Ask the author: Petra Kuppers

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A professor of performance studies and disability culture at the University of Michigan, Petra Kuppers’ latest book explores disability culture by focusing on a collection of performances over the past 15 years.


Related: Ask the Author: Candice Wuehle

Petra Kuppers is the Anita Gonzalez Professor of Performance Studies and Disability Culture at the University of Michigan. In addition to being an author and poet, she is a disability culture activist and community performance artist. His last book Eco Soma: Pain and joy in speculative performance encounters focuses on creating a culture of disability within performance that leads to a socially just future by looking at past performance. Eco Soma is out March 18 – Kuppers will host a book launch and reading party at Chauncey on March 31.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

The Iowan Daily: What does the title mean Eco Soma mean?

Kuppers: It’s an interesting title, because everyone has to ask themselves this question, which I really appreciate. Everyone thinks they have it under control. “Eco”, like “ecological” – like “What surrounds us? » The word “ecology” comes from a German word. It refers to ‘What surrounds us, what surrounds us? What are we part of? What are we in? “Soma” refers to incarnation; the body, the bodily sensation. I do a lot of somatic work, which is an area where you practice tuning your bodily senses.

DI: What was your writing process for the book?

Kuppers: The first performances in the book were performances in Australia and Oakland in 2006. So in 2006 I was in a place in Melbourne, Australia, and I saw a performance of many people who would be considered to have cognitive differences. As you can read in the chapter, the show has a lot of messages like “I’m alone, people are watching me”. A program that contained a lot of registers of sadness, and yet, I watched it. I was just enjoying seeing these people and enjoying the energy they gave off, as some of them had eyes painted on their hands. They were throwing these hands to the public all around them in this great public place. I felt such a charge of joy from it that I became really interested in distinguishing between some of the sad content and some of the happy delivery.

DI: What’s your favorite part of the book?

Kuppers: I love all the chapters, but one of the ones I love the most is the salamander chapter, which is the third chapter. It’s about an art project where my former performance partner, Neil Marcus, and I co-created a show called The Salamander, like the animal. Neil passed away very sadly just a few months ago. He was very spastic and had a lot of pain in his life. He was in a wheelchair and he spoke very slowly. It needed a translation to understand what he was saying. One of the things that was going on at that point was that he really needed to exercise more, and he hated exercising, like a lot of us do, but he loved being in front of a camera. . He was a wonderful performer. He had a brilliant idea, he bought himself an underwater camera and we went to the local swimming pools together. If I was in the pool, holding the camera photographing him, he would jump in the water. It became such a joyful activity that we invited other artists with disabilities to join us.

DI: You’re doing a reading at the Chauncey in Iowa City – is there anything you hope the audience will take away from it?

Kuppers: I hope audiences take away the richness of what it means to pay attention to our bodily sensations. I hope people will come and take a little imaginary journey with me and feel inside and see what happens when we pay attention to the materials around us. When we pay close attention to what it feels like to be in a space together, especially right now when some of us are barely coming out of our shells as we try to negotiate masks, what does that mean to be in the world again, as we engage with the current state of the COVID pandemic. So, I hope people will come join me in really thinking about body feeling.

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