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Witness: A director's perspective

Tampalini, S. (2010) Witness: A director's perspective. IM: Interactive Media (6).

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The project WITNESS was a performance-as-research project, which featured an inter-disciplinary work of devised and improvised theatre. The project used performance to investigate the concept of “witness” as/in performance; in this process it used theoretical research in post-colonial theatre and film, post-trauma human rights, justice and ethics studies and the theory of political performance itself.

In the attempt to confront and heal historical and political trauma, states and societies have often used public performances, which centre on concepts of “witness”; on the public confession, truth-telling and apology of injustice, human rights abuses, torture and even attempts at genocide. This has also sometimes involved the public trial of those confessing to these actions. One of the foundational recent events of this performative, cathartic nature has been the South African Truth and Reconciliation process.

Our project investigated the performative nature of these political and social events; that is, their nature as public actions, as “events” with a specific/time and place. We were therefore also interested in the inter-racial and inter-cultural acts of interpretation that such events must engender; the stories that must be constructed and communicated as performed stories. We hypothesised that these stories are always mis-tellings and mis-readings, as they must also be acts of translation. What is the nature of the history that is constructed? What is the nature of the “truth” that is told and “witnessed” by “real” actor and “implicated” audience?

As a performance, our project was itself inter-racial and inter-cultural, involving a Tanzanian actor and film-maker, Dr, Martin Mhando and Australian actor and writer, Dr. David Moody and director/designer Dr. Serge Tampalini; it was also an act of translation and interpretation, because we constructed the performance out of our own stories and our own devising; our own readings and witnessing of these events. As a performance, we could foreground the way these events involve bodies and emotions; that they were corporeal and material actions in a specific time and place in front of a specific audience. Part of our argument was that the nature of “acting”, as a second-order, witnessed even re-presenting social “action”, can add to our understanding of the emotional and corporeal, as well as intellectual nature of these public performances of “witnessing”.

The project involved research not only in literature on social trauma and ethics itself (including Bauman and Levinas, foundational here); but also work on performance, literature and trauma (including work by Grehan, Rothberg, Clendinnen and Kaplan). We also used memoirs and reportage on specific events, in particular the work of Antjie Krog and Philip Gourevitch.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Publisher: National Academy of Screen and Sound
Copyright: © IM/NASS 2010
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