By Naledi Mashishi

Live performance can be used as an act of transgressing societal norms and expectations. This was the sentiment shared by the panellists at the launch of Acts of Transgression: Contemporary live art in South Africa, hosted by the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research (WiSER) at Wits University on Wednesday, February 20.

The non-fiction book of essays, published by the Wits University Press, was edited by the director of the Institute of Creative Arts, Prof Jay Pather, and writer Catherine Boulle. Pather says that he and Boulle decided to compile the book because of the unique position of live art in South Africa and because of Pather’s professional experiences in combining performance and choreography with academia.

“We had an awareness of how much live art was in the country and the uniqueness of it which needed to be written about in depth,” Pather told Wits Vuvuzela.

Pather said that he and Boulle had a list of potential writers that they used to select the final group of contributors.

“We wanted people who had been published, and some who hadn’t. We wanted people who were writers, artists and academics, and we made up the book that way,” he said.

The panellists at the launch, Zen Marie, Prof Achille Mbembe and Katlego Disemelo, focused heavily on the subject of ‘performativity’ which was defined as the description or the contribution of something new to a discussion rather than a representation of something of the past. The panellists also discussed how performativity had been used by performance artists to disrupt established social norms and expectations.

Disemelo, one of the contributors to the book, described how he used Instagram for research on his chapter on queer bodies and performativity.

“I viewed Instagram as a storytelling medium. By scrolling through carefully curated photographs you can see queer people telling a story about themselves to the public,” Disemelo said.

Wits Applied Drama MA student, Rutendo Chigudu, who attended the launch, said that she would be interested in reading the book based on the discussion that had taken place. “I think it really raises questions to artists, academics, practitioners, and audiences on what our view and interpretations of art are,” she said.

“It forces us to question the artists’ intentions and the audience has to ask themselves, am I coming to see the art or be part of it?”

FEATURED IMAGE: Prof Achille Mbembe, Zen Marie and Katlego Disemelo argue for the relationship between power and performance.
Photo: Naledi Mashishi