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Humanities Institute

Creating and Acting Identity: Practice-as-Research,” a one-day interdisciplinary symposium, will take place on Friday October 22, 2010 from 10:00am to 5:30pm. This symposium is being held in conjunction with the world-premiere of Tilly No-Body: Catastrophes of Love, a play about Tilly Wedekind (actress-wife of German playwright Frank Wedekind), which was created and performed by Professor Bella Merlin, Department of Theatre & Dance. Although both the writing and performance of Tilly No-Body is deeply informed by research into Tilly Wedekind’s life and history, from the beginning Merlin had also envisioned organizing a symposium alongside the performance of the play in order to foster a larger discussion about questions of identity, performance, and research-as-practice. By bringing together a combination of faculty, staff, graduate students, as well as three international scholars, Merlin hopes the symposium will generate a comprehensive and provocative conversation about interdisciplinary research and practice across the arts, humanities and social sciences.

The production of Tilly No-Body functions as the hub of the symposium, as point of departure for thinking about the production and performance of identity and about the implications of research-as-practice for the humanities. For Merlin, practice-as-research is a form of embodied knowledge that presents one’s research and archive through the body, in ways that emphasize how practice is research. She notes, “There are lots of us within the humanities and social sciences who do research through practice as well as through analysis, so the symposium is both performative and informative.”

The first panel, “Creating and Acting the Wedekind Identity,” will provide the historical context for the lives of playwright Frank Wedekind and his actress-wife Tilly, and attend to the ways that culture and historical era define and determine identity. Shifting to a performative mode, the second panel consists of contributions by three artists on the creation of identities. Panel three, “Shaping Identity,” is an interdisciplinary discussion among four scholars and artists on the research and presentation self and identity. Because actors do by profession what most people do unconsciously everyday – that is, package and present our identities in particular ways – the fourth panel, “Acting and Performing Identity,” features three Ph.D. students who will share their performance-based research.

In addition to demonstrating other ways of sharing research besides writing articles and books, the symposium serves as an example of arts and humanities collaboration. Despite the distinctions between the arts and humanities, Merlin says, “In many ways, we are investigating the same thing — humanity and human behavior. It is the mode of dissemination of knowledge that is different.” She hopes that the interdisciplinarity of the symposium will “create a hotbed of discussion that explores something we all experience — identity and the instability of identity” and spawn a longer dialogue and possibly future events.

The symposium is co-sponsored by the UC Davis Humanities Institute, the Consortium for Women and Research, and the departments of Theatre & Dance, German, and English. It will be held in Lab A, Wright Hall, UC Davis, and is free and open to the public. For more details on symposium, please see the schedule of panels here. After the symposium, there will be a performance of Tilly No-Body at 8pm in the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, followed by a post-show discussion and drinks reception in Lab A, Wright Hall, at 9:30pm.

Story by Tristan Josephson
Photo credit: Courtesy of Bella Merlin

This page was last updated: October 18, 2010



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