Site, object and the disruption of form in representations of trauma
One of the most harrowing characteristics of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was the narrativising of trauma. Apartheid was overt and covert, immersive, unending and pervasive. In the wake of such sophisticated strategic execution of trauma, the TRC posited a straightforward confessional exposition, dramatic builds, climactic admissions, quick character turnarounds, and together with mystifying the relationship between trauma and economics, grand gestures of compassion and neat endings. Was this belief in the narrative form borne out of a naiveté that underestimated the pervasive reach of apartheid or a move that was egged on by the expedient project of holding on to white capital and stabilizing South Africa’s relationship with world markets? How then have artists responded to the narrative form inside of the theatrical frame in the representation of trauma? Some theatre makers have mirrored this reductive approach in representations of trauma, creating works that lock us in a hermetically sealed world replete with cathartic endings. Others have chosen a more unpopular route and destabilized this, tackling the very form of performance, the act of viewing itself, inviting a range of subjectivities and initiating agency in making meaning.
Drawing from the work of Sithembile Msezane, Chuma Sopotela, Donna Kukuma, Nelisiwe Xaba and Tebogo Munyahi, I shall look at the open-ended form, the immersive experience, disruption, interference and mixed media as ways to unhinge rather than hold intact speculations around trauma. Site specificity becomes a device to spatially locate trauma as well as destabilize singular readings. Objects used on site from the puppetry in the work of Aja Marneweck to the use of objects in the deconstructed work of Boyzie Cekwana and Sello Pesa create a mutable, open relationship between the meaning created within the mise en sine and the spectator. Site and object become tools for forms that contain and communicate aspects of trauma to be tossed around and played with, punctured and deflated, or remade with devices that resemble visible scar tissue. Undercutting expectation of cohesive form, these devices catapult a confrontation with the intractable complexity of colonial trauma that continues to seep through our contemporary society.
Jay Pather is Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town, Director of the Institute for Creative Arts (ICA) and Artistic Director of Siwela Sonke Dance. Recent publications include articles in New Territories: Theatre, Drama, and Performance in Post-apartheid South Africa edited my Marc Meaufort; Changing Metropolis ll edited by Marie Polli; Rogue Urbanism edited by Edgar Pieterse and Abdul Malik Simone and Performing Cities edited by Nicholas Whybrow. Jay is curator for the Infecting the City Public Art Festivals and the ICA’s Live Art Festival. He serves as a juror for the International Award for Public Art and on the Board of the National Arts Festival of South Africa. Recent art works include Qaphela Caesar (a deconstruction of Julius Caesar), at an old Stock Exchange in downtown Johannesburg and rite, a re-imagining of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. He was recently choreographer for the Firebird (Janni Younge Productions) which toured the United States.