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Dys-appearance and compassion: The body, pain and ethical enactments in Mike Parr’s Close the Concentration Camps (2002)

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On 15 June 2002, Australian performance artist Mike Parr staged a performance entitled Close the Concentration Camps at the Monash University Museum of Art in Melbourne. The work focused on the acts of self-harm that detained asylum seekers were engaging in while being segregated in detention centres in isolated parts of the country. For Parr the performance was an expression of solidarity and empathy with the detainees. In the resulting performance, he had his lips sewn shut and had the word ‘Alien’ branded into his thigh with a hot iron. This article draws on the phenomenology of pain as outlined by Drew Leder to discuss the deployment of pain in performance. Applying the notion of ‘dys-appearance’, the article discusses how the temporal characteristics of pain can lay the foundations for an ethical audience engagement by encouraging spectators to acknowledge that they share the same space and time as the bleeding and suffering body that they see before them. The article considers this ethical response in relation to the notion of ‘compassion’. Pointing to the etymological meaning of compassion as ‘suffering with’, I argue that the performance engages the painful body’s capacity to elicit an affective and visceral response in order to encourage audiences to feel with the suffering body they see before them. Moreover, this affective response can be seen as a prelude to political intervention on behalf of asylum seekers incarcerated in detention centres.

Keywords: asylum; hunger strike; pain; performance; phenomenology; refugee

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: La Trobe University

Publication date: April 25, 2011

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  • Performing Ethos is a refereed, interdisciplinary journal which considers ethical questions relating to contemporary theatre and live performance. Global in scope, it provides a unique forum for rigorous scholarship and serious reflection on the ethical dimensions of a wide range of performance practices from the politically and aesthetically radical to the mainstream.
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