Engaging Noemi Lakmeier's living installations : the ethics of embarrassment

Hadley, Bree J. (2012) Engaging Noemi Lakmeier's living installations : the ethics of embarrassment. In Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies 2012 : Compass Points - The Locations, Landscapes and Coordinates of Identities , 3-6 July 2012, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD. (Unpublished)

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In Exercise in Losing Control (2007) and We Are for You Because We are Against Them (2010), Austrian-born artist Noemi Lakmaier represents Otherness – and, in particular, the experience of Otherness as one of being vulnerable, dependent or visibly different from everyone else in a social situation – by placing first herself then a group of participants in big circular balls she calls ‘Weebles’. In doing so, Lakmaier depicts Otherness as an absurd, ambiguous or illegible element in otherwise everyday ‘living installations’ in which people meet, converse, dine and connect with spectators and passersby on the street. In this paper I analyse the way spectators and passersby respond to the weeble-wearers. Not surprisingly, responses vary – from people who hurry away, to people who try to talk to the weeble-wearer, to people who try to kick or tip the weeble to test its reality. The not-quite-normal situation, and the visibility of the spectators in the situation, asks spectators to rehearse their response to corporeal differences that might be encountered in day-to-day life. As the range of comments, confrontations and struggles show, the situation transfers the ill-at-ease, embarrassed and awkward aspects of dealing with corporeal difference from the disabled performer to the able spectator-become-performer. In this paper, I theorise some of the self-conscious spectatorial responses this sort of work can provoke in terms of an ethics of embarrassment. As the Latin roots of the word attest, embarrassment is born of a block, barrier or obstacle to move smoothly through a social or communicative encounter. In Lakmaier’s work, a range of potential blocks present themselves. The spectators’ responses – from ignoring the weeble, to querying the weeble, to asking visual, verbal or physical questions about how the weeble works, and so on – are ways of managing the interruption and moving forward. They are, I argue, strategies for moving from confusion to comprehension, or from what Emmanuel Levinas would call an encounter with the unknown to back into the horizon of the known, classified and classifiable. They flag the potential for what Levinas would call an ethical face-to-face encounter with the Other in which spectators and passersby may unexpectedly find themselves in a vulnerable position.

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ID Code: 55092
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: No
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Noemi Lakemaier
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING (190000)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING (190000) > PERFORMING ARTS AND CREATIVE WRITING (190400) > Drama Theatre and Performance Studies (190404)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Past > Institutes > Institute for Creative Industries and Innovation
Past > Schools > School of Media, Entertainment & Creative Arts
Deposited On: 22 Nov 2012 21:51
Last Modified: 09 Apr 2014 02:36

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