Art and Action in Conflict Zones

9-17 February 2012

The function and functioning of artistic practices in the public sphere may well be one of philosophy's oldest concerns. Where Plato established a vertical, top/bottom hierarchical model, with the work of art situated on the lowest step on the ladder of 'being'; Aristotle saw poetry as occupying a middle position, strategically and horizontally situated between two other distinct discursive practices (as a golden mean, including the ethic consequences of such a position), and because of its more universal character, closer to philosophy than to history. While Plato had depicted a utopian situation where poetry was not necessary anymore, Aristotle regarded poetry as a form of expression directed towards a utopian 'thing that might be'.

In his much-lauded work, professor Freddie Rokem of the University of Tel Aviv, has investigated the interaction between philosophy, history and theatre. By either contesting or reinforcing notions about the past, the representation of history on the stage is strongly involved in the construction of collective identities. Rokem has described this process for past events (and traumas), notably for the French Revolution and the Holocaust. In a first course week, participants study some of Rokem's key writings, under the guidance of drs. Frederik Le Roy. The central theme of Rokem's contributions, in the second week of the course, is the current state of crisis in the public sphere, examining the consequences of this state of crisis and dealing with some examples that confront the state of exception and the urgency of the arts within such a state.

One contemporary focus will be art and action in the border-landscapes of Israel and Palestine. Rokem lives in Jerusalem and participates in weekly demonstrations against the ongoing Israeli occupation and will share his observations about oppression and injustice. These observations will be checked against the experiences of Hildegard De Vuyst in a round table discussion. De Vuyst is a dramaturge who has since 2006 coordinated PASS (Performance Art Summer School), a project in the Occupied Territories based on artistic exchanges with a new generation of Palestinian performing artists. PASS is a collaborative relationship between the Royal Flemish Theatre of Brussels, Belgium (KVS), les ballets C de la B and Plek vzw and the Qattan Foundation in Ramallah. The course participants, both doctoral students focusing on theory and more practice-oriented researchers, are encouraged to participate in this debate on how art addresses the realities and 'what might be' in zones of conflict.


Week 1: Introductory Reading Seminar
with Christel Stalpaert and Frederik Le Roy (Ghent University)

Thursday 9 and Friday 10 February 2012

Central to prof. Freddie Rokem's work is the careful and perceptive analysis of both theatre performances (historical and contemporary) and theoretical or philosophical texts. His contribution to the study of theatre and performance transpires from this exploratory style as he travels through the borderlands between theatre and history, performance and philosophy, art and theory to understand why and how theatre matters today. During this introductory reading seminar we will try to flesh out and contextualise some of the notions (performing history, the actor as 'hyper-historian', theatrical energies, performance as 'scripted embodiment') which are central to Rokem's work through group discussions.

Reading material

  • Freddie Rokem, Performing History. Theatrical Representations of the Past in Contemporary Theatre. University of Iowa Press, 2000. [Full book]
  • Freddie Rokem, Philosophers and Thespians. Thinking Performance. Stanford University Press, 2009. ["Introduction" & "Chapter 1: The First Encounter. Plato's Symposium and the ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry"]

Week 2

15-17 February 2012

  • 15/2 | Afternoon session with Freddie Rokem: lecture and discussions
  • 16/2 | Morning and afternoon sessions with Freddie Rokem: lecture and discussions
  • 17/2 | Presentation of theatre project by Hildegard De Vuyst, Round table with Rokem and De Vuyst, Q&A and Closing remarks

Depending on the timing of the PASS project Keffiyeh/made in China, the attendance of an open rehearsal will be made part of the course programme.


Freddie Rokem is the Emanuel Herzikowitz Professor for 19th and 20th Century Art and teaches in the Department of Theatre Studies at Tel Aviv University, where he served as the Dean of the Yolanda and David Katz Faculty of the Arts (2002-2006). He is also a permanent guest Professor (Docent) at Helsinki University, Finland and has been a visiting Professor at Stanford University, the Free University in Berlin, the University of Munich, the University of Stockholm, UC Berkeley and UC Davis. He was the editor of Theatre Research International (2006-2009) and is currently the editor of Assaph; Studies in the Theatre, published at Tel Aviv University.
Rokem's book Performing History: Theatrical Representations of the Past in Contemporary Theatre, (University of Iowa Press, 2000; published in Polish 2010, which is also due in a German translation in the coming year) received the ATHE (Association for Theatre in Higher Education) Prize for best theatre studies book in 2001. Strindberg's Secret Codes was published by Norvik Press (2004) and Philosophers and Thespians: Thinking Performance, exploring the relations between the discursive practices of philosophy and performance was published by Stanford University Press (2010). He is co-editor (together with Jeanette Malkin( of Jews and the Making of Modern German Theatre (University of Iowa Press, 2010) He has published widely on European and Israeli theatre as well as on theoretical issues in theatre and performance studies, in academic journals and in books, and he is also a translator and a dramaturge.

Hildegard De Vuyst is a dramaturge who has since 2006 been involved, together with the Royal Flemish Theatre of Brussels, Belgium (KVS), les ballets C de la B and Plek vzw, in carefully elaborating a process in the Occupied Territories based on artistic exchanges with a new generation of Palestinian performing artists. The project has since passed through various stages: exploration and formulation of PASS (Performance Art Summer School) in 2006, two long workshops in Birzeit (West Bank) in August 2007 and May 2008, and a visit to Belgium in the second half of 2008. PASS is a collaborative relationship between the aforementioned Belgian organisations and the Qattan Foundation in Ramallah. Coordination is provided by dramaturge Hildegard De Vuyst, who works closely with Mahmoud Abu Hashhash, head of the Culture and Arts department of the Qattan Foundation, and the Palestinian mentor of the project, François Abu Salem, former artistic director of El Hakawati. The performance Keffiyeh/made in China to be created in KVS from February 2011 onward, is an important next stage in the process of PASS.

Frederik Le Roy is a PhD researcher affiliated with the research group Studies in Performing Arts & Media at Ghent University. In his research he explores ways in which traditional concepts and methods of history and cultural memory are put into question by performative means in contemporary performing arts.

Christel Stalpaert is senior lecturer at the dept. of Art, Music and Theatre Studies of Ghent University. She co-directs the UGent research centre S:PAM (Studies in Performing Arts & Media) and publishes widely on contemporary postdramatic theatre, corporeal memory and embodied cognition. With Frederik Le Roy and Sofie Verdoodt, she edited the themed issue of A1-rated journal Arcadia on "Performing Cultural Trauma in Theatre and Film" (vol. 45, nr. 3, 2010).