Performance, Astronomy, and Space Exploration

Planetary Performance

Photo credit: Red Bull Stratos/Red Bull Content Pool. Image courtesy of Red Bull.

Photo credit: Red Bull Stratos/Red Bull Content Pool. Image courtesy of Red Bull.

I use performance as a methodological angle to approach the historical, political, cultural and artistic implications of astronomy and space exploration. My PhD was titled Planetary Performance Theory, and its chapters referred to a pool of performance practices—including theatre and performance art—that have contributed to the definition of planetary subjectivity and the role humans may have in the universe at any given point of time in history. My work thus inspects the performativity of astronomy, space exploration, and the search for non-terrestrial intelligence and calls for the articulation of new and more inclusive frameworks to understand it. Crucial to this objective is that I consider the extraterrestrial as a historical constant in human knowledge that is shaped and defined according specific geohistorical contingencies, determining its representational and aesthetic qualities at every point. I argue that “outer space” is the latest epistemology of the extraterrestrial, and I trace performance practices in popular culture, theatre and performance art, and in science and technology that may be indicative of a new epistemology for the extraterrestrial—or what I call, a new planetary regime. Using this framework as a starting point, I am currently working towards my first monograph under the working titled Planetary Performance.

Performance Studies Space Programme

pssp flyer.jpg

I am an affiliated researcher with the Transmission in Motion platform at Utrecht University, where the co-convener, with Professor Maaike Bleeker, of the Performance Studies Space Programme, or PSSP. The programme enables interdisciplinary encounters between these seemingly divergent disciplines with the objective of debating variable onto-epistemologies of time and space vis-à-vis the materiality of artistic, cultural, and scientific performance practices. To this end, the Programme considers three lines of investigation: 1. Performance as a representation of Science, Technology and the Universe; 2. Performance as a method of interdisciplinary research; 3. and Astronomy/Cosmology as fields for performance theory. These three lines of investigation map a topology between performance research and astronomical/cosmological disciplines and their methods. Addressing the possibilities of that topology, PSSP exists alongside other great efforts from scholars working in different areas of the humanities, post-humanities and geohumanities in order to articulate the paradigms and criticalities needed to deal with the universe and our place in it: its social production, its military employment, the increasing possibilities of its commodification, its politics, its aesthetics, and, as we hope to investigate here, its performativity.

PSSP Mission #1 Hamburg 2017 (Handout)

PSSP Mission #2 is planned for Calgary July 2019


Some publications:


Performance Research 22:5 ‘On Names’ (2017) pp.28-34.

Between 2010 and 2016, Scottish artist Katie Paterson (b. 1981) subscribed to a mailing list that alerts astronomers and scientists around the world when the ‘death’ of a star has been observed and recorded. Whenever she received an alarm, Paterson would then write a quick letter announcing the death of that star and send it to a pre-selected gallerist or recipient.   

Read more. 

Photo credit: Katie Paterson, The Dying Star Letters, 2011, ink on paper. Installation view Haunch of Venison, London, 2012. Photo Peter Mallet, courtesy of Haunch of Venison, London.


Theatre Research International, 41:3, pp. 258-275, 2016.

Recent years have seen an increase in extraterrestrial exploration projects. What was once a series of competing displays of Cold War political and military might between the US and the USSR has now re-emerged with international collaborations and fresh contestants that range from newly developed, government-based Space programmes to a growing list of private and corporate investors and entrepreneurs. Historically, performances and performative actions and utterances have been important instruments for the representation and politicization of outer-Space discovery and exploration. 

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Guest blog for The Planetary Society. April 2017. 

Terrestrial cultures have (always) had a degree of extraterrestrial-ity in them. Cultural astronomers and archeoastronomers (historians and scientists that work with the history of extraterrestrial observation and its impacts on civilization) have demonstrated that this was already a constant in ancient civilizations, with examples such as the rituals performed in places like Stonehenge and Chichen Itza. Indeed, the extraterrestrial has been a constant feature in the human history.

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Photo: Pete Conrad at the Surveyor 3 Spacecraft, with the Apollo 12 Lunar Module in the Background.  NASA.