The hanging man: death, indeterminacy and the event
Taylor, L. (2010) The hanging man: death, indeterminacy and the event. Performance Research, 15 (1). pp. 4-13. ISSN 1352-8165
To link to this article DOI: 10.1080/13528165.2010.485757
This article discusses approaches to the interpretation and analysis an event that is poised between reality and performance. It focuses upon a real event witnessed by the author while driving out of Los Angeles, USA. A body hanging on a rope from a bridge some 25/30 feet above the freeway held up the traffic. The status of the body was unclear. Was it the corpse of a dead human being or a stuffed dummy, a simulation of a death? Was it is tragic accident or suicide or was it a stunt, a protest or a performance? Whether a real body or not, it was an event: it drew an audience, it took place in a defined public space bound by time and it disrupted everyday normality and the familiar. The article debates how approaches to performance can engage with a shocking event, such as the Hanging Man, and the frameworks of interpretation that can be brought to bear on it. The analysis takes account of the function of memory in reconstructing the event, and the paradigms of cultural knowledge that offered themselves as parallels, comparators or distinctions against which the experience could be measured, such as the incidents of self-immolation related to demonstrations against the Vietnam War, the protest by the Irish Hunger Strikers and the visual impact of Anthony Gormley’s 2007 work, 'Event Horizon'. Theoretical frameworks deriving from analytical approaches to performance, media representation and ethical dilemmas are evaluated as means to assimilate an indeterminate and challenging event, and the notion of what an ‘event’ may be is itself addressed.