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Kent Sjöström research

Layers of time – embodied. 
Practicing and talking history: challenging contemporary presentism

Point of departure 

One aspect in contemporary theatre arts that I consider worth investigating is the tendency for positive appraisal of contemporaneity, proximity or identification. Parts of this phenomenon can be labelled as presentism: an attitude toward the past dominated by present-day attitudes and experiences. This approach has, according to me, a dominant position in a contemporary discussion of theatre arts and its values. The concept balancing the notion of presentism is historization. Historization, in a theatre context, favors an approach to the past – and to the future – that involves distancing, and an investigative attitude towards the different layers of time that are present in the theatre, including the performer’s body.  

Focus of the research 

Thus, my research will investigate selected aspects of historization in theatre, and time-layers in actor´s work. The central questions are as follows: 

– How do plays from different epochs help us see the difference between the past and the present as a beneficial value, that helps us understand our opinions as partial, context-based, particular and not as universally valid?  

– How is the performer’s relation to the past, like memory and experience, affecting the personal stance and possibilities to act and represent? 

On the practical level, I suggest that the actor can approach different time-layers trough including these questions in her work: 

– How do I negotiate between different kinds of memory, lived experience, and gained knowledge? 

– How do I notice and approach the contrasting ideas, political standpoints and worldviews found in a historical material or narrative (plays), and how do I handle them in my acting?  

As for theoretical inspiration I find the following authors of value: 

– Georges Didi-Huberman presents in The Eye of History. When Images Take Positions (2018) the 20th century tradition of re-arranging images and fragments from different historical events and practicing montage. The juxtaposition and re-arranging of different time layers appear as a relevant approach for a research project aiming at an artistic and performative understanding of historization.  

– Friedrich Nietzsche, in his On the Use and Abuse of History for Life (1873), scrutinizes critically his contemporaries’ obsession with history and discusses differing approaches to humans’ relation to past, present and future.  

– Martin Puchner, in the Drama of ideas (2010), elucidates the history of ideas within the theatre and uses historical and ideological contextualization for re-imagining modern drama. 

Methodology 

I will investigate the topic area of my research through discussions, seminars and artistic practice. The investigative and practical work aims at exposing ruptures, differences and creative gaps between the performer and the material, between differing historical worldviews and ideas, as well as within the artistic body.  

Main goal of the research 

There is an artistic challenge to be found in the artist’s negotiation between different kinds of memory, lived experience, and gained knowledge on one hand, and on the other hand the supposedly contrasting ideas, political standpoints and worldviews found in a historical narrative. My hypothesis is that theatre arts through this challenge strengthen their ability to be here and there. Through historization they cultivate their capacity to elucidate blind spots epochally, understanding the change of values, and to be critical and empathetic rather than uncritically devoted to the present.