Performance, enlightenment and The Walking Dead in final Professorial LectureTuesday 5 May 2015
The Walking Dead and an eighteenth century Enlightenment text on the human condition will feature in the final Inaugural Professorial lecture of 2015.
Each year, newly-appointed professors at the University had the opportunity to address the university and wider public with a key aspect of their field of research. Professor Simon Piaseki presented The Wealth of Moral Sentiments: Altruism, Peril and Performance on Wednesday 13th May in Liverpool Hope University’s Senate Room at 5.30pm. The event was free and open to the public.
The lecture began with a consideration of Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which argues that human beings have an essential commitment to the wellbeing of one another even in the direst of circumstances. Smith used numerous examples of theatre to illustrate his thesis, and Professor Piasecki will make the case for performance as an ideal vehicle through which to investigate ideas of the self and other. He offset this argument against Ayn Rand’s 1957 objectivist novel Atlas Shrugged, which in contrast explores reason, individualism and capitalism.
Professor Piasecki then discussed drama and performances that have taken place against journeys, danger, loss and fear. These include Tagore’s play The Post Office, which in 1942 was performed by a group of Polish Orphans in the Warsaw Ghetto before they were marched off to their murder in Treblinka. He also discussed his most recent production, Flight to Arras, directed by Shelley Piasecka, which offers a dramatic retelling of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s penultimate flights and thoughts as he flew over occupied France in World War Two. In this work, the audience is taken on a sortie, looking down at the terrible beauty of a culture that is in flight, of villages, families, war, desperation, love, life and death.
Professor Piasecki then went on to look at AMC Studios’ The Walking Dead. Moving beyond the horror aspects and focusing on how the programme depicts social integrity, he examined how the characters' performance of self-preservation is also a movement away from the sentimentality that is vital for society to survive.
Professor Piasecki has worked internationally as a performance artist and has created performances at night against the backdrop of mountain ranges in the UK and Spain. These performances, which were developed through research informed teaching, took a live audience out onto the mountains at night and relied on night vision to create a spectacle that explored landscape and belonging.
He said: “All theatre has conflict at its heart, but this lecture will explore performance and theatre as a vehicle for discussing human morality. Throughout all will flow my interest in cultural Geography, performance, identity, territories of power and the disempowered.”