extended deadline – CFP “Microscopic Life in 20th- and 21st-Century Performance” (Paris, 15/03/24)

In 1932, on the stage of Boston’s Colonial Theatre, a human-sized bacterium complained to the audience that its human host had infected it with measles. Through this very human voice, George Bernard Shaw’s new play Too True to be Good gave a comical take on biology which reversed the perspective from the human to the microbial. Its appearance was brief, but Shaw’s talking microbe anticipated the emergence and foregrounding of microscopic actors in contemporary performance, and many of the questions raised by their appearance. Are our relations to other scales inevitably mimetic? Can we see microscopic agency without anthropomorphizing it, or the microscopic scale without colonizing it? How does biology trouble the expected roles of humans and nonhumans? And how are the categories of actor, actant or plot renewed and transformed by living microscopic processes?

Following a first symposium on literature and the microscopic organised in November 2023, this symposium will ask how 20th and 21st-century performance has engaged with invisible microscopic life. We define performance as a broad spectrum of artistic work that includes living exhibits and installations, as well as the staging of dramatic or post-dramatic work. Building on recent conceptualizations of microperformativity (Hauser & Strecker, 2020), this symposium will focus specifically on artworks that involve forms of microscopic life, such as microbes and microbiomes, or living microscopic processes, such as DNA transcription, as actors and collaborators. We ask how these actors affect agency, which shifts away from the human actor towards multi-species and multi-scalar collectives; temporality, which extends over new timescales and requires new forms of stage management and curatorial work; and relationality, where artworks involving microscopic living entities raise new ethical and biopolitical issues.

We welcome proposals for 20-minute papers in English or French, and encourage speakers to explore the following topics:

– key moments and turning-points in the performance of microscopic life over the 20th and 21st centuries

– technological and non-technological engagements with microscopic life

– the epistemic dimensions of performance aesthetics

– the role of performance in changing scopic paradigms, or moving beyond scopic paradigms towards other sensory modes of knowledge

– the ethical and political dimensions of performance involving microscopic life

– the conceptual shifts provoked by microscopic life, around notions such as community, agency, self, individual or environment

– how microscopic life affects categories such as actor, agent, plot, character, spectator, creator, collaborator, author

– the reception of performance involving microscopic life, and evolving relations to audiences

– relations between popular science and performance

– transformations of critical terminology and theoretical frameworks in reaction to microscopic life

Proposals should be sent in Word or PDF documents by the 24th of November 2023 to the organisers: 




Answers will be sent out by the end of November. The symposium will take place at the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris on 15/03/2024, with the support of FMSH Biohumanities programme (https://www.fmsh.fr/projets/biohumanities), the Institut Universitaire de France, and the BioCriticism project (https://biocriticism.hypotheses.org/).

Cite this blog post
Liliane Campos (2023, October 27). extended deadline – CFP “Microscopic Life in 20th- and 21st-Century Performance” (Paris, 15/03/24). BioCriticism. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from https://biocriticism.hypotheses.org/383

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