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Title: Beyond reasonable doubt : an investigation of doubt, risk and testimony through performance art processes in relation to systems of legal justice
Author: Johnston, Sandra Marie
ISNI:       0000 0004 2735 5688
Awarding Body: University of Ulster
Current Institution: Ulster University
Date of Award: 2012
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This research project proposes that the diverse evidence of human rights violations is primarily carried and conveyed through gestures: from the enacted staging of terrorist spectacles, the interpretive performances of legal testimony and the embodied gestures of protestors, to the responses of survivors sometimes existing on the cusp of invisibility and silence. This spectrum of embodied evidence forms the basis of the research, which has been led by subjective experimentation through performance and installation artworks, as well as writing and an analysis of relevant texts and literature. The writing has been of a performative or documentary nature and academic, i.e. theorizing and contextualizing viewpoints in the written thesis. These methods of questioning reflect a search for structures that can address human rights violations through interpretive and empathetic forms of embodied movement. This is in contrast to the dominance of verbal and textual forms of evidencing, such as those legitimised in legal processes. The research shows that performance art as a medium can accentuate and enrich the territory of sensory and compassionate interpretation of events through interjecting doubt and risk as active elements within communication. This does not replicate or replace the traditional methods of gathering evidence, but can be understood as a parallel activation of aspects of content otherwise elusive to rational documenting processes. It was found that during performance improvisation artists work in progressive stages of separation from an underlying structure, what is primarily valued in the art form are the diversions and innovations that occur spontaneously, taking both artist and audiences into a space of unstructured or unpremeditated encounter. The quality of these transactions is the opening of doubt and its introduction in a constructive space of communication. Similarly, all social processes require inexplicable or irrational moments of risk-taking, in order to produce change in entrenched patterns of social interaction between groups and their environments. Within improvisation, eruptive and, indeed, disruptive opportunities are actively sought by practitioners and are understood to be necessary to the production of a true space of readjustment and reflection. The underlying concerns of the research were often adjusted and refocused in response to concurrent political events. Several areas of enquiry were explored, such as judicial procedures through both legal and quasi-legal forms, consideration of reconciliation processes and issues of mediatization. This spectrum of enquiry has created new perspectives on performance art with regard to questioning what the nature is of the political and social communication encapsulated in temporal acts. Additionally, it complicates the often unquestioned notion that legal processes are comprehensive, authoritive and rational, whereas improvisation practices are inaccessible, irrational and unverified. Therefore, through comparative reframing the research shows that improvisation is not disconnected from other social processes, but can be strategised and traced in ways that illuminate the equally flawed ephemeral and embodied processes at the core of legal practices. Despite the inherent instability within any conception of truth to arrive at a point of judgement beyond conjecture and doubt, there seemingly remains a compulsive drive to formulate some understanding of past events especially when these have been violent in nature. In this regard, issues surrounding the gathering and dissemination of intangible heritage resonate with those raised by evidencing performance art, in that both acknowledge the brittle and time-loaded quality of extracting something of the 'truth' engrained within embodied acts. The thesis argues that creative art forms are not gauges of truth, but potent elements in the broader social trajectory of movement towards consensus about the reality of what has happened in the past. Therefore, the 'truth' exists in a trajectory and can only be approached and extracted at different points during the society's movement away from violence: a watershed of hidden stigmatised issues slowly unravelling, clearing the space for further inquiry within the fields of the witnessing, memory, performance and the trauma thresholds of survivors of violence.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available