The Andrew W Mellon Chair Aesthetic Theory and Material Performance holds together several interdisciplinary modes of enquiry, constituting a site for analyzing shifting conceptions of the human under the conditions of late modernity. Theoretical enquiry intersects with artistic practice, as material and conceptual thresholds merge. The Chair will engage with arts practitioners across visual representation and performance, activating a consideration of the ways in which the aesthetic defines and delimits the conditions of material existence now.
Challenging those classical conceptions that defined the aesthetic as somehow remote from the everyday, the Chair will institute research that considers the ways in which the everyday is the aesthetic. Disciplinary boundaries have shifted over the past five decades, as the arts, humanities and sciences have together begun to engage with profoundly changing conceptions of the human. The human subject is increasingly conceived as a point of mediation between linguistic, engineering, bio-medical and metaphysical vectors. The figure of the human has been profoundly altered, as speculative projections that have arisen from space travel intersect with medical prosthetics; and the digital arts, film, and social media transform the Cartesian notion of the unitary being. New conceptions of the human/animal threshold can no longer be ignored if our research is to keep apace with global debates. Any research into the human now must address the complexities of transplant (theory and ethics); chemical manipulation; audio-visual information; algorithmic prediction; time and motion studies; alongside the now classic disciplines such as anthropology, history, philosophy, politics, and law; as well as twentieth-century fields such as literary, film, sound and cultural studies, post-colonial and race theory, environmental, and animal rights. The limits and definitions of the ‘fully human’ are being put under pressure by animal rights discourse, Object Oriented Ontology; neuro-plasticity.
The Chair will pursue creative as well as theoretical explorations of the Subject/Object continuum, working together with theatre practitioners, writers, and performers. The Chair will continue to engage with the virtual realities of the Theatre and the Gallery, two of the privileged environments in which propositions about affect and idea are tested. The longstanding partnership between the CHR and Handspring Puppet Company will continue to sustain many of our shared enquiries into questions of species identity, movement, and consciousness.