Taylor is a South African arts practitioner and scholar, and has for the past five years held the inaugural Andrew W. Mellon Chair of Aesthetic Theory and Material Performance, at the Centre for Humanities Studies, University of the Western Cape. Taylor engages at the cusp of theory and practice; and is particularly interested in the ways in which theoretical and philosophical insights are generated through artistic involvement. Taylor has over the past several years developed lecture-performances that activate sensory, affective and intellectual responses. She has recently developed a performance with a life-sized chimpanzee puppet, and two actors, and the small group interrogate the intersection of Race theory, Primate research, and the history and futures of AI. This lecture has been staged in in Paris, Basel, Cape Town and Johannesburg. Taylor has worked extensively on art’s ambiguous relationship with the archive; exploring how historical materials can become disruptive and destabilising when they are animated through aesthetic invention. She has worked with a range of archival materials, from the testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (writing the playtext of Ubu and the Truth Commission with artists William Kentridge and Handspring Puppet Company); she has written a novel about the first human heart transplant; and After Cardenio, a play about a traumatic event in a Seventeenth-Century anatomy theatre (an episode that involved Thomas Willis, a surgeon and pioneer in the research on the brain). She recently staged a version of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot under Covid conditions in central Johannesburg. For this production Taylor explored Beckett’s extensive engagement in the representation of the African.
Taylor has held the Wole Soyinka Chair of Theatre at the University of Leeds, and was Visiting Avenali Chair of the Humanities at the Townsend Center, University of California, Berkeley. She has held visiting Fellowships at Oxford, Cambridge, and a Rockefeller Fellowship at Emory University. She recently published a monograph with U of Chicago Press, on William Kentridge’s production of Shostakovich’s comic opera, The Nose; and has most recently been working on a new book on Darwin, Conan Doyle, and the question of evidence.
While a NOMIS fellow, Taylor will be working in part with the Basel-held Damman archive of photographic and sound recordings of European and African contact and interaction in the early twentieth century. What is particularly interesting is to consider the ways in which such interactions were produced and activated via the technological means just becoming available: it is a Question of Modernity and Technology that the two groups bring to their interactions with one another.