Friday Seminar Series

Subscribe button

The ethos of SymbioticA is that ideas are discussed and shared openly and the Friday Seminar Series is designed to allow an open forum to disseminate artistic, scientific, ethical and philosophical research and practice of resident researchers, visiting artists and scholars. Our Friday Seminar Series are held salon style, in our studio space and commence at 3:00pm on Fridays. These seminars are open to the public.

Opera Without Bodies

Date: 27 September 2019
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Sarah Collins

It has long been claimed that opera can give expression to the uneasy relationship between the body and the voice. Operatic voices on stage seem to exceed the capacity of the bodies that produce them in a way that makes them almost uncanny, creating a rift between the sound and its source that makes it seem as though the voice is coming from elsewhere, directed by an external agent. For some, the uncanny nature of operatic voices emblemizes the notion that human action is shaped by social conditioning and biopolitics. For others, this uncanniness emblemizes the fact that we can never truly know ourselves beyond what can be known and described using the conventions of language and culture. Bodies on the opera stage are mere tools for symbolic expression, mechanized according to the requirements of the words and music, just as our own sense of agency is limited by the symbolic structures within which we must operate.

Yet there is an increasing awareness of the ways in which bodies can resist these structures and open up new avenues for human agency. This new focus on the resistant body goes hand-in-hand with a sense that in our search for knowledge we generally prioritize intellectual over physical activity—an imbalance that has led to the sense that experiences based on passionate feeling, the irrational, or the pre-cognitive are of lesser value, or unduly subjective. New studies into gesture and movement have suggested that bodies are not only inscribed with meaning but they can generate knowledge through somatic experience and can be a site for resistance, particularly against discursive attributions of race and gender.

If bodies and voices are seen as uncannily split and otherworldly in opera, how do operatic bodies achieve the type of material resistance and agency suggested by these new studies into somatic experience? In this paper, I will explore this question in relation to a historical moment in the 1920s that saw a convergence between ideas about human bodies and mechanization on the one hand, and strategies of artistic expression designed to thwart this sense of mechanization, through gesture, on the other. The discussion will touch on the work of Gordon Craig, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill and draw from ideas about puppetry and epic theatre before digging deeper into Ferruccio Busoni’s opera Doktor Faust. Busoni’s opera exhibits a puppet-play aesthetic, uses an off-stage chorus and employs other techniques of defamiliarization that suggest ways in which operatic bodies must be made fragmented, partial and sometimes even absent in order to probe the limits and possibilities of their resistance.

Sarah Collins joined the University of Western Australia in 2018, after holding research fellowships at Durham University and the University of New South Wales, a visitng fellowship at Harvard University, and a lecturing appointment at Monash University. She is the author of Lateness and Modernism: Untimely Ideas about Music, Literature and Politics in Interwar Britain (Cambridge UP, 2019), and The Aesthetic Life of Cyril Scott (Boydell, 2013); editor of Music and Victorian Liberalism: Composing the Liberal Subject (Cambridge UP, 2019); and co-editor, with Paul Watt and Michael Allis, of the Oxford Handbook of Music and Intellectual Culture in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford UP, forthcoming). Her research has been published in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association, Twentieth-Century Music, Music & Letters, Musical Quarterly and elsewhere. She has co-edited special issues of Nineteenth-Century Music Review, Musical Quarterly and the Australian Humanities Review. Sarah is also reviews editor of the Journal of the Royal Musical Association and the RMA Research Chronicle.

Sarah's current research focuses on the intersection between political, aesthetic and ethical concerns in music literature of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries (including music historiography, music criticism and aesthetics). Her broader research interests include British music and modernism, Anglo-European musical relations during the inter-war period, cosmopolitanism, 'new' modernism, and disciplinary history.

Sarah has been a peer reader for the Journal of the American Musicological Society, the Journal of Victorian Culture, Cambridge UP, Oxford UP, Ashgate and Boydell, and has served as President of the Victorian Chapter of the Musicological Society of Australia, and as secretary and treasurer respectively of the Queensland chapter.

Our Ancestors, Our Objects: Perspectives on Material Culture Research and the Native Body

Date: 4 October 2019
Time: 3:00pm
Location: SymbioticA
Speaker: Dr Gretchen M Stolte, Nez Perce and Berndt Foundation Research Fellow

In 2016, I was awarded an Australian Humanities Travelling Fellowship grant to conduct research in the United States at various museums, including the Nez Perce Museum in Spalding, Idaho. The aim of the project was to understand how museums engage with Nez Perce communities when museums are documenting, labelling and exhibiting Nez Perce beaded objects. The inspiration for this project was a general interest in methodologies of museum collections care but it was also a personal exploration of my own Nez Perce heritage. What started as an inquiry into museum processes slowly turned into a deeper appreciation of the nature of Native American beadwork in general.

Beadwork held in museums is, by its nature of production, an extension of the Native body. Along with leather, glass beads, sinew or even modern threads, beadwork also includes blood, hair and sweat from the makers of the works. It will be argued then that beadwork is Ancestral in nature. This presentation will briefly introduce the politics of access and how different museums engage researchers with their collection goals. From open access to various forms of gatekeeping, the politics of access is a complex one with various results. Complicating all this is the nature of beadwork objects as extensions of the Native body – both culturally and physically. Highlighting some of the major beaded works found in the Nez Perce Museum, this presentation will challenge notion of who is an Ancestor in a museum. With the case of beaded objects, the Native body is more than what we might think. As such, it will be argued that prioritising access to all objects in collections – not just the secret or the sacred – is equally as important as any other form of access.

Dr Stolte is a Nimi’ipuu (Nez Perce) American Indian and has degrees in art history and anthropology focusing on the material culture of First Nations peoples both in North America and Australia. Gretchen’s PhD research focused on the relationship between images and identity among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists in urban and regional centres around Cairns, Queensland. Her research will be published in a monograph to be available in March, 2020. Dr Stolte is also a practicing bead artist and well-versed in several techniques of cultural stringing. She is currently the Berndt Foundation Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia, exploring the ways in which collections research is an invaluable part of museum practices.