Review of Performative Realism: Interdisciplinary Studies in Art and Media, edited by Rune Gade and Anne Jerslev (Copenhagen: Museum of Tusculanum Press, 2005)

Anna Scheer


This collection offers an intriguing cross-section of case studies relating to what could be called, ‘the performance of being’. The editors, Rune Gade and Anne Jerslev, see performativity as a useful lens through which to view and explain current developments in a broader cultural sense, as well as within the art world. Most of the nine contributors are affiliated with the University of Copenhagen, which established the Museum Tusculanum Press, and the fields covered include; theatre, documentary film, photo books, literature, performance art, installation, and live action role-playing (LARP). Gade and Jerslev cite the title of Jon McKenzie’s book Perform or Else (2001), as indicative of the way in which performance has become a social and cultural mandate from which it is increasingly difficult to secede. As a result, while the concept of ‘freedom of choice’ – in terms of the construction of identity – is a misnomer, Gade and Jerslev suggest that that the field of aesthetics is a site where resistance to the pressure to perform/conform can be explored.

Setting out the discourses to which this volume responds, they see J.L. Austin’s influential book ‘How to Do Things With Words’ as the inception point of performative theory, recognising its impact on arts and cultural studies as well as other disciplines. The rise of performance studies, while not necessarily congruous with the linguistic associations of performative theory, does share its engagement with real actions and the ‘reality’ of everyday life and social worlds. Hence, the crux of the books enquiry is ‘reality’ and how it ‘is produced and mediated within various contexts’ (10), which clarifies the book’s paradoxical title. In the chapters that follow, debates around authenticity, live presence and documentation are considered, and the perceptively challenging work discussed in this volume offers an insightful contribution to these ongoing discourses.

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McKenzie, Jon. Perform or Else: From discipline to performance (London & New York: Routledge, 2001).


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