Staying with the Troubling, Performing in the Impasse

A book is placed on the grass
Cover of The Routledge Companion to Contemporary Art, Visual Culture and Climate Change, edited by T.J. Demos, Emily Eliza Scott, and Subhankar Banerjee

More than forty years have elapsed since the term “global warming” first entered the scientific lexicon, and the scale and severity of predicted climate disruption has only grown. An ever-expanding body of creative work has sought to give form to the shift in Euro-American consciousness needed to apprehend the environment not as a background to human activity but rather a ‘web of life’ in which humans—and the profoundly unequal social formations instigated by (some) humans—both weave and are woven. The representational and narrative challenges posed by relationships of such complexity, scale, and duration are by well known. If there is any remaining utility in Timothy Morton’s much-cited term “hyperobject,” it may be found not in attempts to depict the object itself, but rather in tracing its contours, its folds, its roots: the overdetermined ways that it came to be, the places where we can feel it breathe. It may be, in other words, less a portrait than a performance.

This essay addresses performance as a mode for learning how to sense, move, sound, think, and feel a world de-familiarized by climate change. Using my own evening-length solo performance as an extended case study, I explore how the commitment to co-presence particular to live performance can function as a rehearsal for “staying with the trouble” of planetary entanglements. In particular, performance’s capacity to move between affective and analytic registers and to loosely layer and hold divergent sources of information is especially useful for the problem of narrating climate change in ways that the ‘trouble’ to continue to trouble, without being shunted into totalizing (and profoundly Western) invocations of apocalypse. Finally, I consider how performance can create spaces for the collective experiences of a critical ecological grief that may allow for movement through “The Great Dithering” and an abandonment of the illusions of (white) innocence that impeded living ethically and responsively within a threatened world.

Credit

Kanouse, Sarah, “Staying with the Troubling,” in Emily Eliza Scott, TJ Demos, and Subhankar Banerjee, eds., The Routledge Companion to Contemporary Art, Visual Culture, and Climate Change. New York: Routledge, 2021, pp. 153-163.