Thinking Like A Ruin | Friday 8 May 2015


Thinking Like A Ruin | The Baroque Becomings of Hashima Island | Carl Lavery

Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square, on Friday 8 May 2015, 6-9pm.

The recent interest in archives and re-enactments by theatre and performance scholars and practitioners in the past decade or so has foreclosed previous debates (perhaps even obsessions) about the authentic status of ‘live’ versus ‘recorded’ performance. As Amelia Jones (1997; 2012), Diana Taylor (2003), and Rebecca Schneider (2001; 2010) have argued so plausibly, performance never comes to an end; its present is always haunted by both its past and future. However, in this dominant attempt to think of performance as ruin, to posit it as a ‘dialectical image’ (Walter Benjamin 2002: 475) or spectre that refuses to exit the scene (Jacques Derrida 1992), the onus has been largely placed on the first haunting – the haunting from history. What tends to be forgotten in this alternative approach to theatre historiography is the other side of the Derridean coin: namely, the extent to which performance is engaged in an act of teleiopoesis. As Derrida explains in his The Politics of Friendship, teleiopoesis does not consume the present in the name of some Hegelian telos, the result of which is already predetermined; rather it burns itself up for the sake of a future whose meaning can neither be predicted nor foretold, and which might offer new, unexpected ways of being (Derrida 2005: 32). At a time when we are faced with the unpredictable transformations that climate change will surely bring to the planet, it seems important that performance practice and scholarship renounce their fascination with ‘past futures’, and instead look to ‘future presents’ – to those processes and possibilities that are both underway and yet always still to come (Adam and Grove 2007: 196).



Reflecting the shift in the ‘object of performance’ from mode of production to site of reception (Sayre 1989; Goldberg 2007; Reynolds 2012), this paper attempts to engage with these issues by exploring the relationship between ruins and still and moving images. In particular, I look at how Lee Hassall’s film Return to Battleship Island, made as part of the AHRC pilot project, Future of Ruins: Reclaiming Abandonment and Toxicity on Hashima Island’,(2013), purposefully set out to  contest the tendency of extant images of ruins and ruination – what is known as ‘ruin porn’ – to blind us to the possibility of a future, and, by doing so, to contest the ‘exhaustive logic of capitalist modernity’ (Brennan 2002: 3).

The event will open with a screening of the 30 minute silent film, followed by a 45min talk by Prof. Carl Lavery.