José Segebre

What Are We Waiting For? The Time of Waiting in Queer and Postcolonial Aesthetics

School of Art

What we wait for conditions our expectations and hopes. When we wait for the bus, we expect it to come. If it fails to arrive, the time spent waiting seems indefinite and endless; it can become a burden and a disappointment. The perceived intensity of this time is very subjective and situation-specific. Waiting thus becomes existential.

My research focuses on contemporary installative and performative art practices and interrogates the extent to which they structure space and time–and therefore experience, aesthetic or otherwise. I ask myself: what are we waiting for when artworks bring the time of waiting to bear? What does it mean to experience art as waiting time? What consequences does this temporalization of aesthetic experience have? What happens to hope and expectation during this time? I understand waiting as a phenomenon of power: to wait and to make others wait.   

The time of waiting seems particularly important in the context of the latter twentieth Century, which in the aesthetic realm signals a departure from high modernist objecthood towards the fraying of genres. While also simultaneously marked by Cold War politics and shifting market policies, these times bore witness to a radical mobilization of revolutionary, decolonial and political strategies–a global proliferation of emancipatory movements. Under this schema, I contextualize my research project in queer and postcolonial times of upheaval, which are to be regarded as highly specific, overlapping spatiotemporalities.

My current thesis argues that queer and postcolonial artistic practices around times of sociopolitical and economic upheaval countervail the temporality of waiting in installations and performances, thus undermining hegemonic power structures. The artists Jack Smith (1932-89) and Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980) are key figures for these considerations.

Smith's work from the 60s and 70s plays havoc on the time of waiting. In his performances so little takes place over such long time periods–a record plays, a joint is lit, or the piece simply starts over–that the experience of the performance becomes an experience grounded in waiting. In his pieces, Smith incorporates neither a clear beginning nor a foreseeable end. To what extent does seemingly relentless and incessant waiting morph into a determined aesthetic experience; or vice versa: an aesthetic experience with apparently no end in sight into a defined waiting time?

During his exile in New York, Oiticica attended his performances and went so far as to declare Smith precursor to his Cosmococas (1973-74), conceived with Neville D'Almeida (1941-). These participatory installations transform music, moving images and drug culture into an idle, leisurely time conceived for inspiration and creation, which Oiticica condenses into the neologism "Creleisure." These simultaneously overwhelming and meditative spaces were created after the disappointments of thwarted revolutionary movements in '68, including the violent intensification of the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964-85). How does waiting for a better time or fundamental change relate to the leisurely idleness of "Creleisure?" How does the Cosmococas' spatiotemporality compare to a wait without a clear beginning or end? How does the temporality of waiting differ from boredom, melancholy or leisure, and what parallels are there between them? Is the soldering of expectation and hope most particular to the experience of waiting?

My doctoral thesis hones in on performative, installative, queer and postcolonial artworks created in times of upheaval with seemingly unknown and endless durations. What Are We Waiting For? collects artistic positions whose aestheticization of the temporality of waiting seeks not so much a fleeting escape from the here-and-now but rather a reflexive, strategic and playful approach to structures ruling over time.


  • ​Prof. Dr. Juliane Rebentisch
  • Dr. Marc Siegel