Costume as Archive of gesture and meaning: its methods and ethics
While as creative practitioners we are becoming increasingly aware of the agential significance of costume ‘matter’ in performance making, recent questioning of such agency by performance scholars demands further articulations of its intricacies through practice. Going beyond countering Rebecca Schneider’s suggestion that granting matter agency may absolve humans of responsibility (2015) and Andrew Sofer’s sense that non-human agency may be ‘an apolitical signifier—merely a synonym for energy’ (2016), I intend to trace and foreground the ‘tissue of ethicality’ (Barad, 2007) that runs through a notion of material agency in the entanglement of human and non-human matter in specific elements of my practice. My own methodologies in the physical / material workshop demonstrate how material performativity precedes, informs and performs alongside processes of embodiment, while embedding ethics at the core of performance-making. As bodies materialised through costume exist in relation to other materialities, wider concerns are engaged through such positioning of costume as critical nexus in performance-making. As such material performativity embeds a pointed means of expression, its performance exposing the critical agency of performance itself.
In considering movement materially, iterations of methodological workshops such as ‘Wearing Space’ (2015) and ‘Material Interactions’ (2019), ‘Moving/Drawing’ (2008) have grown from the understanding that alternative imaginings of performance – as much as alternative and unimagined futures – emerge within the macrocosm of the physical and material workshop.
Costume scenographer, researcher and writer Donatella Barbieri is senior research fellow in design for performance at London College of Fashion: University of the Arts London. She is the author of Costume in Performance: Materiality, Culture and the Body, London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. (Prague Quadrennial, 2019 Best Performance Design & Scenography Publication Award and shortlisted for the Society of Theatre Research Book Award) and founding and lead editor of Studies in Costume and Performance. As a practice-centred researcher, she has authored articles and chapters for both performance and fashion scholarly publications while her costume-based practice has been performed and displayed in museums and other cultural sites internationally, including in the UK, the V&A and the British Library. Her long association with the Prague Quadrennial includes the curation of PQ07 Scenofest costume workshops and the co-production of “LES /Forest” performance with Jana Zborilova at DAMU. Performance “Old into New” for PQ11 was devised with performer Mary Kate Connolly, while “Wearing Space” at PQ15 was re-proposed in Oslo, Tallinn and Galway. More recently, she devised “Materials Interactions” in collaboration with an international group of designers and performers at PQ19. As a result of her research into costume and into material performativity, she founded, in 2006, the experimental MA in Costume Design for Performance at LCF:UAL, where she also supervises PhDs.