Laura Cull

Crossing Borders 2017 | 7 November, 7 - 8.30pm | Thinking alongside Performance
What might it mean to think alongside, rather than about performance?

In this session, we want to consider the relationship between the forms of thought that take place in and as acts of performance-making, and those that might conventionally be described as ‘performance theory’ or scholarship.

While the discourses of ‘practice as research’ and ‘artistic research’ have brought greater prominence to and growing institutional acceptance of the notion of art as the production of knowledge, we know that performance has always functioned as a kind of thinking and a way of knowing in its own right.

But what is the role for so-called ‘theory’ or ‘writing about performance’ in this context? If performance practice already thinks – already asks questions, shares insights and interrogates itself – in its own ways, then what is the role of the so-called ‘theorist’ or ‘scholar’ of performance (including in the case of the practitioner-researcher who, all too often, remains under institutional pressure to write about his or her own work)?

With his ‘non-philosophy’ project, contemporary French thinker François Laruelle invites us to experiment with the hypothesis that philosophy is not a matter of representing reality from a position of transcendent authority (which it has consistently assumed for itself): it is not ‘about’ the Real, but that which belongs to and is determined by it. According to this paradigm, our task would be less a matter of producing a philosophy or theory of performance – but something like a ‘performance philosophy’ that thinks ‘alongside’ or ‘according to’ it.

Situating our discussion in the contexts of PaR, Laruelle’s non-philosophy and the emerging field of performance philosophy, this session will invite reflections on how theorists ‘use’ practice and vice versa, seeking to articulate productive models for how performance and philosophy might relate to each other as equals (that is, as equally thought) and benefit from each others ways of thinking.

Laura and David will each present for 15 minutes at the start of the session - opening up some key ideas, questions and provocations from their own research, which we hope will serve as triggers for conversation. That is, our aim is for the session to focus on the exchange of ideas amongst all those present.


Laura Cull Ó Maoilearca is reader in theatre & performance, and director of the Centre for Performance Philosophy, in GSA at the University of Surrey.

She did a BA in Fine Art at the Slade (UCL) – starting out as a painter before developing an interdisciplinary practice combining performance, installation, photography, video and writing. She continued to work as a practicing artist – performing at TATE Britain and the Serpentine amongst other places – whilst doing an MA in Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, and then a PhD in the drama department at Exeter.

Her PhD was on the implications of the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze for the concept of ‘presence’ in performance. During her PhD she edited the volume Deleuze and Performance (EUP, 2009). An expanded and re-structured version of her doctoral research was then published as her first monograph: Theatres of Immanence: Deleuze and the Ethics of Performance (Palgrave, 2012). This book uses resources from Deleuze but also from a number of key figures in the history of experimental performance (like Antonin Artaud, Allan Kaprow, the US-company Goat Island) to perceive performance from an immanent perspective (broadly understood as an ontological monism, critique of dualism, and/or as a kind of process materialism).

Her other publications include: Encounters in Performance Philosophy (2014), co-edited with Alice Lagaay; and Manifesto Now! Instructions for Performance, Philosophy, Politics (2013), co-edited with Will Daddario.

Her current research is focused on two main interrelated projects: the articulation of the emerging field of Performance Philosophy; and research into how the lives and thinking practices of nonhuman animals have been engaged and understood in performance and philosophy.

Performance Philosophy is the name of a new interdisciplinary, international field of academic research and professional practice, concerned with the relationship between ‘performance’ and ‘philosophy’ broadly construed. It is also the name of a professional association, initiated by Laura, which she continues to convene with international colleagues. Launched in 2012, the association now has 2500 members from 56 different countries.

Laura is founding co-editor of the Performance Philosophy book series with Palgrave-Springer; and founding co-editor of the online and open access, Performance Philosophy journal. She co-organized the inaugural Performance Philosophy conference at Surrey in 2013 and the 2nd biennial conference in Chicago in 2015.

She is currently working on her 2nd monograph – Performance Thinks: Theatre, Philosophy and the Nonhuman. The book includes a critical survey of recent literature on theatre by professional philosophers based in Northern Europe and the US (such as Alain Badiou) which she argues have a tendency to assume a position of transcendent authority over other forms of thoughts, including those that take place in the context of theatre and performance. It then attempts to articulate the principles of, and to some extent perform an alternative gesture of thinking alongside performance – aiming to produce what we might think of as a ‘performance philosophy’ rather than a philosophy of performance.