Performance rituals as PhD research
Stefan Belderbos was the first visual artist to undertake PhD research in the arts at Leiden University. His doctoral defence is on 2 December. Not only will he defend his dissertation on the integration of performance art in liturgy, he will also exhibit the material results of his research in the Scheltema Complex.
‘From art to religious ritual; a study of the integration of performance art in liturgy' is the full title of Belderbos's dissertation. It is based on a dual approach: a theoretical context and a meticulous description of the creative process leading up to performances, integrated in three liturgical services. Belderbos studied Social Geography and Autonomous Design at the Academy for Arts in Utrecht. He also studied for a year at the Catholic Theological University. After graduating, he abandoned social geography and opted for the visual arts, in particular performance art and installations.
The starting point for Beelderbos's PhD research was his own experience that there is too much emphasis in liturgical practice on the rational explanation and interpretation of texts. He writes in his dissertation that 'The imagination in the form of meaningful rituals, for example, had a rough deal.'
His aim with his performances was to seek connection - and even integration - with the religious rituals of the liturgy. But Beelderbos remained primarily an artist, which explains why he talks of performance rituals. 'I wanted to use my performance rituals to reinforce liturgical rituals and how these are experienced. But at the same time I wanted the artistic freedom at times to contradict liturgical rituals.'
In his performances Belderbos makes use of self-made simple wooden objects. He attaches equal importance to the performers who carry out simple actions such as standing, walking, sitting of colliding with one another. Belderbos makee extensive use of ‘tableaus’, or 'moments frozen in time'. He draws his inspiration from Joseph Beuys, Hermann Nitsch and Marina Abramović.
By interviewing people who were present at and involved in the performances, Belderbos was able to draw the conclusion that his performance rituals within the liturgy resulted in a deeper religious experience that can have a lasting effect.
In his dissertation Belderbos also focuses on the subject-object relationship: the relationship of the artist/researcher to that which he is researching. A characteristic of research in performing arts is that there is such a high degree of overlap between these entities that they can almost be said to coincide. This has far-reaching consequences for the reliability and validity of the research. Belderbos relates his work to that of the social sciences where research is difficult to repeat, one of the criteria of 'hard' science. In such research as his, the solution is sought in meticulously describing the inventive process of creation. Through this process, PhD research in the visual arts has developed a ritual of its own.
Proposition from Belderbos's dissertation:
It would be a good idea if the University were to collaborate with performance artists to modernise the ritual of PhD defences.
Thursday 2 December 2010, 13.45 hrs
Academy Building, Rapenburg 73
Van kunstwerk tot religieus ritueel
Faculty of Humanities
Supervisors: Professor F.C. de Ruiter, Professor H.A. Alma (University for Humanistics), Professor Barnard (Protestant Theological University)
Exhibition in Scheltema
Thursday 2 December van 11.00 to 17.00 hrs
Friday 3 to Sunday 12 December daily from 12.00 tot 17.00 u