An mdw Gender Studies Lecture Series

How do current global challenges take shape in the arts? And how, conversely, might performative practices potentially provoke change? This year’s mdw gender-focused lecture series Performing Challenges at the Department of Cultural Management and Gender Studies (IKM), organised by Evelyn Annuß, Silke Felber, and Julia Ostwald, dealt with the relationships between performative art forms and interdependent socio-political and ecological challenges—conceived of in accordance with the meaning of “challenge” as something difficult but also as a summons, a provocation, or a taking-upon-oneself. This event brought together theoretical, artistic, and activist approaches aimed at grappling with interlaced inequalities and the relationships between queer-feminist, migrant, and ecological-planetary perspectives in light of various examples from the realms of music, theatre/performance, dance, film, and activism against the backdrop of current globalisation-related developments.

The series of lectures was kicked off by Sima Ehrentraut, who dealt with the role played by visually based processes of exchange in trans-for-trans dynamics in light of material including the film Seek Bromance (Samira Elagoz, 2021). Questions of trans identity were also central to Gin Müller’s discussion of the performance Identity Cases – Identitäts-Prozesse, which translates the controversy over identity politics into specific mediatised courtroom settings. Müller provided not only interesting insights regarding his own dramaturgical work but also put the underlying conflict concerning fluid and established (trans/gender/race) identities up for debate. Thereafter, the Arthouse Cinema played host to a screening of the multiple award-winning film Sonne (Kurdwin Ayub, 2022) followed by a discussion moderated by Djamila Grandits and featuring actors Law Wallner and Maya Wopienka as well as the Max Reinhardt Seminar role development professor Sonja Hilberger.

The second day of this lecture series began with an emphasis on gender-specific aspects of music theatre both onstage and behind the scenes. Melanie Unseld, a professor of historical musicology at the mdw’s Department of Musicology and Performance Studies, addressed the internationally celebrated production humanistää! eine abschaffung der sparten […an abolition of divisions] (Vienna Volkstheater) in her retracing of dual creativity and intertwined biographies as manifested onstage. This lecture was followed by a both revealing and entertaining conversation about the process of this production’s creation and rehearsal with conductor Jera H. Petricek. Thereafter, the theatre scholar and musicologist Anke Charton took up the example of Aïda to demonstrate the extent to which narratives around gender and race/ethnicity are asserting themselves in present-day music theatre, also asking whether and how so-called core repertoire can even (still) be considered performable.

Front and centre on the second afternoon were environmental issues that currently represent an intense focus in as well as beyond gender and diversity research. Among the fields of activity that are increasingly coming to address facets and forms of the “Plantagenocene” (Haraway/Lowenhaupt-Tsing) is that of the performing arts, as Chris Standfest and Sean Pfeiffer impressively showed with reference to works by Claudia Bosse, Barbara Frischmuth, and Lisa Hinterreithner. Following their contribution, climate activist Martha Krumpeck (Last Generation Austria) spoke with the theatre and cultural studies scholar Silke Felber about the extent to which queer feminist goals are linked with climate justice utopias. The series then concluded with a lecture by the literary scholar Isabel Kranz, who took on the mediality of the floral by way of examples from literature, art, aesthetic theory, and the history of botanical science, in the process demonstrating how flowers question all-too-simple (gender) oppositions in astounding ways.

The relevance of cultural studies-oriented gender studies as a field of work was shown not least by the enormous audience interest garnered by this lecture series, a response that has reinforced the organisers’ intent to plan a follow-up event in the near future.

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