15 Mar 2022 to 30 Nov 2022

We invite submissions to an issue of TDR on labor, digital technologies, and the performing arts. We affirm performance’s capacity to center the experience of racialized, gendered, and colonized bodies against the abstractions too often attached to discourses of the digital. Dissenting from the paradigm of “posthuman” and “new materialist” scholarship, prevalent in writing on performance and new technology, we intend to explore how humans create, and are created by, computational capitalism. (Though we certainly invite pieces which tie these approaches together.) In addition to scholarly articles, we welcome manifestos, performative essays, poetry, images, scores, and interviews.

Ten years ago, André Lepecki’s Exhausting Dance declared that “modernity’s project is fundamentally kinetic,” gathering all subjects into “a ceaseless drive for autonomous, self-motivated, endless, spectacular movement” (7, 13). To the performing arts thus fell the unique task to “exhaust” themselves: to disassociate dance from movement, thus resisting the capitalist imperative to ‘get going’ through the critical “still act” (15). In that same post-financial-crisis period, many pundits and tech-industry titans advanced strikingly similar “exhausting” claims about robotics, artificial intelligence, and automation. Economic productivity growth, so imperiled since 2008 (or 1972), would ‘get moving’ again thanks to computerized technology. The production, transportation, and circulation of goods and capital would become autonomous, self-motivated, endless, and spectacular; labor would orient to mental, desk-bound tasks; perhaps we could even be freed from the burden of employment altogether. A profusion of much-discussed ‘nonhuman’ performances by Socitas Raffaelo Sanzio, Heiner Goebbels, Annie Dorsen, Jordan Harrison, and Rimini Protokoll, seemed to affirm this diagnosis. Exhausting movement would at last be given over to technology, nonhuman entities would become historical agents, art would realign with mental work, and we humans would face a future of restful still acts.
Yet, we submit, contemporary bodies are in fact still exhausted. Behind the spectacular achievements of robotics and machine learning lie innumerable acts of human effort. Coding and choreographing motors, as some of us know from experience, requires a preponderance of labor to eventual output. Nor have advances in digital technology been crafted by magically ‘performative’ code-writing that writes itself: the labor ‘behind’ the tech-industry scene includes server-center janitors, cobalt miners, and refugee-camp residents sitting at rows of laptops correlating images with text to train ‘self-driving’ cars (Jones). Only racializing and colonial logics can deny the centrality of such activity to generating our computationally-pervaded lives. Fantasies of automation aside, the workers of the world—disproportionately living in the global south—are exhausted, still.

They are also exhausted still: many of these new categories of work are sedentary. Challenging performance history’s conventional association of industrial labor with full-body muscularity (Rabinbach, McCarren), and paired association of bourgeois interiority with the chair (Ridout, Skimin), vast portions of low-paid work now occur before computer screens. (The Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated this transformation.) While intensely embodied—and physically debilitating—such work nevertheless lacks the character of large-scale physical  motion, provoking unique problems for representation within the performing arts: how can the stage make visible the labor of neurons, of eyes, of fingers? Meanwhile, we contend that many recent artists have used robotic and A.I. technologies to explore themes of circularity, stagnation, and stillness. Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s viral “Can’t Help Myself” stages a Sisyphean robot endlessly cleaning a pool of blood, Ian Cheng’s virtual AI-scripted performers stutter and fall over, Liz Santoro and Pierre Godard’s “For Claude Shannon” depicts dancers failing to execute an overcomplicated algorithmic score. Beckett, not Marinetti, reigns over this techno-performance domain.

Capitalism is stuck, while much of our field presumes its acceleration. Computers may have gotten faster, but the society they have made slows down. From supply-chain woes to slumping construction rates, from the inefficiencies of blockchain to the faux-futurities of electric cars, global capitalism now signals slowdown, paralysis, and blockage even as it exhausts the laboring bodies necessary for its reproduction (Kirkwood, Smith.) How might this transformation, visible in macroeconomic data as well as in our loved and/or dreaded ‘home offices,’ impact performance theory?

Potential Topics for the TDR issue:

  • Telepresence and the Future of Work 
  • Algorithmic and AI Art 
  • Commercial Web Performance Platforms: Twitch, YouTube, TikTok, etc.
  • Surveillance Capital and “Data Exhaust” (Zuboff)
  • Automated Management and Logistics
  • Disabled and Crip Critiques of Technology
  • Robotics and the “Android Scenario” (Otto)
  • Global Resource Extraction / Anti-Extractive Activism
  • Phenomenological Approaches to Screen-Mediated Performance
  • Political Apathy and Cultural Exhaustion
  • Neo-Colonial Distributions of Tech-Industry Employment
  • Individuation and Entropy in New Media Art
  • US-Imperial Decline
  • Human-Computer and Human-Robot Interfaces 
  • Distributed Performance Modalities (i.e., Augmented Reality, Haptics)  
  • Decentralized Networks, Distributed Systems, and Dilution 
  • Live Coding and Performative Coding
  • Mortality and Embodiment

Submit all materials to TDR by 30 November 2022 via https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/tdr-journal
For inquiries, contact douglas.eacho@utoronto.ca.


Works Cited

  • Jones, Phil. “Refugees help power machine learning advances at Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon.” Rest of World, 22 Sept. 2021.
  • Kirkwood, Jeffrey West. 2022. “From Work to Proof of Work: Meaning and Value after Blockchain.” Critical Inquiry 48, 2:361–80.
  • Lepecki, André. 2006: Exhausting Dance: Performance and the Politics of Movement. London: Routledge.
  • McCarren, Felicia. 2003. Dancing Machines: Choreographies of the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Rabinbach, Anson. 1992. The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Ridout, Nicholas. 2020. Scenes from Bourgeois Life. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Otto, Ulf. 2021. “Performing the Glitch: AI Animatronics, Android Scenarios, and the Human Bias.” Theatre Journal 73, 3:359–72.
  • Skimin, Eleanor. 2021. “Reproducing the White Bourgeois: The Sitting-Room Drama of Marina Abramović.” TDR 62, 1:79–97.
  • Smith, Jason E. 2020. Smart Machines and Service Work: Automation in an Age of Stagnation. London: Reaktion.
  • Zuboff, Shoshana. 2019. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. New York: Public Affairs Books.