Spatial relations
: dance in the museum

  • Sara Wookey

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    My practice-informed-research project is a written thesis informed by my experiences as a dance artist performing in and creating work for the museum. Moving past the outdated question of why dance in the museum, my thesis asks how dance is currently situated in the museum and what is its potential there? Through examining different modes of attention of the dance artist and her social-spatial skills we first come to understand dance as a relational, site-based practice in the museum and, later, through evidence provided for by the case studies, discover the potential for dance to play a more significant part of change taking place in the museum. This thesis looks critically at the practice of dance in the museum through the lenses of spatial theory, somatic enquiry, and relational aesthetics. Looking through these particular lenses has value as it re-considers the human body, movement, and the museum as contributing aspects to the production of spatial relations and offers a wider contribution to knowledge vis-a-vis the dance artist’s story, a story not yet told in the museum.

    My research is within a UK, EU, and US context over the last six years (2014-2020) and begins with the premise that dance is a relational, site-based practice. By applying the lens of public practice to dance in the museum and as a form of relation I build on the work of Nicholas Bourriaud (1998). My practice follows in the lineage of Post-Modern dance artists such as Yvonne Rainer who make claims for everyday movement as dance and borrows from Gabriella Giannachi’s (2012) theories on presence as modes of encounter to argue for the dance artist as part of and affective to the human ecosystem of the museum. I explore three case studies as ways to understand what seeing, doing, and being in the museum through the detached, absent, and present dance artist can tell us about the potentiality of dance in the museum that has been unexplored thus far. The findings of my research suggest that the spatial relational aspects of dance in the museum provide opportunity for the dancer to engage more fully within the human ecological environment of the museum as a way to contribute to institutional change and policy making and towards more creative, inclusive, just, and sustainable cultural spaces and as examples for our contemporary moment.
    Date of AwardJan 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorVictoria Thoms (Supervisor), Natalie Garrett Brown (Supervisor), Katerina Paramana Paramana (Supervisor) & Susanne Foellmer (Supervisor)

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