Theatricality and absorption: politics of representation in Michael Fried, The Wooster Group and Robert Wilson

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How might theatricality and absorption, key terms of Michael Fried’s 1967 Art and Objecthood, be repurposed in relation to developments in theatre practice and politics? Fried is concerned that theatricality is a problem for painting and sculpture, which should instead absorb the spectator into transcendence. Fried writes during a transition between modernist abstract expressionism and minimalism, approaches to visual art that he describes as respectively absorbing or distancing the spectator. Although Fried writes of painting and sculpture, his discourse has crucial implications for theatre. Soon after Art and Objecthood, The Wooster Group and Robert Wilson draw on a healthy context of anti-theatrical theatre as well as performance and visual art to develop new aesthetics. Rigorously analysing theatre practice rather than painting and sculpture alone reveals the paradoxical complexity of how theatricality and absorption are interrelated processes. The aesthetic analysis is here originally underpinned by a politics of representation in relation to more recent thinking. Following a brief reading of Art and Objecthood, analysis of practice by The Wooster Group and Robert Wilson provides insight into theatricality and absorption and their politics of representation. The intersections of aesthetic and political processes proliferate in such a way that requires a paradoxical appreciation of their different and changing systems. The significance of such insight is that theatricality and absorption operate interpedently in relation to political structures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-43
JournalPerformance Research
Issue number4
Early online date17 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2019


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