CONF: Props – Staging Objects on the ‘Stage of Art’ (Frankfurt a. M., 9-10 Oct 20)
See the programme here.
Not every object used on a stage is a prop. In his acclaimed study ‘The Stage Life of Props’ of 2003 Andrew Sofer includes under this term only independent, physical and inanimate objects that are visibly manipulated by an actress or actor over the course of a performance. In this stricter definition of the concept of props the moment of movement plays a central role: objects themselves are not equipped with the potential to move, but they become props as soon as they are integrated into intentional and meaningful representative actions. This definition not only highlights the specific nature of props, but also and above all the way in which props are handled by human actors, which is in turn determined by the connotations and specific construction (functional or otherwise) of each object.
The conference is dedicated to the props that have been used on the various ‘stages’ of the visual arts from the Middle Ages to the present. Not only used in the theatre, objects have been staged in the most diverse ways and semantically enriched in Christian liturgy, military triumphal processions and court ceremonies, to name but a few examples. By describing the picture as a window opening on a ‘historia’, i.e. a scene composed of several figures in different postures and movements, Leon Battista Alberti has assimilated the image space to a stage area, thereby stressing for the first time the parallels between pictorial representations and performances in theatre. Following this, a widening of the view from real to fictional space seems appropriate, in which significant objects can also become props.
The focus of theatre studies so far has been on existing objects, such as rings, skulls and fans, or artefacts made especially for a theatre production, such as masks, sugar jars or knives with retractable blades. In addition to such objects, which partly have already been the subject of art historical studies, ‘props’ from the above-mentioned contexts, from private collections or artists’ studios and comparable contexts can also be discussed during the conference. In addition to the staging of such objects in real and fictional spaces, the places where they are stored and presented will also be considered (armories, cabinets of wonder and prop rooms). The methodological approaches to the exploration of props in their relevance to art history or art-historical object studies can also be addressed, such as the theory of affordances and the actor-network theory, both of focus on the specific nature of the objects, or gender-theoretical and transcultural approaches from which new impulses for the analysis of the multi-layered interaction of humans and objects have emerged.