Excavating the present: time as diffracting ghost in We Dig

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


In October 2019, at Ovalhouse in London, Emma Frankland led a theatre project, ‘We Dig’, where she, accompanied by four other trans women artists, performed in a 3 meter construction hole in the theatre’s floor. As Ovalhouse was being torn down later that year, the artists were given permission to perform in the space as it was being excavated. This performance was a literal digging, as well as a poetic metaphor for the histories of trans identity. The performers referenced their own personal experiences, while also referencing the histories of queer performance in the space (and at one moment, drew special attention to legendary trans performer Marsha P. Johnson, who had once graced the stage). In this chapter, I look at how diffraction can be used as a critical methodology in looking at the recent performance of ‘We Dig’ in London. I consider how diffraction works as a method for conceptualizing performances that work outside of the traditional conceptions of time and space. Here performance is a literal excavation that reveals a series of deep histories that speak through each other, complicating linear conceptions of time in order to create and reveal space for transgender identity. I will also be looking at diffraction in terms of its decolonizing potential, as the performers embodied multiple cultural histories that speak to and through each other, where the present gives weight to the past, and vice versa. Animistic cultural traditions further serve to decolonize the space, as the living human realm becomes entwined with the literal ground, with its relationship to the plant world and the world of the dead.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDiffracting New Materialism
Subtitle of host publicationEmerging Methods in Artistic Research and Higher Education
EditorsAnnouchka Bayley, JJ Chan
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9783031186073
ISBN (Print)9783031186066, 9783031186097
Publication statusPublished - 6 Aug 2023

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