Regular Visits to Purdah Baag: Creating the Modern Body in Early Twentieth Century India’

Devleena Ghosh addressed the period of the early twentieth century, when young female bodies was re-worked and re-conceptualised in colonial India. These identities and physiques became the bearers of stereotypes, inscribed with piety, domesticity, and honour, to be re-cast, re-made, reinvented. This presentation tells the story of an Australian theosophist who became the principal of the first girls’ school in Delhi and who used the tenets of theosophy and the international focus on female education to remake both the bodies and the minds of her Indian students. Ghosh argues that the spatiotemporal hierarchy of origin and destination of female emancipation whether in Britain, Australia, or India, should be seen in continuity with previous histories of biopolitical claim-making. To understand these politics, then, it is necessary to attend to both regional histories of claim-making and transnational histories of circulation. Click here to watch.

Prof. Devleena Ghosh teaches at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney. She has published widely in the fields of postcolonial, environmental, and gender studies

Paper 2. ‘The Paradox of Hegemonic Vulnerability in Reproductive Narratives’


In her paper, Jules Sturm aimed to expose and counter the construction of foetal vulnerability in the dominant cultural imaginary. An imaginary that is reinforced by the visualisation of foetal life through ultrasound imaging and is likely to reproduce an ableist, heteronormative, and moralising discourse of the as yet ‘unavailable’ life. With the help of queer and posthuman literary narratives of reproduction, she aims to highlight the possibilities of alternative reproductive imaginaries. Conceptions, which not only offer new ways of imagining unborn life beyond visuality, but also critically reflect on the potentially dangerous effects of a discourse of vulnerability in the figure of what Donna Haraway has called the 'biomedical public foetus' ('The Virtual Speculum,' 1997). Click here to watch.


Dr. Jules Sturm is an independent researcher based in Amsterdam and teaches at the Art Academy the “Sandberg Instituut” on critical theories of the body. Her background is in philosophy and gender studies, literary and cultural analysis.


‘Bodies Between Theory and Practice: Possibilities and Anxieties around Embodied Academia’ was moderated by Ulrike Nestler, a freelance ethnographer and dance pedagogue teaching at the School of Contemporary Dance and Dance Theory at the Cologne HfMT (School of Applied Science for Music and Dance). Click here for the full video of the panel discussion.