How Does a Document ‘Act’? Research-based Art as Docudramaturgy

by Yota Ioannidou



In investigating concepts of dramaturgy and document, my PhD research deploys not only acknowledged ideas, but also submits discursive modes of looking at my proposed term as docudramaturgy. Therefore, I conducted two conversations with experts from the field of archival science and dramaturgy. In some senses, this reflects a kind of dramaturgical approach. The conversations create a body of evidence where issues and points are interrogated and teased out through the act of conversation.

A conversation with Konstantina Georgelou

Konstantina Georgelou works as a performing arts theorist, dramaturge and researcher. She is currently a lecturer at the Theatre Studies Department of Utrecht University and at the ArtEZ Master of Theatre Practices. Georgelou completed her PhD research at Utrecht University (‘performless: operations of l'informe in postdramatic theatre, 2011), where she was later on appointed as post-doc fellow at the Centre for the Humanities, to conduct research on the intersection between dance and cognitive sciences. The reason why I wanted to have a discussion with Konstantina Georgelou is due to her research interests, which concern modes of working together, dramaturgy, choreography and ethics, while exploring discursive, artistic and activist practices as articulations of the political.

What kind of dramaturgy

Georgelou speaks from the perspective of dramaturgy of the fields of dance and performance and places dramaturgy as a derive from its literal definition actions at work. The same definition as Danae Theodoridou mentioned in her PhD, as both of them are close collaborators.

Specifically, dramaturgy for Georgelou is a work that happens inside the studio from a traditional perspective. Currently she found herself inspired by an approach on dramaturgy by a Flemish dramaturge and writer, Marianne van Kerkhoven.

“It seems to me that there is such a thing as a major and a minor dramaturgy, and although my preference is mainly for the minor, which means those things that can be grasped on a human scale, I would here like to talk about the major dramaturgy. Because it is necessary. Because I think that today it is awfully necessary. We could define the minor dramaturgy as that zone, that structural circle, which lies in and around a production. But a production comes alive through its interaction, through its audience, and through what is going on outside its own orbit. And around the production lies the theatre and around the theatre lies the city and around the city, as far as we can see, lies the whole world and even the sky and all its stars. The walls that link all these circles together are made of skin, they have pores, they breathe.” - Marianne Van Kerkhoven, State of the Union, Theatre Festival, 1994

For Georgelou, the distinction between minor and major dramaturgy is crucial. Minor dramaturgy deals with choices in order to create a performance. Major dramaturgy deals with the relations that are created through the audience. The audience related to a cluster of other things of the world.

Though, distinguishing major and minor dramaturgy is hard because they are interwoven in a plurality of cases.

On the question whether we can identify dramaturgy in other fields of arts, sciences and social spheres beyond theatre, Georgelou responds that she finds

Goffman as a successful example of someone who used the notion of dramaturgy and applied it to analyse human interactions. Even though she warns against generalising the idea that everything is dramaturgy, as everything is performance, Georgelou considers it essential to look at dramaturgy as an expanded practice. This means that we have to examine what kind of dramaturgy and what kind of choices are made upon the dramaturgical work. The choices relate to: whom you are working on, how (hierarchically or collaboratively), what are the institutional parameters (e.g. established institutes or not) and how you address your audience in the construction of the event or performance.

These choices produce the aesthetic forms and the ethical and political implications that occur through them.

Georgelou mentions that traditional dramaturgy addresses the audience as if the audience is not there. This derives from an Aristotelian perspective, which claims that through distance you create empathy to the audience (Katharsis). Both Brechtian dramaturgy and Antonin Artaud’s addresses the audience as an audience that has to become aware of its position (a non-Aristotelian perspective).

Currently, in Post-dramatic theatre the audience develops a critical position through its engagement. Georgelou places the work of the French choreographer Jérôme Bel as a conceptual form, which moves to a kind of research together with the audience, as a critical investigation with the audience.

Georgelou refers to Art and Activism as a field that dramaturgical thinking is taking place. An example is the project of Janez Janša. Three Slovenian artists changed officially their name as Janez Janša in 2007, which is the name of Slovenia’s prime minister. Consequently, all of their bureaucratic affairs as identities, credit cards etc. operate under the name of the minister, as well as their artworks.[1]

Georgelou mentioned also the artistic branding as dramaturgical but with a different quality of the dramaturgical thinking. Dramaturgical thinking deals with the interpretation and position on how to situate an event/performance against the status quo. Consequently, the question is what dramaturgy does. Hence, by using the concepts of work and action, the question is how action acts and what is the meaning and the impact of the act.

Georgelou believes it is important to ask whether there is dramaturginal thinking or not to begin with. She assumes that dramaturgical thinking is closer to research. Research in terms of searching for something. A constant desire to understand.

Can we talk about the dramaturgy of documents? Can we trace dramaturgy into a document?

Georgelou suggests a link between dramaturgy and document. This link is that dramaturgy traditionally was applied to text and -according to my research subject- it is applied to documents.

Georgelou stated clearly that she will not approach the discussion from the perspective of archival science, as it is not her field, but she mentioned the example of scores used in dance and movements analysis. Scores are notations that you read in order to understand specific movements. Scores act as documents to guide you to certain movements. Although, there is enough space of improvisation through scores, a score is a connection as well as the balance between the representational and the performative.

A conversation with Charles Jeurgens

Charles Jeurgens is an archivist in the National Archives in the Netherlands and a professor of Archival Sciences in Leiden. Jeurgens' main interests focus on the appraisal of documents, selection issues and representation of documents. His research is based on archives with a postcolonial discourse, specifically on the former Dutch colonies in Indonesia and Taiwan. He researches the use of colonial archives and what these archives represent.

Jeurgens distinguishes between the role of the historian and the archivist in dealing with documents or records. According to him, the historian interprets documents and his role is representational [1]. The historian looks at past events through associations based on historical documents. The archivist, on the other hand, is mainly concerned with the selection of documents and records, as well with deciding about the context of an archive and its categorisation. Furthermore, in the digital age through the growing of data, the archivist is involved with Information Science. Which means that there is a shift of documents’ and records’ management to data management due to the digital age.

Discussing the phenomenon of documents, Jeurgens mentioned the important aspect of the registration of a document, that is, the perspective from which a document is created.

In his case, this refers to the Dutch colonies in Indonesia and Taiwan and to how Dutch colonisers created archives through documentation and categorisation of the lives of indigenous people. The creation of documents became a tool of power by transforming the oral culture into a written one, through a Dutch perspective.

Specifically in Taiwan, culture was oral until the 17th century. The Dutch colonisers were the first to create documents of this oral culture. As a result, the whole image of the indigenous people of Taiwan is based on Dutch documents. In order to study their history and cultural background, Indigenous people have to identify themselves with a Dutch/Eurocentric representation. Even the categorisation of the tribes, listed as 14 tribes of indigenous people, is a product of the Dutch colonisers. In the Indonesian case, the creation of the post-colonial state based on colonial documents.

Jeurgens gave an interesting example of a critical group of indigenous people in Taiwan. The group tries to keep a distance from the Dutch sources. In order to study their history, the group focuses on dances, rituals and performances.

For Jeurgens, a document needs a stamp or a signature in order to be authentic.

In the above case, the rituals and the performances are transformed into be documents and authentic ones.

How a document ‘acts'

Jeurgens approaches the document as a direct and indirect tool of exercising power. He refers to Jack Goody, a British social anthropologist. According to Goody an example is the transition from oral to written society, which the latter occurs as an interruption to the former.

Documents act for the creation of emotions by bringing memories to the people. People document their life in order to have traces to come back to in their lives.

Documents act as sources of identification and as the creation of identities, social or personal.

Documents also act as the registration of existence. The registration (e.g. citizen of a state, which means that one holds identity card, tax number etc.) proofs that you are here, that you exist. Nowadays, we witness an increasing number of people without documents, unregistered within a state that therefore constitutes them as illegal

What if dramaturgy is traced in documents?

Jeurgens sees a dramaturgical perspective connected with state bureaucracy. By referring to the rituals behind the creation of archives as rituals of bureaucratic rules and habits, he points out that these documents or records are not based on the context but on their administrative nature. As the state wants to make the society legible, the achievement is not through the registration of reality but through a modelling of reality via documents. Every categorisation uses documents as means and an important aspect is that archives are based on an hierarchy of credibility.

Furthermore, a dramaturgical perspective can be traced in the distinction between the state and the people: the state as creator of a play and people with the role of the subject. Subject, in my understanding, as a role that is not allowed to act out of specific borders and its role takes place under imposed structures by the state. The tools to constitute people as subjects are the documents.

The examples of how a document acts are endless. I selected a few that shed light on the perspective which documents can be implemented and interpreted possibly in artworks.





Stratagem (2009)

This publication constitutes a stage in an ongoing research-based project entitled Stratagem, initiated by Yota Ioannidou in 2008.

Stratagem explores the consequences of factory relocation and de-industrialization on the individual and society as a whole, by researching and tracing the operations of one single multinational business in Greece and Czech Republic.

This art project is structured upon various meetings and discussions, detailing the above phenomena and aims in investigating the issues emerged.

The publication functions as a “gathering” of the project’s documentation and of three texts from invited contributors.

The documentation is an assembly of maps, photos, video stills and interviews, collected, created and initiated by the artist during her visits to the company’s former and present plants.

An essay entitled “Not only possible but also-necessary” by the independent curator and writer Marko Stamenkovic, reflects on issues related to the project, expanding it to the contemporary cultural field.

The written interviews with the economist Yannis Eustathopoulos and the law specialist Anta Stamati are based on discussions about the phenomenon of plant relocation.

concept: Yota Ioannidou

design: Dries Wiewauters / Werkplaats Typografie – artez, NL

publisher: Dutch Art Institute