Dr. Frauke Surmann



Staging the Political. Theatrical Manifestations of Collectivity between Art, Politics and Urbanism.

Address Grunewaldstr. 34
12165 Berlin
Email frauke.surmann[at]


Frauke Surmann is a postdoctoral research assistant at the International Research Training Group ‘InterArt’ and lecturer at the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at Freie Universität Berlin. Her dissertation “Aesthetic In(ter)ventions in Public Space. Main Features of a Political Aesthetics” explores the politics of interventionist performances in public space and has been published by Wilhelm Fink in 2014. Surmann holds an MA in Theatre Studies and Musicology and has studied in London, Paris and Berlin. In her current research project “Staging the Political. Theatrical Manifestations of Collectivity between Art, Politics and Urbanism ” Surmann fathoms out the theatricality of the political in political theory as well as in contemporary protest movements. Her main areas of research comprise the interrelation between aesthetics and politics, contemporary performance art in the context of digital arts and new media as well as historical, philosophical and/or theatrical stagings of the common. She has also worked as an assistant director and producer for companies such as spielzeit'europa, Royal de Luxe, Neuköllner Oper and Podewil-Center for Contemporary Arts. 



WiSe 2015/16 

Seminar: Spielformen des Politischen
BA Theaterwissenschaft
Institut für Theaterwissenschaft, Freie Universität Berlin

WiSe 2014/15

Proseminar: Einführung in die Aufführungsanalyse (4 SWS)
BA Theaterwissenschaft
Institut für Theaterwissenschaft, Freie Universität Berlin


Sommerakademie: „In(ter)ventionen im öffentlichen Raum – Zwischen Kunst, Politik und Stadtentwicklung“
Deutsche Schülerakademie, Hilden

WiSe 2013/14

Proseminar: „Ästhetiken des Öffentlichen. Künstlerische In(ter)ventionen seit 1960.“ (2 SWS)
BA Theaterwissenschaft
Institut für Theaterwissenschaft, Freie Universität Berlin

Staging the Political.

Theatrical Manifestations of Collectivity between Art, Politics and Urbanism.

According to Richard Sennett we currently not only lack a feasible model but what is more a clear imagina­tion of urban democratic space (Sennett 2006: 4). Contesting Sennett’s diagnosis of the present, this research project focuses on urban stagings which counteract this alleged lack by opening up factual as well as imaginary spaces of the political.  

The underlying notion of the political has first been conceptualized by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-­Luc Nancy (Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy: 1981) based on their reflection of Carl Schmitt’s analysis of the political (Schmitt: 1932). Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy differentiate the political – le politique – as the ontological act of collective foundation (cf. Arendt 1958; Castoriadis 1975; Lefort 1986; 1990; 1992) from politics – la politique – as the ontic actuality of this collective. The political thus presents itself as a purposeless (Arendt 1958: 170 a. 226) power to invent (Beck 1993) and shape collectivities, initiating the theatrical staging of particular “geographies of encounter” (Valentine 2008; Dirksmeier et. al. 2011). These stagings allow for the performance of a temporary assembly without, however, anticipatively predetermining its meaning or effect (cf. Rancière 2008: 121). The symbolic primacy of the political (cf. Hirsch 2010: 345) over politics equally constitutive of meaning and form evokes the experience of a relational presence as well as a temporary dramatization of the city in terms of a space of a normative order (Mumford 1961). This observation relies on a notion of theatricality originally stemming from cultural theory (Willems 2009: 14), which equally comprises the mediality, corporeality and a mode of increased awareness evoked by these stagings.

Multimedia stagings of collectivity in performance art, political protest movements and urban planning initiatives serve as the core case studies.

These include works by the Danish performance artist Christian Falsnaes, which take place in the institutionalized environment of galleries and museums, the site-specific performance installations by the Danish artist collective Signa, Dutch performance artist Dries Verhoeven’s urban interventions and the interactive environments and games in public space by the German performance collectives Matthaei & Konsorten and Invisible Playground. All of these case examples appear as stagings of eventful collectivities in the interplay between collective play and social reality making the formation of collectivity itself an affective experience.

Additionally, the research project addresses cultural practices of political protest, as they appeared in the context of the Occupy-movements originating in New York and the occupations of public spaces in Cairo, Athens, Istanbul, Hong Kong and Kiev. In the act of their collective embodiment the protestors con­sti­tu­ted and reflected upon a stage of the political and, what is more, temporarily transformed an existing social order. The political thus became manifest as a “radical fundamental power” of the collective (Castoriadis cit. a. Seyfert: 263).

As manifestations of a collective appropriation and (re)creation of urban public space, the Shared-Space-Movement originating in the Netherlands and the Park(ing) Day, initially a US-American initiative, constitute the third group of case examples. Through these planning initiatives, urban collectivity can be experienced as realizing itself in the performance of a collective foundational act.

In the characteristic interference of digital technologies with the collective performance of presence, all of these case studies appear as practices of a “tactical urbanism” (Lydon 2012; Lydon et. al. 2011; Pfeifer). As such they question the existing normative order of urban space, while at the same time performatively realizing alternative forms of urbanity. In this sense, they can be theorized as particular articulations of the political, temporarily consolidating a political reality in the performative act of its collective embodiment. In the simultaneity of the physical appropriation and (re)creation of space a “right to the city” (cf. Lefebvre 1968) becomes equally manifest. In that these case studies enable for particular forms of appearance while preventing others (cf. Rancière 2002: 101), they frame a scope of imagination and negotiation, in which democratic stagings of collectivity can be created, shaped and given a trial in terms of a prefigurative act (Boggs 1977; Epstein 1991; Duncombe 2007). Collectivity is thus staged and produced not in terms of a predetermined entity, but rather in terms of a “shaping power” (Harvey 2008: 2) equally available to all. This power simultaneously implies the general obligation to take responsibility for the democratic formation of a political collectivity which presents itself “not as an institution or status, but as a collective praxis” (Balibar 2013; Sassen a. Rogoff 2014).

The research project is based on an intercultural field analysis informed by performance theory and addresses the following research questions:


  • Which aesthetic practices and digital technologies are the various stagings of the political based on?
  • Which roles do participation, authorship and responsibility play for these stagings of the political?
  • How do those stagings of the political relate to the political situation in which they appear and how does the prefiguratively anticipated collectivity retroact on the political reality of urban space?


The theatrical staging of collectivity is thereby to be theorized as a migratory and transitional model. Accor­ding­­ly, the project will address how individual stagings link with and learn from each other and how they trans­form themselves as well as the political situation in which they appear through reciprocal appropria­tions.

The particular challenge of this research project lies in categorizing stagings of the political in their transboundary interculturality and transmediality. For this, methodologies and terminologies from various dis­ciplines must be critically revised and ultimately modified in favor of an interdisciplinary research approach. The aim of this study is thus to elaborate an interdisciplinary methodology and terminology com­bi­ning theories and analytical methods from theatre and performance studies with those from urban sociology, political theory, philosophy, and cultural anthropology.

In that it allows for the comprehensive theorization of the performative constitution of temporary and fluid collectivities in urban space and its material, medial, operative and affective conditions and functionality, this research project is relevant not only to theatre and performance studies, but also to the cultural and social sciences as well as architecture and urban planning. Understanding the city as a complex and open system, that continually forms up anew in the interference of a multiplicity of theatrical stagings of collectivity, it also contributes to one of the most urgent sociopolitical discourse of our times over the use of public space.

Frauke Surmann: "Ästhetische In(ter)ventionen im öffentlichen Raum. Grundzüge einer politischen Ästhetik". Wilhelm Fink, München, 2014.


“No Fun: Mourning the Loss of Tragedy in Contemporary Performance Art”. In: Daniela Agostinho, Elisa Antz, Cátia Ferreira (ed.): Panic and Mourning. The Cultural Work of Trauma. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, Boston, 2012. (Article)

Workshop- and Symposienorganisation

"The Art of Protest", Lecture Series, International Research Training Group InterArt, Berlin, Sose 2015 (Co-Organisation).

"The Art of Speculation", Joint Symposium, International Research Training Group InterArt, Berlin, 13. - 15.11.2014 (Organisation).

„NOW“, Workshop mit dem Drama Department Goldsmiths, University of London, Internationales Graduiertenkolleg InterArt, Berlin, 07.-08.05.2010 (Co-Organisation).

„Humanities Un-Plugged“, Joint Symposium, Internationales Graduiertenkolleg InterArt, Berlin, 11. – 13.11.2010 (Co-Organisation).


„Wo die Freundschaft aufhört. Zwischen Remix und Plagiat.“, Ringvorlesung „Freundschaft“, SoSe 2011, Internationales Graduiertenkolleg InterArt, Berlin, 12.05.2011.


„The Theatricality of the Political. Stagings of Democracy.” Konferenz “Theatre & Democracy”, International Federation for Theater Studies, Hyderabad, Indien. (July)

„Performing Communities. F(r)ictions of the Political between Invention and Production.“ Abschlusstagung des Internationalen Graduiertenkollegs ‚InterArt’ „F(r)ictions of Art“, Berlin. (June, at invitation) 

„The Theatricality of the Political. Stagings of Democracy between Urban Planning Initiatives and Citizen’ Groups.“ Konferenz „Contested Exchanges: Space, Place and the Performance of Democracy“, The Center for Contemporary and Digital Performance, Brunel University, London. (March)

Podiumsdiskussion zu „Wechselbeziehungen von künstlerischen Interventionen im öffentlichen Raum und Veränderungsprozessen der Zivilgesellschaft, der Stadtentwicklung und des ländlichen Raumes“,Internationales Symposium „Darstellende Künste im öffentlichen Raum“, Fonds Darstellende Künste in Kooperation mit dem Bundesverband Theater im Öffentlichen Raum, Berlin. (March, at invitation)

„Resistant Spatiality: The Micro-Politics of Aesthetic In(ter)ventions.“ Panel „Post-national Rule and the Policing of Space“, Jahrestagung der International Studies Association „Global IR and Regional Worlds. A New Agenda for International Studies“, New Orleans. (February)


„Staging Complicity: The Mask as Participatory Medium in Contemporary Protest Movement“. Konferenz „Resistance. Subjects, Representations, Contexts“, Center for Migration, Education, and Cultural Studies, Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg. (November)

 “Our Broken Voice – Aesthetic In(ter)ventions as Stagings of Collective Foundational Scenarios in the Cracks, Gaps and Fissures traversing Public Space(s)”. International Federation for Theatre Research World Congress “Theatre and Stratification”, Warwick University. (July)

"Performanz im Stadtaktivismus", Podiumsdiskussion LEERgang III Kongress des Leerstandsmelders, Berlin (July, at invitation). 

„ONE NIGHT AT THE DEAD HORSE INN – Aesthetic In(ter)ventions as Contemporary Embodiments of a Collective Right to the City.“ performaCITY, Basel. (June, at invitation) 

“Spielformen des Postidentitären: Der Multiple Name als widerständige Artikulation gegenwärtiger Protestkulturen”. Winter School “Die Arbeit am Widerstand. Politik im Zeitalter der Subjektivierung” organisiert durch das Doktoratskolleg “Arts&Politics – Visuelle Rhetorik und die Sprachen des Politischen in historischer Perspektive”, Universität Innsbruck in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Internationalen Graduiertenkolleg “Politische Kommunikation”, Innsbruck. (March)


“Post-identitary In(ter)ventions: The Multiple Name as Cultural Protest in a Society of Control”. International Workshop “Protest Culture – Cultural Protest”. Institut für vergleichende Sozial- und Kulturanthropologie, Europa Universität Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder. (November)

“Ästhetische In(ter)ventionen im urbanen Raum als künstlerische Artikulationen eines Rechts auf Stadt. Eine Fallstudie.” Internationale Konferenz “Heterotopien des Urbanen. Zur politischen Utopie des städtischen Raums”. Ernst-Bloch Zentrum Ludwigshafen, Lehrstuhl für Wirtschaftsgeographie, Universität Mannheim. (November)


„THE TORTURE OF THE NOW. The Body as Scene of collective Jurisdiction in contemporary Russian Performance Art“, „NOW, Legacies and Amnesia“, Goldsmiths College, University of London, 18.02.11.

„More than at any previous time in history, we are continually engaged in the simultaneous living/authoring and reporting/critiquing of our lives. To what extent does the click-here label culture of the internet, social media, and 24-hour blogging prescribe rather than describe the present moment?“, Panel Discussion, „NOW, Legacies and Amnesia“, Goldsmiths College, University of London, 19.02.11. (at invitation)

„Appetizer. Kulinarische Interventionen im New Yorker Untergrund“, „Vom Dazwischen: Subversion, Intervention und die Installation“, MS Dockville Kunstcamp, Hamburg, 05.08.11. (at invitation)


„Playing the City - From Flashmobs to Missions“, „Social Aesthetics“ Joint Symposium, Goldsmiths College, London, 03.03.10.

„The Politics of Music. Passages from a representative regime of the art to an aesthetic regime of the arts.“, „Klang in der Lebenswelt. Vom avantgardistischen Diskurs über das soziale Interventionspotential von Musik und Klangkunst“ Workshop mit Prof. Dr. Søren Møller Sørensen, Internationales Graduiertenkolleg InterArt, Berlin, 11.06.10.

„No Fun - A virtual simulation of inescapable tragedy“, „Panic and Mourning. First Graduate Conference in Cultural Studies.“, CECC – Research Centre for Communication and Culture, Lissabon, 29.10.10.