Performance, identity and digital culture explored in new book

  • Date

    Wed 2 Feb 22

A still from a satirical film by Randy Rainbow featuring a man, wearing a Stetson cowboy hat seemingly singing

Avatars, performance capture and deepfakes offer exciting digital possibilities but they also raise questions about how identity can be created, hijacked and manipulated. In his latest book Dr Liam Jarvis explores the complex relationship between performance, identity and evolving digital technologies.

Avatars, Activism and Postdigital Performance is a collection of essays addressing vital questions about technological advances in art and culture that are rapidly outpacing policymaking, legal regulations and ethical discussions.

Co-edited by Dr Jarvis, from the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies and Dr Karen Savage, from the Lincoln School of Film and Media (University of Lincoln), the book features seven chapters written by researchers from around the world.

It explores themes including how the use of performance capture has simultaneously made Andy Serkis a household name while completely concealing his face and the use of technology to capture our data and create ‘digital identities’ or ‘databodies’. 

In his own chapter, Dr Jarvis, examines how images are accepted as proxies for people we never meet first-hand. Using a deepfake video of Barack Obama as a case study, he looks at how technology allows us to create manipulatable digital puppets that we only recognise as deepfakes through notions of ‘wrongness.’

In another chapter Dr Savage explores how filmed audience reactions to US Vice-President Mike Pence’s presence at the musical Hamilton are hijacked in the layered musical satirical videos of Randy Rainbow.

Dr Jarvis said: “Technology is increasingly part of our social and political world. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed, and in many ways accelerated, the pace of technological change in culture.

“Considering how technology is radically reshaping performance Avatars, Activism and Postdigital Performance makes a timely contribution by tracing how identity can be created, developed, hijacked, manipulated, sabotaged and explored through performance in postdigital cultures.”

It is the first comprehensive exploration of ‘intermedial performance’ in the postdigital age.

Dr Jarvis explained: “’Intermediality' is a term that over the past 15 years has described different kinds of multimedia theatre that have blurred the boundaries between live performance and a diverse array of other kinds of media and technologies.

Avatars, Activism and Postdigital Performance considers how postdigital thought and performance practices can offer expressions of activism that expose growing disenchantment with digital information systems in the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations in 2013, and the spread of misinformation with the rise of post-truth politics.”

The book is the result of a series of conference papers written by members of the Intermediality in Theatre and Performance working group, part of the International Federation for Theatre Research.


Header image is a screenshot from one of Randy Rainbow's satirical online music videos.