UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Scenographic encounters : using cognitive theories to explore audience embodiment of performance spaces Ferguson, Alexander


Neuroscience, philosophies of embodied cognition, architecture theory, performance theories of perceptual oscillation, and other relevant theories are used to analyze how artists create affective scenographic environments, and how attendants (spectators) embody these environments. Attendant perception of a performance environment, according to these theories, can be characterized as action-oriented embodied cognition — an attendant perceives through physical action, including action on a neural level. Theories of embodied cognition are applied to case studies — theatre performances — that include examples from the author’s work as a performance-maker and from the work of Socìetas Rafaello Sanzio, a company that has been instructive to the author’s understanding of the encounter between self and scenography. Theories of neural mapping, neural reuse, James J. Gibson’s theory of surface perception, metaphor theory, conceptual blending, the concept of haptic visual perception, and the physics of auditory perception are employed, in combination with detailed examples from the performances, to explain how an attendant somatically makes-sense-of/cognizes that which is encountered. Some common configurations from the history of Western scenography are discussed in order to further elucidate how and why an attendant might use existing cultural and personal image schemas to find meaning in the spatial arrangement of a given performance design. In addition, the performances examined, all of which encourage perceptual instability for the attendant, necessitate rethinking the notion of cognition in performance — not-knowing is as valuable a state as knowing. To this end the theory of neural reuse and philosophies regarding self-and-other, where other is extended to include nonhuman materialities, are employed in a later chapter to argue for the importance of non-cognition, a state of prolonged unknowing that allows for new perceptual insights. Each case study concludes with a set of dramaturgical questions intended to have practical use for performance makers and dramaturges, and analytical use for scholars.

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