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Rituals, arts and resistances

Rituels, arts et résistances

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Published on Wednesday, May 12, 2021


The colloquium, nourished by a horizon of reflection calling upon the field of studies on rites, its different theoretical frameworks and anthropological and ethnological methodological approaches, will question the re-appropriations or creations of rites by and in contemporary artistic practices. The colloquium will discuss current research on contemporary artistic and artivist proposals for new forms of creative resistance and potential narratives as tools of emancipation. In this perspective, it aims to contribute to the renewal of critical approaches to the notion of ritual in the field of contemporary art.


International Colloquium 18 and 19 November 2021

University of Lorraine


The study of rites currently presents a dense and open field of research that is developing in various disciplines of the human and social sciences (anthropology, ethnology, arts, gender and cultural studies, etc.), and through which various methodological approaches and theoretical frameworks intersect. While it is true that researchers envisage a common base - the rite as a device transmitted from generation to generation by individuals and communities while adapting to contexts and singularities - each discipline is nevertheless interested in specific aspects of the rite: its systemic functioning, its relationship to a common identity, its historical evolution and its modes of perpetration, its purposes, its symbolic sources, its heuristic and hermeneutic values, etc.

In the field of research specific to the visual arts, we encounter several uses and occurrences of the notion of ritual. According to one of these occurrences, authors maintain that performative works are only likely to endure over time, and thus to be inscribed in the history of art and in the common imagination, through their repetition - in acts, in gestures - and thus in the manner of rituals (Rebecca Schneider, Performing Remains, 2001). Also, following the seminal text written by the American art critic Hal Foster, translated into French as "L'artiste comme ethnographe?", the entire artistic sphere agrees that, since the 1990s, art has taken an "ethnographic turn. Critics and theorists therefore agree that contemporary artists are borrowing ethnographic methods (fieldwork, immersion, participant observation, etc.). In this way, artists set out to meet people other than themselves, to observe them and produce representations of them. In the article entitled "Art et ethnographie" published in the magazine Marges, Claire Fagnart defends the idea that "ethnographic art does not claim to transform the world. The artist is a transmission belt between different environments and cultures". She then proposed a definition of ethnographic art as "an art with a documentary and reflective aim, devoted to the other considered within the framework of his culture, without utopian ambition".

At the crossroads of these perspectives, the proposals for papers will fall within the field of art sciences. This conference aims to question the way in which artists reinvest existing ritual practices and propose new forms of creative resistance. These can be thought of as "speculative gestures", placed "under the sign of a commitment by and for a possible that needs to be activated, to make it perceptible in the present" (Debaise and Stengers, 2015), gestures that generate potential narratives thought of as tools of political and artistic emancipation.

Indeed, in the context of the formation of the early non-violent anti-nuclear direct action movements, Starhawk described in Dreaming the Dark. Magic, Sex & Politics, Starhawk described rituals as "the events that unite a culture, that create a heart, a centre, for a people. Ritual is that which evokes the deeper Self of a group. [...] [They] help to build community, to create a meeting ground where people can share deep feelings, positive and negative - a place where they can sing and shout, rave or scream, but also play or keep a solemn silence' (Starhawk, 2015: 234-235). Associating political action with ritual, seen as 'an organised movement of energy to accomplish a goal' (Starhawk, 2015: 234), allows us to see politics as an action that can transform the people invested in it, and, more so, the world around them, an action that 'changes us profoundly [...] because our transformation is embedded in the transformation of reality' (Starhawk, 2015: 244).

During the anti-militarist and anti-nuclear ferment in the United States in the 1970s, many women, encouraged by the key figure of Starhawk, manifested themselves as ritual producers. For them, it was a matter of thinking and implementing rituals likely to produce a collective power in reaction to situations that they considered unacceptable (nuclear threat, patriarchy, capitalism, etc.). In her afterword to the French edition of Dreaming the Dark, "Un autre visage de l'Amérique? "the philosopher Isabelle Stengers, referring to the Brigid party organised following Reagan's election in 1981, speaks of 'the first collective rite deliberately fabricated to bring politics and magic together' (Stengers, in Starhawk, 2015: 362). To speak of magic here obviously does not refer to the idea of an 'intervention of a mysterious and fascinating, supernatural power', but 'to dare to say "magic" is to celebrate the event as such, i.e. the emergence of a possible, the sensation that something that "bound" thought and thus doomed it to impotence has been undone. ...] There is no guarantee here, [...], but what we could call a setting in indeterminacy, the creation of an unknown which opens the interstices through which the possibility of another history is felt, even if it remains an improbable history". (Stengers, in Starhawk, 2015: 363). In contemporary societies, many activists - whether or not associated with artists - participate in the resurgence of the militant perspective of ritual, or transfer it, because they themselves have been through the Women's Action Pentagon Action Group, Act-Up, Sidaction, or Lesbian Avengers (La Barbe, W.I.T.C.H., Labofii - The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, the Stras Syndicat du Travail Sexuel, Witch Blocks, Cellule d'Action Rituelle à la Z.A.D. de Notre Dame des Landes, etc.). They design examples of creative resistance for the public space, inspired by older ritual practices, from different perspectives of struggle (alterglobalisation, ecology, feminism, etc.). In this way, they participate in transforming politics into art; "political actions become poetic, aesthetic actions, which touch the sensitive, questions of beauty, and social movements are the materials" (Frémeaux, 2015).

In the field of visual arts, the 1970s were also marked by a reinvestment and renewal of ritual practices. In 1977, when the body of the tenth victim of the Hillside Stranglers was discovered, the artists Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz decided to express their grief, fear and anger by formulating a feminist critique of the spectacular treatment of these murders in a public performance. In Mourning and In Rage also aimed to connect the singular case of these California feminicides to a larger picture of violence against women nationwide, while calling on women to take transformative collective action "IN MEMORY OF our sisters, we fight back! ». Beyond this spectacular localised action, other artists are developing rituals - individual or collective, original or inspired by existing traditions. Some work on the aestheticization of celebration (Benet Rossell, Ceremonials, 1972), pursue therapeutic aims (Anna Halprin, Dark Side Dance, 1975), dress up as priestesses of primitive societies - real or imagined - (Judy Chicago, Women and Smoke, 1971; Anna Mendieta, film work from Havana, 1948 to New York, 1985), while others do not hesitate to adopt a resolutely esoteric perspective (Temple Ov Psychick Youth, 1981-1992).

Today, in parallel with the current upsurge in the use of ritual forms in contexts of militant resistance, artists continue to be inspired by ritual practices, their forms and their meanings. Creators' interest in sometimes ancient practices can be fuelled by different orientations: the evocation of metaphysical questions, the search for new forms of spirituality, the attraction to phenomena beyond reason, the reaction to processes of cultural assimilation, or the renewed commitment to Nature and non-human life forms.

Thus, the colloquium, nourished by a horizon of reflection calling upon the field of studies on rites, its different theoretical frameworks and anthropological and ethnological methodological approaches, will question the re-appropriations or creations of rites by and in contemporary artistic practices. The colloquium will discuss current research on contemporary artistic and artivist proposals for new forms of creative resistance and potential narratives as tools of emancipation. In this perspective, it aims to contribute to the renewal of critical approaches to the notion of ritual in the field of contemporary art.

Proposals for papers may address this programme from one of the following four areas of study:

  • Theoretical and historical approach to rites
  • Contemporary rituals and activist struggles
  • Representations of rituals, forms, gestures and narratives
  • Rituals as paradoxical processes of artistic and political emancipation

The desired duration of a communication is 30 minutes,

How to submit a proposal

Proposals for papers of 2,500 to 3,500 characters, including spaces, accompanied by a brief bio-bibliographical note,

should be sent before 15 september 2021

to Anne-Laure Vernet and Ophélie Naessens (University of Lorraine, CREM, EA 3476), at the following addresses anne-laure.vernet@univ-lorraine.fr and ophelie.naessene@univ-lorraine.fr

Notification of acceptance will be given at the end of July 2021.

The conference will take place from 18 /11/ 2021 to 19 /11/ 2021 at the University of Lorraine, on the Metz site. The papers will be published in the journal Proteus in November 2022.

Members of the Scientific Committee

  • Favard Florent, Crem EA 3476, University of Lorraine
  • Jackson Maggie, University of Chester, UK
  • Lebreton Marie-Aimée, Crem EA 3476, University of Lorraine
  • Lerichomme Lise, CRAE EA 4291, University of Picardie
  • Marüll Mélodie, Crem EA 3476, University of Lorraine
  • Mc Guirk Tom, University of Chester, UK
  • Montier Cynthia, independent researcher
  • Naessens Ophélie, Crem EA 3476, University of Lorraine
  • Pop-Curseu Ioan, Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
  • Renard Johanna, ACCRA EA4291, University of Strasbourg
  • Skanberg Dahlstedt Ami, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Trentini Bruno, Écritures EA3476, University of Lorraine
  • Vernet Anne-Laure, Crem EA 3476, University of Lorraine

Indicative bibliography

AUTONOME a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, Luther BLISSETT, & Sonja BRÜNZELS, Manuel de communication-guérilla, Paris, Éditions La Découverte, [1997] 2011.

Genesis BREYER P-ORRIDGE, THEE PSYCHICK BIBLE, J.-P. Turmel (transl.), Rosières en Haye, Camion noir, [2005] 2010.

Mathilde CANNAT, Marie de CENIVAL, Harriet HIRSHORN, Céline MOUZON, C., Anne-Laure VERNET, "Théories du genre et praxis militante à La Barbe, ou L'épreuve d'une geste paradoxale", in Karine Berges, Florence Binard, Alexandrine Guyard-Nedelec, Féminismes du XXIe siècle, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017, pp. 191-205.

Sylvie COELLIER (ed.), La Performance, encore, Aix-en-Provence, Presses Universitaires de Provence, 2016.

Anne CREISSELS, Prêter son corps au mythe : Le féminin et l'art contemporain, Paris, Éditions du Félin, 2009.

Didier DEBAISE, Isabelle STENGERS, Gestes spéculatifs, Dijon, Les Presses du réel, 2015.

Chloé DELAUME, Agnes DENES, Elsa DORLIN, et al, Les Immémoriales: pour une écologie féministe, Metz, 49 Nord 6 Est - Frac Lorraine, Fonds régional d'art contemporain de Lorraine, 2014.

Barbara EPSTEIN, Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970's and 1980's, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1991.

Claire FAGNART, "Art et ethnographie", Marges, n°6, Paris, Presses Universitaires de Vincennes, 2002, p. 8-16.

Sylvia FEDERICI, Caliban and the Witch, Senonevero (trans.), Geneva, Entremonde, 2014.

Michel FELLOUS, À la recherche de nouveaux rites, Paris, L'Harmattan, 2001.

Hal FOSTER, "The Artist as Ethnographer" or does the "end of history" mean a return to anthropology? "Face à l'histoire, 1933-1969, Paris, Flammarion/Centre Georges Pompidou, 1996, pp. 498-505.

Isabelle FRÉMEAUX, "Art-activisme", Terre à terre, France Culture, 9 May 2015.

Émilie HACHE (ed.), RECLAIM. Recueil de textes écoféministes, Paris, Cambourakis, 2016.

Stuart HALL, Tony JEFFERSON, Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-war Britain, London, Routledge, 1975.

Michael HOUSEMAN, Le Rouge est le noir. Essais sur le rituel, Toulouse, Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 2012.

Lise LERICHOMME, 'Corps collectifs féminins et physique du politique', Sans Niveau ni Mètre, no 48, Rennes, 2019.

Maria MIES, Vandana SHIVA, Ecofeminism, Paris, L'Harmattan, 2014.

Linda NOCHLIN, Maura REILLY (eds), Global Feminisms: New Directions in Contemporary Art, Oxford, Merell Publishers Ltd, 2007.

Stéphanie OUARDI, Stéphanie LEMOINE, Artivism: Art, political action and cultural resistance, Paris, Éditions Alternatives, 2010.

Philippe PIGNARRE, Isabelle STENGERS, La Sorcellerie capitaliste, Paris, Éditions La Découverte, 2005. Johanna RENARD, " Ancrées dans la chair : entrecroisements féministes, queer et décoloniaux dans les pratiques artistiques performatives ", in Anaïs Bernard, Geneviève Jolly, Lise Lerichomme, Pierre Michel, Gestes, performances, déambulations et représentations. Approches interdisciplinaires dans les arts, Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 2019.

Rebecca SCHNEIDER, Performing Remains, London, Routledge, 2001.

STARHAWK, Dreaming the Dark. Femmes, magie et politique, Paris, Cambourakis, 2015.

Aurélien YANNIC (ed.), Le Rituel, Paris, CNRS Éditions, 2010.


  • Ancien bâtiment de l'ISGMP, Salle Ferrari - Ile du Saulcy
    Metz, France (57)


  • Wednesday, September 15, 2021


  • rituel, art, résistance, militance, émancipation


  • Ophélie Naessens
    courriel : ophelie [dot] naessene [at] univ-lorraine [dot] fr
  • Anne-Laure Vernet
    courriel : anne-laure [dot] vernet [at] univ-lorraine [dot] fr

Information source

  • Anne-Laure Vernet
    courriel : anne-laure [dot] vernet [at] univ-lorraine [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Rituals, arts and resistances », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, https://doi.org/10.58079/16kq

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