Syllabi for the Future: A Playlist

Performing Affirmative Velocities

Alice Colquhoun

University of Roehampton

Affirmative Velocities

Video Caption

An example of an “Affirmative Velocity” method used by artist in 2015. Students will notice politician Hillary Benn in a speech to make the case for air strikes on Syria. The velocity experienced by the world after this action was at an extreme high speed and caused much death and debris from the force of it. The “Affirmative Velocity” method was by an activation of the “Fury Plexus.” The artist chose to read out the Geneva Conventions “on prisoners of war” as she had foresight that prisoner of war conditions would ensue soon after Benn’s speech.

Course Description

This course is for students who wish to connect with humanitarian principles through performance. It promotes the transformative potential in the education about human rights through affirmative performance acts. The course will act as a springboard to an effective understanding of where violent power has overridden principles of life-sustainment. It will also behave as a diving bell to generate deeper terrains for students to locate response, authenticity, and creativity within a knowledge of war and violence, promoting the notion that human rights are narratives that belong to our stories should be embedded in our practices and read aloud alongside the classics.

The Geneva Conventions were founded in Europe in 1887 to protect individuals in conflicts. In our contemporary era, much has changed in how global conflicts are fought, but the deep desire to protect individuals remains. Although these documents have been accepted as law, there is little vigor in referencing them when known injustices are committed. In this course, students will revisit the texts of the Geneva Conventions and workshop them through their own practices. We do not encourage binary thinking on this course, but we do believe in taking a stand on how we feel humans should and should not be treated. We find ourselves working with some clear oppositions by using the frame of the Geneva conventions, founded upon humanity and neutrality, to inform our knowledge base. It is through these guidelines that we are then able to identify what are called “Violent Velocities,” which are powers that kill and inflict suffering upon human beings through contemporary wars and conflict situations. “Velocities” are traditionally defined as the magnitude and direction of speeds; “Violent Velocities” are called so as they are increasingly understood as inflicting suffering at such speeds there is little ability to grasp their tremendous affects in real time.

Students will learn the performance method of “Affirmative Velocity.” The act of creating as a response to violence is an affirmative act, and behaves as an “affirmative velocity.” To “affirm” is an individual process and each student’s “Affirmative Velocity” will be different and reveal itself through their responses. Students will also develop their “Fury Plexus” — a tool for affectively responding to difficult violent topics. The body as a sentient source is important here, through building our physical and emotional faculties for an engagement with the world and with life-sustainment. We employ our bodies and voices in a communication to become prone to important defense against indifference to a world ill at ease. Students may respond to themes in any artistic medium and through various practices. We hope that this course will act as the beginning of a long line of hybrid performance courses to inspire artists to work with local and international rights and treaties.

This course is not a “direct action” course, and students must note that while the themes of this course fall into a political domain, contact with political decision-makers is not facilitated. It is instead a course that reaches to performance to revive tired, humanitarian text. We may call it direct action for the spirit, and we hope that the outcomes will bleed into student’s wider creative work, promoting empowered arts practices.

We are living in times where many other species and causes are in urgent need of advocacy. We do not wish to discount these. Ultimately, we are concerned with building a type of performance literacy for life-sustainment across many contexts. However, in our shaky fight for peace, we feel that we must be courageous and declare that, amongst other species, every human being deserves protection from violence and murder. Our reasoning for working with the Geneva Conventions is that we remain curious by their existence: we are intrigued that inked in them are worldwide protective values for human beings. We are excited by the idea that students may be able to resuscitate them in the performance space, to find out if they hold value past their perceived failure, and to do so before they are left to gather dust.

Core One: Locating Velocities

We explore our positions as inhabitants of a complexly-connected world in conflict. Students are to select text from chosen articles of the Geneva Conventions. We use this time to do a close reading of our theses in an open forum, sharing thoughts on the language and our wider interpretations of conflicts and violence, and reflecting on frustrations, art, making, uttering, failing, fury, connecting, textualities, movements, impossibilities, and disorientations.

Core Two: Passions, Rhythms, Intuitions — The Fury Plexus

Students workshop their “Fury Plexus” to harness their connections to chosen “Violent Velocities.” The “Fury Plexus,” located deep in the stomach, has been oppressed by the civil sphere. It holds our passion for life, our intrigue for the world and for others. It is an absolute identification of what fizzes underneath our surfaces, and has gone through a process of abstraction through invisible, technological warfare and fragmented images that fray our understanding of justice for ourselves and other individuals. When located, the “Fury Plexus” can emit a powerful social belonging and a wild connectedness in all sentient beings.

Evening Session: The Tango

The Tango will be used as a tool for an embodied reflection and to promote strength, communication, and a deep flair for responsive action. Dance simultaneously stokes and stabilizes the fire in the pit of the stomach through sculptural offerings that are not easily assimilated into verbal language. The Tango is a partner dance, and it works as a series of utterances into the atmosphere, to galvanize what is submerged and raw — the destruction, the eggshells, the need for contact with others, the undercurrent of what roars and is encapsulated so fully by the presence, the sway and click of the body, a fierceness, some high fidelity that seems to reach itself to all. (Students to bring changes of clothes on Thursdays).


Bloch, Nadine. “The Day They Levitated the Pentagon.” Waging Nonviolence, 2012. Accessed 13 December 2017.

“The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols.” International Committee of the Red Cross, 2014. Accessed 13 December 2017.

Harbin, Amy. Disorientation and Moral Life. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns: Second Edition. War Resisters’ International, 2014. Accessed 13 December 2017.

Jackson, Naomi M., and Toni S. Phim. Dance, Human Rights, and Social Justice: Dignity in Motion. Scarecrow Press, 2008.

Kolb, Alexandra. Dance and Politics. Peter Lang AG, 2011.

Neal, Lucy. Playing for Time: Making Art as If the World Mattered. Oberon Books, 2015.

Sacks, Oliver W. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Picador, 2015.

Spero, Andrea McEvoy. This is a Public Record: Teaching Human Rights Through the Performing Arts. Dissertation, University of San Francisco, 2012.

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