Applications must be typed. Minimum type size 10 pt.
The process for project approval should be completed between 3 to 6 months for full-time
students or 6 to 12 months for part-time students. The approval would need to include:
· An agreed project plan (including a time line or a Gantt chart)
· A review by an expert commentator (to confirm the appropriateness of the project and to offer
independent constructive comments)
Application for Approval for the Degree of:
Name of Applicant: Christopher Danowski
Enrolment N.:
Faculty:Dr. Laura Gonzalez, Dr. Deborah
School: Art & Media
Particulars of Funding for the Research Programme:
Name and Details of Relationship with Collaborating Establishment (if applicable):
Transart Institute
The Programme of Research - Title of Project (up to 12 words)
Thresholds: Desire and Sorcery in New Media Performance
Description of Project (to be completed by the candidate. The space provided should not be
Page 1 of 4
I am creating a new method for making new media performance that is centered around the
subjectivity of the performer, asking the question, ‘ What is the nature of the experience of
performance when the performers are under a spell? And how can the performers articulate this
experience when they are inside it, as subjects and objects of desire?’
For my thesis, I am proposing to create several new works of new media performance in Phoenix,
Arizona. I will be the creator, director, writer, and often performer, building works with a team of
collaborators with backgrounds in theater. These works will be a combination of live
performance, projected video, and live rituals depicting states of trance, talking to the dead, and
creating spells and enchantments. I am using three methods to create the work: psychoanalytic,
drawing from the theories of Jacques Lacan; ethnographic, representing rituals from the AfroCaribbean traditions of Palo Monte and Lucumí; phenomenological, using the ideas of Maurice
For each work, I am building a method for creating new media performance, and articulating this
in the written component of my thesis. This written portion will be useful to scholars and artists
who are practicing transdisciplinary, new media work. It will also fill in a gap in knowledge about
Caribbean ritual traditions, specifically addressing the paucity of written record on practical and
theoretical knowledge of spells. I am writing with the intention of turning the work into a
publishable book. I will be writing in several voices, then, to accomodate the academic, the ritual
expert, the theorist, and the poet, among other personas. The written portion will also contain
media, so that the reader can experience the video and audio documentation of my process.
Candidate’s Signature:
Page 2 of 4
Research Training – to be completed by the candidate (include details of any training to be
attended during the programme, such as specific and generic skills training sessions,
professional courses, language training, conferences attended…):
Methodologies training in Winter Residency, Transart, December 2012.
Future Training:
French: Intermediate reading level (through online tutorials). This is necessary in order to read
Lacan in the original language.
Bantu: Basic conversational and reading level (training with elders). This will help me to unpack
some of the wordplay involved in ritual incantations that are typically filled with puns in Bantu.
Lucumí: Elementary conversational and reading level (training with elders). This is in order to
unpack some of the more complicated word play involved in ritual language, as well as to
decipher some of the written documentation from the original Yoruba (Lucumí is the term for the
Yoruba language as it has been translated and modified in Cuba).
FCPX: Editing tutorials (online).
Projection: Tutorials for working with mirrors (online and hands on, I will need to find mentors
who are more experienced in using projection in theatrical and artistic production).
Training, critiques, and presentations of my work in Summer Residencies at Transart, 2013,
2014, 2015
I will also need to attend and present at conferences. I will be writing shorter papers in
conjunction with my doctoral work, in order to make my presence in the academic/art world
more visible. I’ve attended several theatre conferences in the past, and I would like to pursue
some of these (American Society for Theatre Research, Association for Theatre in Highter
Education), along with presenting in Europe and Latin America at conferences where there is an
emphasis on theatre, art, digital media, and diasporic studies (because of the focus here on
African Traditional Religion translated in the Americas).
Recommendation by the Expert Commentator:
I support this application and believe that the project and project plan are suitable and that the
candidate has the potential to successfully complete the research programme.
Name of Commentator:
Supervisory Team:
Has the supervisory team changed since the
beginning of the project?
If yes, has an RDC.1A requesting the changes been
processed and approved?
Recommendation by the Supervisory Team:
Page 3 of 4
We support this application and believe that the candidate has the potential to successfully
complete the research programme.
Name of Director of Studies:
Dr Laura González
Name of Second Supervisor:
Date: 03.05.13
Date: 03.05.13
Dr Deborah Robinson
Name of other Supervisor:
Recommendation by the Associate Dean/Dean/Head of School/Local Research Degree
Coordinator (please check Faculty/College procedures)
I confirm the Faculty’s/College’s support for the project approval for this candidate.
Page 4 of 4
RESEARCH PROSPECTUS: Thresholds: Desire and Sorcery in New Media Performance
Project Aims:
1. To articulate, define, and create a methodology of making new media performance.
2. To investigate the possibilities inherent in a phenomenological, ethnographic, and
psychoanalytic approach to new media performance art from the perspective of the
3. To theorize sites of projection in live and digital performance (the performer’s body,
the projection screen, the ritual crossroads) in terms of Lacan’s mirror, Lucumí and
Bantu sorcery, and Narcissus’ reflecting pool, making a space for a contemporary art
that is ritual, digital, and performative.
Research Questions:
1. What is the nature of the experience of performance when the performers are under a
spell? And how can the performers articulate this experience when they are inside it,
as subjects and objects of desire?
Background to Research:
I am proposing a project with the working title, ‘Thresholds: Desire and Sorcery in New
Media Performance,’ for my doctoral degree at Transart Institute in conjunction with
Plymouth University. Using methodologies that are phenomenological, ethnographic,
and psychoanalytic, I am seeking to define a new method for new media performance.
Examining the projected media image, as well as the performer’s body, as spaces of
projected desire, I consider these sites as metaphorical and literal mirrors that reflect and
reconstruct thought and perception. Just as in Maya Deren’s ‘Meshes of the Afternoon’
(Clark, 1988: 77), the subject in the frame is also the object of desire that we are looking
at. The spectactor’s desire is to look through her eyes, to experience her subjectivity.
The desire to see through another frame is where this work gets complicated, and my
research will serve as a map into this complexity, and determine a contemporary mode
of working. I will focus on two bodies of knowledge: Afro-Caribbean cosmology and
the theories of Jacques Lacan, linked through phenomenology. Both Lucumí and Lacan
offer practical tools for playing with desire. In my investigations, I will articulate a
method that speaks to the desire of the performer, performing as subject and object of
The Lucumí tradition, born in Cuba during the slave trade from a mix of mostly Yorubaderived cosmology with a smattering of Catholicism, is a practical religion, working with
‘the power-to-make-things-happen’ (Thompson, 1984: 5). Palo Monte is a Kongoderived religion, also born in Cuba during the slave trade, and also practical. In these
religions, the mirror is a protected space, as well as a necessary ingredient in altars and
charms, because of its power in reflecting both sides of the cosmos, blocking or opening
the line between the living and the dead. The mirror offers the power ‘to see beyond our
world’ (Thompson, 1984: 121), and is as metaphorical as it is practical. The working of
charms is tied to oral tradition, and oral tradition reveals something about the
subjectivity of these particular cosmologies. Knowledge of charms and spells usually
come through communication among devotees, through oral teachings passed on in
ritual contexts. Yet it isn’t uncommon to pass information along through email or even
text message. Prayers and incantations do find their way into books and on the web.
However, the rituals are a performative experience. Knowing is transmitted through the
body. Self-consciousness is born in ritual, through the working of the hands: ‘It is with
one’s hands that one creates (makes and remakes) oneself (and the world)’ (Abiodun,
1984: 198).
Jacques Lacan is a French psychoanalyst whose theories have been influential in the
disciplines of philosophy, cultural studies, and performance. Lacan’s theories of the
unconscious continue the Freudian tradition. They are also appropriate metaphors and
models for addressing and investigating the subjective experience of performance, and
offer frameworks for the construction of mediated live art works. I will be drawing on
Lacan’s graphs of desire (Lacan, 1990: 90) and his work on the mirror stage (Lacan,
2004: 3). Taking Lacan’s three orders (the Imaginary, Symbolic, and Real) as existing in
a configuration of Borreomean knots, I will be using these orders to structure
performances. Lacan’s mirror is one of the more ‘ready-made’ (Breton and Éluard, 1969:
23) notions that performance can adapt from psychoanalytic theory. The space of the
performance is that ritual space where we come to know ourselves, to see ourselves
reflected. It is the reflecting space where self-consciousness is born (and where
phenomenological experience is born). This is why I suspect that the mirror will unlock
the answers to my primary research question, How can we perform under the influence
of a spell? It is not very different from Lacan’s own questions:
In more than half of the texts Lacan produced between 1936 and 1949, the
question as to what is decisive for the installation and maintenance of selfconsciousness, which indeed supports the entire conception of the mirror
stage, played a prominent part. (Nobus, 1999: 104)
The mirror is there in the performer’s body, and it is also there on the screen, and it is
there in the spoken text. There are multiple texts running at all times, the body, the
screen, the spoken and the written text, the score, and all of the contexts inside and
outside these texts. Every text is a mirror, with possibilities for mistaken identities as well
as reflections that are a close approximation of an object of desire (Lacan, 1981: 17). I
will be testing this notion in rehearsals.
I am using phenomenology to pin these notions of the mirror to a philosophy based on
empirical experience. For Maurice Merleau-Ponty, phenomenology is the study of
essences, including consciousness and perception (Merleau-Ponty, 1966: vii). Drawing
on the texts of Amelia Jones, particularly in her ‘Performing the Subject,’ (Jones: 1998) I
will be examining how contemporary performance has interrogated the power relations
inherent in spectator-performer relationships from the 1970s up until now. This will, in
turn, inform how subjectivity operates when live art mixes with pre-recorded image and
sound in mediated performance art. If, as Merleau-Pony claims, ‘we are nothing but a
view of the world’ (Merleau-Ponty, 1966: 406), then these technologies are nothing less
than extensions of the body, or perhaps even tools toward which the body can
understand itself.
The roots of an art form that speak to subjective experience, psychoanalysis and mystical
experience are found in surrealism: (‘Surrealism...rested on the belief in the “higher
reality of certain hitherto neglected forms of association, in the omnipotence of the
dream, in the disinterested play of thought”’ (Andre Breton, in Goldberg, 2011: 89).
The historical avant-garde, then, becomes a link between the past and the present, with
another crucial link in between, the body art experiments of the 70s. The nude in the
history of art turned from an object into a speaking subject in the 1970s, when Ana
Mendieta (Ana Mendieta, 2010), Carolee Scheemann (Schneemann, n.d.), and Hannah
Wilke (Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive: n.d.) presented works where they were both
the subject and object of art. The body, as the object, is the site of the projection, with
the potential to become the projection. In a live art that is digital as well as live, are
there multiples sites of projection? And do those sites (the body, as well as the literal
projection screen) operate under the same codes of desire? Is there any significant
difference between a projection and a magic spell, and are there any practical models
for creating spells or projections?
In Lucumí and Palo, I am working more with primary sources than secondary. There are
books and journals written on these subjects, but I’ve found that the theory translates to
print much more efficiently than the practice. For this work, I need information drawn
from and relevant to the application of ritual knowledge. I am a gatekeeper figure, being
initiated into both traditions, and I will be conducting interviews with elders in Southern
California and New York, for particulars on how spells work, and other questions of the
formal aspects of the traditions. This will give me the practical knowledge I’m looking
for, and will also contibute to the field by filling in a gap in knowledge of these ritual
practices Looking into the mirror, then, I am creating an art that reflects a hybrid cultural
perspective, one that is engaged simultaneously in ritual, digital technology,
performance, and religion, where these are not mutually exclusive. Language has
power, but in Lacan it has potential to approach something like an incantation,
suggested when he writes that ‘it is the whole structure of language that psychoanalytic
experience discovers in the unconscious’ (Lacan, 2004:139). Africanist scholar René
Devisch sees sorcery as a manipulation of the Lacan’s three orders (Bond, 2001: 101).
Chalk drawings can be used as magical spells (Thompson, 1984: 113), and love magic
can entice a subject or untie desire. Lacan’s diagrams of desire can make these
mechanisms visible.
Research Methods & Strategies:
My studio work is the creation and presentation of five new works of performance. The
content of the pieces consists of three parts, to reference Lacan’s orders. At the outset, I
intend that each part will refer to a particular order; however, I want to leave room for
overlaps, in the way that the orders mix according to psychoanalytic theory (‘...each
order must be defined by reference to the other two’ [Evans, 1996: 135]). In the first
part, I create a video telling an underworld story from world mythology, mixing footage
of the performers, media samplings, and projected text. In the second part, I write a
contemporary version of the same world myth, re-framing it in structures drawn from
popular culture. The performers rehearse and perform this live. In the third part, the
performers enact rituals in states of trance, frenzy, and suggested possession. I will often
also be a performer, and will always be director, writer, and ritual specialist.
As an example, the first project is constructed on the themes of loss and longing. For the
video, I am re-telling the story of Orpheus and Eurydice (Ovid, 2000: 484) as if it were a
music video directed by Godard. For the pop culture references, I am re-telling the story
from the video using characters from the sitcom ‘How I Met Your Mother’ (Hulu, 2013).
For the ritual, we will be speaking with the dead, like Eurydice and Orpheus trying to
speak to each other through a broken mirror.
In terms of performance style, I use a hybrid form from Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of
Cruelty (Sontag, 1988: 242), Tadeusz Kantor’s Theater of Death (Kobialka, 1993: 106),
Jodorowsky’s Psicomagia (Jodorowsky, 2004: 47), Jean-Luc Godard’s meta textuality
(Madan: 2010) , ritual performance techniques drawn from Mendieta’s Earth Art (Viso,
2004: 153), and the psychological narrative in Maya Deren’s films (Clark, 1988: 177).
To answer the question, how do desiring bodies perform the enactment of spells, I will
be using three methods: phenomenological, psychoanalytic, and ethnographic, adapting
a bricoleur methodology from the outset. Taking the cue from Levi-Strauss:
Consider him at work and excited by his project. His first practical step is
retrospective. He has to turn back to an already existent set made up of
tools and materials, to consider or reconsider what it contains, and finally
and above all, to engage in a sort of dialogue with it and, before choosing
between them, to index the possible answers which the whole set can offer
to his problem. (Levi-Strauss, 1966: 18)
Phenomenological method will keep the project focused on the subjectivity of the
participants. In live art as well as in mediated performance, ‘The body is our general
medium for having a world’ (Merleau-Ponty, 1966: 169). Performance affects the
participant by waking up the structures of perception and consciousness. This is not
simply a matter of reversing the cartesian paradigm, where thinking leads to being, but
instead begins with the notion that the body itself is the locus of being and thinking at
once. It is a question of the body leading back to the body itself, knowledge of the body
leading back into the body, the body speaking to the body. The practice will revolve
around the participants’ desires in the process of creating the work and performing it,
marking shifts in consciousness and perception. Through interviews and dialogues
before, during, and after each of the projects, I will be collecting data, and reinforcing
the primacy of the performer’s subjective experience.
In terms of the psychoanalytic, we (the performers) will discuss elements of Lacanian
theory, from the three orders to Butler’s ideas of the performativity of gender, where live
art offers the possibility of a ‘ritualized form of their legitimation’ (Butler, 1990: 140).
The heart of the research material, however, will be found in live performance, when the
spectator observes the performer. This is when the mirror is turned on:
According to Lacan, self-consciousness arises in the following manner: By
internalizing the way the Other sees one, by assimilating the Other’s
approving and disapproving looks and comments, one learns to see oneself
as the Other sees one, to know oneself as the Other knows one. As the
child in the mirror turns around and looks to the adult standing behind her
for a nod, a recognition, a word of approval or ratification ... she ... comes to
be aware of herself as if from the outside, as if she were another person.
(Fink, 2004: 108)
Ethnographic method will focus on Afro-Caribbean sorcery to inform the practice of
performing ritual magic in representational contexts. I will be playing with the idea that
some of the rituals are metaphorical representations, and some of them might be actual,
in order to blur the distinction between a real and an imagined spell. At the same time,
when ritual plays on the subjective desires of the participants, enactment and
embodiment often take on magical qualities. It is in this grey area where we play with
the question of whether or not this is an actual spell or simply a performance of one
(knowing that there is no such thing as a simple performance).
The three methods come together through the mirror. The Lacanian mirror is a tool of
self-consciousness. For Narcissus, it is a place of reflection, where patterns, distortions,
and repetitions reveal desires. For the sorcerer, it is the space for communication
between realms, and a tool for enchantment. The radical potential of performance is to
capture, enchant, and charm, pushing moments to where desire becomes something like
sorcery. Through exploring the shifts in consciousness and perception of the performers,
I intend to find out how this sorcery works. At the very least, such sorcery can reveal the
subjective codes of the performer’s desire. The projection screen, the media image, and
the sorcerer’s mirror are spaces that can potentially re-configure our understanding of
subjectivity, as active subjects and objects of desire.
Statement of Ethical Research:
My research will include the participation of human subjects, in two distinct categories.
The first category of participation will be artistic collaborators who contribute to the art
works, performances and media that will be created as part of the practice-led elements
of the research. In accordance with the methods, these participants will be taking part in
rituals that reflect ethnographic research, as well as providing subjective information
about their experiences in rehearsal and in performance. This category will be guided
by informed consent, with right to withdraw at any time. The second category will be
the ritual experts interviewed for their knowledge on spells and sorcery. These
participants will be also be given informed consent, and their information will be
protected under the Data Protection Act, as well as being fully protected in terms of data
storage and all issues of intellectual property. Both groups will fall fully under the
guidelines provided by the Plymouth University Ethics Policy. An application for ethical
approval for participants in the Thresholds project will be submitted to the Faculty
Research Ethics Committee (FREC) in 2013. A further application will be submitted to the
Faculty Research Ethics Committee (FREC) following the successful outcome of my
RDC1 Project Approval process.
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