Mouthwork - public address and laboured expression: conditions of gesture, voice, and senses of time as practice-led research
The Western conventions of public speaking owe their development to ancient Graeco-Roman traditions. The practiced delivery of the voice and gestures was part of a daily routine which trained boys to grow into eloquent men. For the well born elite, public speaking was taught in exclusive, all-male spaces. These spaces fostered learning environments which supported ‘masculinity’ and the presentation of confidence as a gendered method of anti-theatrical performance. The context of learning, and the jeopardy created in the live address of public speaking, dictated how a man should speak and what sort of voice he should have. The idealised man of public address was to have no sign of weakness, associated with ‘effeminate’ gestures and voice pitch. Furthermore, the delivery of his voice and gestures was to appear paradoxically untrained, creating a relationship between public speaking and performance as a sort of naturalistic acting style. I propose what I have termed the ‘Flop’ and the ‘Camp Rant’ as original methodologies which use writing and performance as practice-led research. Drawing on AD 2 Graeco-Roman methods for teaching, writing and speaking, as well as readings of queer and feminist theorists including Judith Butler, Jack Halberstam, Paul B. Preciado, Patricia MacCormack, Dina Al-Kassim and Donna Haraway, I explore the delivery of voice and gestures in the practices of three feminist performance artists. The methods of Diane Torr, Karen Finley and Andrea Fraser are applied to splinter Western conventions of the live voice and received notions of embodied presence. In this process-led exploration into durationality and recitation, I will activate past and present alignments to ‘masculinity’ that create alternative and affirmative sensations via registers of language. The components of public speech, as a gendered construct, are bound (and can be unleashed) by conditions of voice, body and senses of time. To underscore the importance of practice in the embodied exercise of theory, this project is presented as a two-part delivery of A Good Man Speaking Well (2020), a prose text I have written and will perform live on the day of the PhD viva.