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Free Content Alarming the heart: Costume as performative body-object-event

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The word ‘costume’, like ‘design’, connotes both artefact (noun) and action (verb), highlighting costume design as an active practice and activating object, capable of dynamically intervening between the body and space. This article looks to the affective and effective impact elicited by highly performative quotidian garments outside the theatre and how, linked to ancient mythology, human history and current sociopolitical events, they have been critically adopted for live performance. Focusing on the universally beguiling red dress, referred to by Ana├»s Nin as capable of ‘alarming the heart with the violent gong of catastrophe’, the costume is discussed as a spatial body-object, disrupting and charging social environments to reveal their ‘evental’ nature: calling up monumental moments, productive aesthetic encounters and multiple daily experiences. This reiterates the complexity of our contemporary condition, in which we cannot separate the theatrical from the sociopolitical: something Jon McKenzie maintains could be understood through the critical tool of ‘performance design’ – a constructive means of drawing upon and critiquing the proliferation of manifold events played out in the new century. Referencing my own research-informed practice (created and often articulated in collaboration with choreographer/dancer, Carol Brown), this article will theorize costumes as spatial body-objects as well as active and activating agents that are integral to complex spatiotemporal webs, particularly in relation to our highly mediated reality.
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Keywords: costumes; event-space; performance design; performativity; scenography

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Tasmania

Publication date: October 1, 2014

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  • Scene is dedicated to a critical examination of space and scenic production. The journal provides an opportunity for dynamic debate, reflection and criticism. With a strong interdisciplinary focus, we welcome articles, interviews, visual essays, reports from conferences and festivals. We want to explore new critical frameworks for the scholarship of creating a scene.
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