Grieg Research School in Interdisciplinary Music Studies

Shannon Jackson

Public Re-Assembly: Performance and Social Institutions

Main content

This lecture will consider how keywords such as assembly, performance, and institution propel current thinking about 21st century cultural and social life.  The first part of the essay explores the concept of “assembly” (and re-assembly) as a term with several associations—on the democratic right to assemble, on the genealogy of assemblage as an aesthetic practice, as a term of industrial (and post-industrial) labor, and even as a term with resonances in education (the ‘school assembly’) and archaeology (an assembly of found fossils). The lecture argues that such varied resonances are inconsistently aligned and that our analyses of cultural life often need to differentiate or strategically link the relationships amongst these disciplines and sectors.  From there, we will turn to a range of cross-sector case studies in public art, choreography, and performance to consider how artists themselves re-imagine social and cultural institutions.  Public Artist Paul Ramirez Jonas asks citizens to consider the nature of “public trust.” Theatrical artist Aaron Landsman re-enacts civic process in all of its mundanity and bureaucracy in order to inspire a renewed sense of civic citizenship. Choreographer Faye Driscoll explores performance as a mode of gathering to propel new principles of connection.  In these and other case studies, we will investigate the political and aesthetic stakes of assembly as a means for re-imagining our connection to social institutions and to a broader vision of cultural health.

Key Questions

  1. What does it mean to assemble in a 21st century global context?
  2. How do answers to this question inspire artistic practices and complex models of social and cultural health? 


Shannon Jackson is the Associate Vice Chancellor for the Arts + Design at UC Berkeley where she is also the Cyrus and Michelle Hadidi Professor of Rhetoric and of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies. Jackson's research focuses on two broad, overlapping domains 1) collaborations across visual, performing, and media art forms and 2) the role of the arts in social institutions and in social change. Her most recent books are The Builders Association: Performance and Media in Contemporary Theater (M.I.T. Press, 2015) and Public Servants: Art and the Crisis of the Common Good, co-edited with Johanna Burton and Dominic Willsdon (M.I.T. Press 2016).  Other recent projects include the guest-edited Valuing Labor in the Arts with Art Practical, a special issue of Representations on time-based art, and a new online platform of keywords in experimental art and performance, created in collaboration with the Pew Center for Art and Heritage, In Terms of Performance.  Jackson's writing has also appeared in dozens of museum catalogues, journals, blogs, and edited collections and she sits on the boards of many Bay Area, national, and international arts organizations. Before moving to UC-Berkeley in 1998, Jackson received a B.A. in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University (1989), a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University (1995), and served as an assistant professor of English and Literature at Harvard University from 1995 to 1998.