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Dissertationproject of Ariane Gros

Source: A clown holds a placard depicting U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May as a clown during a demonstration against politicians near the Houses of Parliament in London, U.K., on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomberg

This research explores the political significance of the clown, from the August of the 19th century circuses to its contemporary appearances in public spaces and (new) media. It analyses the collective imaginary of the clown and its development in arts, media and history, inquiring into its cultural heritage as well as its critical potential in contemporary discourses and postmodern conditions. The study first retraces the cultural trajectory of the clown from its tradition in the early 19th century circuses to its successive resurgences in popular culture, mass media, activism and public spaces throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. It aims to highlight the ambivalent political significance of the clown by studying its presence in practices of colonial mimicry and ambiguous proximity with oppressive and dominant discourses. Taking the clown as a collective symbol of political unreliability, this research then explores the role of humour and cynicism in the history of modern representative democracies. It draws on the observation of a renewal in the use and acceptance of the term clown, which appears in keeping with the thought of political unreliability in modern and postmodern philosophy. It further analyses to what extent the term ‘clown’ in contemporary discourses and political slang is used to designate political figures of incompetence and illegitimacy and to embody the failures of democracy and society as a whole. It argues that in this context, the clown is as much the sign of the exhaustion of collective ideologies and traditional political narratives as the possibility to rethink revolt and subversion through the politics of truthfulness and vulnerability. Thus also investigating the artistic renewal of clowning in activism and street art, this research finally explores how the contemporary form of clowning also comes back to the Foucaldian meaning of cynicism, the “speaking truth to power” or parrhesia, rendering to the concept of cynicism its sense of resistance and ungovernability.


Short biography

Ariane Gros (she/her) is a freelance dramaturge and PhD candidate based between Amsterdam and Cologne. She studied in the “Classes Preparatoires” in France and obtained a joint degree in theatre studies and philosophy at the University Paris Sorbonne in 2018. She recently graduated from a dual Master in International Dramaturgy at the University of Amsterdam and is currently writing her PhD dissertation at the University of Cologne. Besides her academic education, Ariane Gros has a background in corporal theatre, mime, acting and play writing. She worked as a dramaturge on several projects in Paris, Rotterdam, Manchester and Turnhout, notably on the mailing box project How To Start a Movement and the immersive website While Waiting, Wait Here. Her work can be defined in new ways of conceiving dramaturgy outside of the theatre scene and in a combination of artistic practice with more engaged social and political action. Her research interests are mostly situated in the intertwinement between popular culture, activism, media and politics. Ariane Gros received in April 2022 the artes scholarship for her doctoral project on the cultural figure of the clown and its political significance in arts and media.


Contact  arayan.grosSpamProtectionhotmail.fr