IHGC Distinguished Visitor Public Lecture
Andrew W Mellon Chair of Aesthetic Theory and Material Performance
University of Western Cape
“Newes from the Dead”
Abstract: An unnatural “Moment in the History of Natural Philosophy.” In 1650, a young woman was hanged in Oxford, England, for infanticide, and her body was given to the anatomists at the University for an anatomy lesson which was also a lesson in law, power, and patriarchy. This paper explores the remarkable circumstances surrounding her death. In 2011, following a commission from Renaissance scholar Stephen Greenblatt, Professor Taylor staged a theater work arising from this moment of history, in order to conceptualize, through performance, the relation between natural history, puppetry arts and the materiality of being. Professor Taylor’s talk will be based on her experience of this theatrical collaboration and larger questions about the history of biomedical sciences and changing attitudes to life, mortality, the infant and discourses on the woman’s body.
Bio: Professor Jane Taylor is Andrew W Mellon Chair of Aesthetic Theory and Material Performance at the University of Western Cape, South Africa. She has held numerous visiting positions at Harvard, Chicago, Cambridge, Leeds and elsewhere. A distinguished playwright, creative writer and scholar of performance theory, Professor Taylor leads several interdisciplinary projects on shifting conceptions of the human - biomedical, informatic, and geological - under conditions of late modernity. She engages with arts practitioners across visual representation and performance, activating a consideration of the ways in which the aesthetic defines and delimits the conditions of human existence. She has written several plays for puppets, working with artist William Kentridge and the Handspring Puppet Company, as well as a recent puppet play for Renaissance scholar Stephen Greenblatt – a work dealing with the early history of neurology. She has written a novel, The Transplant Men (2009), based on the life of Dr Christiaan Barnard, who performed the world’s first heart transplant surgery. She has recently published a monograph on William Kentridge’s production of The Nose, for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This study explores subject/object relations as well as aesthetic experiments associated with Soviet Constructionism. While at UVA, Professor Taylor will collaborate on a new IHGC Mellon Lab on Performance Cultures in the Global South.