Christel Stalpaert is Full Professor Performing and Media Art Studies of the Art Studies Dept. at Ghent University (Belgium). She is co-director of the research centre S:PAM (Studies in Performing Arts and Media). Her main areas of research are theatre, performance, dance and media art (since 1890) at the meeting-point of philosophy. She has contributed to many journals such as Performance Research, Text & Performance Quarterly, Contemporary Theatre Review and Dance Research Journal. Recently edited works include No Beauty for Me There Where Human Life Is Rare: On Jan Lauwers’ Theatre Work with Needcompany (with Frederik Le Roy and Sigrid Bousset, Academia Press 2006), Bastard or Playmate? Adapting Theatre, Mutating Media and the Contemporary Performing Arts (with Rob Vanderbeeken, Springer 2012), Unfolding Spectatorship: Shifting Political, Ethical and Intermedial Positions (with Katharina Pewny and Jeroen Coppens, Academia Press 2016); The Choreopolitics of Alain Platel’s les ballets C de la B: Emotions, Gestures, Politics (with Guy Cools and Hildegard De Vuyst, Bloomsbury 2020); and Performance and Posthumanism: Staging Prototypes of Composite Bodies (with Kristof Van Baarle and Laura Karreman, Palgrave Macmillan, 2021).
In 2007, she founded the AUGent-authorized research group Postdramatic Aesthetics: Word, Sound, Image. In 2011, this research group was embedded in the UGent-authorized research centre S:PAM (Studies in Performing Arts & Media), of which she is the co-director.
Christel Stalpaert is a member of CoDa | Cultures of Dance - Research Network for Dance Studies, a scientific research community supported by Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), the consortium UGent Human Rights Research Network (led by Eva Brems) and the consortium De Stadsacademie: een collaboratorium voor Gentse duurzaamheidsvraagstukken (led by Thomas Block).
Christel Stalpaert is editor-in-chief of the A1.2.-rated journal Documenta. Tijdschrift voor theater, and editor of the S:PAM-series Studies in Performing Arts & Media.
Christel Stalpaert (° 1971) studied German Philology and Theatre Studies at Ghent University. She obtained her PhD in Art Studies in 2002 with a doctoral dissertation defending a post-semiotic method of film and performance analysis, based on the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Luce Irigaray. Her PhD research implemented Gilles Deleuze's aesthetic of intensities and Luce Irigaray's philosophy of corporeality in film, theatre and performance studies. It created an interdisciplinary analytic framework and terminology for film and performance contexts where narration – and thus also the human capacity for cognitive recognition – is no longer considered the central element in perception. In 2001 she organized the conference Deleuze Revisited: Contemporary Performing Arts and the Ruin of Representation at Ghent University and edited the conference proceedings in a thematic issue of Documenta (2003). Her dissertation and her subsequent publications unfold the functioning of postrepresentative and postdramatic scopic regimes, initiating also the field of Performance Philosophy.
Trauma Processing in Postdramatic Theatre and Film: The Transformative Potential of Corporeality and Performative Objects
This research line deals with cultural memory and trauma processing in postdramatic theatre and film. In adopting an embodied, postdramatic and situational approach to memory and trauma studies, the output of this research line provides a broader picture of trauma processing and offers a critical perspective on transformative performance practices within art and rehabilitation initiatives, particularly in conflict zones of racism and forced migration or personal displacement.
In the context of these research projects and initiatives on memory and trauma, Christel Stalpaert aims to expand Western memory and trauma regimes, and acknowledges embodied cognition (corporeal knowledge) as a valuable site for coping with trauma. In adopting an embodied, postdramatic and situational approach, her research developed in this research line takes into consideration non-linguistic and corporeal ways in which local communities cope with the effects of traumatic events and violent conflicts.
Christel Stalpaert specifically studied the notion of corporeal memory and embodied cognition in postdramatic film, theatre and dance performances that deal with trauma processing. She developed the notion of an embodied poetics of failure. In a number of publications, she has written on the failure of language in uttering traumatic experiences and on corporeal performative intensities in film, theatre and dance performances, like stuttering and falling, that bear witness to these ineffable traumas. She wrote on the memory of the body in dance performances of Jan Ritsema (in Ballettanz, 2002); on Jan Fabre's subversive bodies in resistance (in Arcadia, 2005); on violence, mourning and melancholia in the theatre work of Jan Lauwers (2007, Academia Press; and Performance Research, 2015); on the changing role of the chorus and the witness of the traumatic event in postdramatic stagings of Antigone, Medea and Clytemnestra (in Mosaic, 2008 and Performance Research 2015); on the progress of movement and speech through falling and stuttering or poetic speech (in Arcadia, 2010 and Contemporary Theatre Review, 2010); on the failure of the aging body in a gerontophobic culture (Aging Studies in Europe, 2011, Lit Verlag); and on non-western modes of coping with trauma (South African Theatre Journal 2015).
Stalpaert also investigates the post-narrative approach of postdramatic theatre in relation to the representation of a disturbing emigratory experience, including the devastating effects of personal displacement. She developed the notion of corporeal acculturation as a particular 'body-as-archive' that both affirms and challenges the boundaries of (imagined) communities and (invented) traditions, for example in the performance Journey Home (2009) by Les SlovaKs Dance Collective.
In the context of this research track, Stalpaert organized doctoral schools with Hans-Thies Lehmann on Auratic Presence: a Postdramatic Perspective on the Body and Corporeality (2011); with Freddie Rokem on Art in Conflict Zones (2012); with Ramsay Burt on The Body as Archive (2013); and with Jane Taylor on the transformative potential of performative objects in trauma processing (2014).
Stalpaert is the Principal Investigator (PI) of several externally funded research projects on the topic of performing cultural trauma in theatre and film. In 2007, she supervised Frederik Le Roy's FWO-funded PhD research on Postdramatic Theatre and Performance as Technologies of Remembrance in a Postmodern Culture of Memory. 2008 saw the start of the FWO-funded research project Marqué par une image” - Research into the Status of the (Film) Image with regard to Mechanisms of Remembrance and Memory Paradigms in a Postdramatic Aesthetics, with Dra. Sofie Verdoodt as a research-fellow.
The KVAB-funded international conference on Performing Cultural Trauma in Theatre and Film (9 May 2008) resulted in guest-editing the special issue Performing Cultural Trauma in Theatre and Film for the A1-journal Arcadia (Le Roy, Stalpaert, Verdoodt, 2011). With Lucia Van Heteren (University of Groningen), Chiel Kattenbelt (University of Utrecht) and Rob Van der Zalm (University of Amsterdam), she also edited a thematic issue on De ornamenten van het vergeten (The Ornaments of Forgetting) for the Theater Topics series (Amsterdam University Press, 2007) on the matter.
In 2014, the FWO-NRF-research project Masks, Puppets and Performative Objects as Tools of Critique, Resistance and Agency in South Africa took a start (including the PhD of Dra. Marieke Breyne and Dr. Sofie de Smet). This bilateral scientific collaboration with South Africa develops a situational, embodied and postdramatic approach for dealing with the cultural trauma of apartheid. It particularly addresses the limitations of the narrative-based storytelling that lies at the heart of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. In September 2016, the international conference entitled Re-Moving Apartheid: Postdramatic and Postnarrative Modes of Coping with Trauma took place, dealing with this topic.
From 2015-2018, Christel Stalpaert was also an external co-promoter of the CWO-project Open Ending. An Interdisciplinary Research into the Development of New Mental and Physical Spaces for Burial Practices in Contemporary Society (KASK School of Arts, Department of Architectonic Design, and Faculty of Education, Health and Social Work), giving advice on postnarrative and postdramatic modes of coping with traumas of parting.
Recent collaborations on the disturbing migratory experience and commemoration rituals of parting include the interdisciplinary workshop Necropolis with choreographer Arkadi Zaides (March 2021), seeking to imagine alternative performative and digital platforms for individual and collective mourning over the deaths of over 40.000 refugees and migrants who have attempted to reach Europe. Stalpaert published on the matter in Performance Research (26.4.2021, forthcoming).
Ecology and Climate Change
Since 2012, Stalpaert expands her embodied, postdramatic and situational approach to the field of ecology. Etymologically, the term ecology combines the Greek words oikos, meaning house or dwelling place, and lógos, meaning reason, or study. In her ecological research, Stalpaert connects environmental thinking with notions of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’. Drawing on Félix Guattari's The Three Ecologies, she researches “the ethico-aesthetic aegis of an ecosophy” (2000: 41): a contraction of ecology and philosophy that connects the environmental with a reflection on the psychic production of subjectivity and social relations. As such, gender and postcolonial perspectives are an inherent part of her ecological research that is firmly embedded in the field of Performance Philosophy.
Her approach also meets with current paradigm shifts in ecological thinking and explores new modes of activism that tackle the complexity of current ecological crises, such as climate change. Drawing on Bruno Latour’s notion of political ecology, Stalpaert engages in alternative art-science-activist worldings (Haraway), moving beyond the practice of ecology movements that are still burdened by an ideal image of Nature. Her research and education projects consider art practises activating awareness and change, generating also new modes of activism.
In the context of this research track, Stalpaert has published on the ecozoic spectator in Kris Verdonck's EXOTE (with Sofie Verdoodt in Performance Research, 2012); on the paradigm shift from ecocriticism to ecoperformance in The Ethics of Art. Ecological Turns in the Performing Arts (with Byttebier, Amsterdam: Valiz, 2014); on eco-artists as diplomats of dissensus (in Performance Philosophy, 2015 and Emerging Affinities. Marlgorzata Sugiera, Mateusz Borowski, Mateusz Chaberski (eds.), Transcript, 2019); on composite bodies of resistance in Crew’s O_REX and Nicole Beutler’s Antigone (in Performance Research, 2015); and on the ecology of agential realism in Maria Lucia Cruz Correia's Urban Action Clinic GARDEN (in Performance Research, 2018 and in The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Politics, Peter Eckersall and Helena Grehan (eds.), Routledge, 2019); on new modes of knowledge production in art-science worldings (in Didaskalia, 2018) and on the activating potential of deep-mapping in Arkadi Zaides' Necropolis as art-science-activist worlding (Performance Research, 26.4.2021, forthcoming).
Stalpaert contributed to the thematic issue of Collateral on Slow Violence: Can Art Change the Climate (June 2020) with an interview on "The connecting power of hyphens".
Stalpaert also contributed to the Water Webinar Series, jointly organized by staff members at Ghent University, University of California Berkeley, and the University of Queensland. She organized and chaired the water webinar on Art Activating Water Awareness on February 18, 2021.
On the state of being, and the experienced contingencies of danger and fragility during the pandemic of SARS-CoV-2, Stalpaert wrote a contribution in the book And then the doors opened again, edited by David Weber-Krebs (Onomatopee, 2020).
Corporealities, Technologies and Intermedialities and Matter
This research line deals with what remains of the body and corporeal knowledge in intermedial, digital environments and in posthuman constellations. Current ecological thinking also resonates with posthuman thinking.
Stalpaert builds on the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and the New Materialists (Rosi Braidotti, Donna Haraway, ...) to study ecological matters of concern in a posthuman era. She published, a.o. on figures performing prototypes of composite bodies, animating an ontological politics of time and movement in the work of Kris Verdonck (in Kris Verdonck, Peter Eckersall e.a. (eds.), Performance Research Books 2020).
In 2012, Stalpaert was granted the interdisciplinary FWO-research project entitled Capturing Dance Movements, Intensities and Embodied Experiences: Research Into New Possibilities of Digital Media for Dance Analysis and Notation based on Fase (1982) by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and ROSAS (including PhD research of Laura Karreman). It investigates corporeality and the transmission of dance knowledge in the computational environment of MoCap.
In October 2013, Kristof Van Baarle started his FWO-funded PhD-research under Stalpaert's supervision on a Critical Posthuman Aesthetic, conducting a performance-philosophical research into the configuration of posthuman figures in the art and theatre work of Kris Verdonck, implementing the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben.
In the context of this research line, the international conference Does it Matter? Composite Bodies and Posthuman Prototypes in Contemporary Performing Arts took place in March 2015. A book publication resulting from this conference, entitled Performance and Posthumanism. Staging Prototypes of Composite Bodies, is forthcoming with Palgrave MacMillan (eds. Christel Stalpaert, Kristof van Baarle and Laura Karreman, 2021).
In 2020, another FWO-research project took a start entitled Practicing Odin Teatret's archive: training transmission, interaction and creativity. This interdisciplinary research project investigates how new digital technologies may turn a static, document-based theater archive into an interaction-based archive, allowing active and creative user engagement. By incorporating motion capture technologies and extended reality (XR) multisensory displays, we aim to create a sustainable model for the development and transmission of virtually-archived theater practices in a living culture of interaction. The project is a close collaboration between IPEM and S:PAM and hosts the PhD research of Adriana La Selva.
Theatre and Performance Studies at the Intersection Point of Philosophy
Already in her PhD research, Stalpaert conducted her theatre and performance studies research at the intersection point of philosophy. In 2001, she organized a conference entitled Deleuze Revisited. The Contemporary performing Arts and the Ruins of Representation, inviting theatre and performance scholars, philosophers and artists to discuss the topic. The proceedings of this conference were published in Documenta: tijdschrift voor theater. Ever since, Stalpaert has studied theatre, dance, performance and video art in a mutual dialogue with philosophy, seeking not only to find new vocabularies to describe the functioning of artistic strategies but also to observe how art engages with the spectator in a philosophical way, i.e. inviting the spectator to think critically about matters of concern in society and to engage in creative thinking in order to anticipate and activate new opportunities.
In this context, several doctoral schools and symposia are organized. Christel Stalpaert and Aneta Stojnic organized the doctoral school Art and Ethics. Shifts from Biopolitics to Necropolitics, with Marina Grzinic (Academy of Fine Arts Vienna) in 2014. In March 2016, S:PAM (Frederik Le Roy and Christel Stalpaert) organized the symposium Contemporaneities. The Entangled Now of Performance, a symposium on the philosophy of time and history in relation to contemporary performances, with Rebecca Schneider, Milo Rau, Stefan Bläske, Daniel Blanga-Gubbay, Fabian Barba, Timmy De Laet and Thomas Bellinck. In May 2016, a doctoral school was organized by Christel Stalpaert and Goran Petrovic with political philosopher Chantal Mouffe on Art and Politics, dealing with her agonistic politico-philosophical theory.