GEMS in portraits: Yannice De Bruyn

Busy times (ahead) for Yannice De Bruyn. Finishing a PhD while being a young mother isn’t particularly a walk in the park. Therefore, I was very pleased that she still could find the time for a chat via Skype. Yannice works as a PhD student in the Departments of Literary Studies of the UGent and the VUB (through a joint PhD). She is part of the Dutch-Belgian ITEMP cooperation, in which two PhD students and four promotors are involved. ITEMP stands for ‘Imagineering violence, techniques of early modern performativity in the Northern and Southern Netherlands (1630-1690)’ (see The aim of the project is to investigate how violence was represented in the early modern Low Countries. In her PhD, Yannice focuses on the ‘how and why’ of the representation of violence in the theatre, particularly by means of four case studies of siege plays. Through the concept of ‘imagineering’, a combination of ‘imagining’ and ‘engineering’, she shows that the representation and imagination of siege were always in interaction. There was no ‘reality’ of siege independent of how it was depicted onstage and throughout other media. Its performance in the theatre shaped the audience’s perception and created expectations that in their turn shaped other representations of the subject. Yannice is now in the final phase of her PhD, which she hopes to have defended by the end of the ongoing academic year. The right moment to shoot some of the questions she actually helped to invent a couple of years ago.

Romeyn de Hooghe – engraving for Govard Bidloo’s De France Wreetheyt, tot Bodegrave, en Swammerdam (1672)

How did your interests in your research arise?

“My double focus on the visual arts and the theatre was already apparent during my studies. I obtained my bachelor’s degree in theatre studies, and my master’s degree in art history. My master’s thesis offered an exegetic reading of an early sixteenth-century portrait by Quinten Massys, called ‘Man with glasses’. I was looking for the origin and meaning of the sitter’s peculiar hand gesture. In 2015, I started my PhD in early modern Dutch literature. The early modern period is a very fascinating moment in history. I think it’s particularly interesting to look at the twenty-first century from the perspective of the seventeenth century. For example: in one of the plays I’m discussing in my PhD, siege is symbolized as the rape of a woman. Reading more about the subject, I was interested to see how some of today’s prejudices concerning rape (such as ‘women provoke sexual assault by behaving provocatively’) go back on the early modern and even earlier times.

Do you consider your research to be interdisciplinary?

“For sure. Interdisciplinarity and intermediality constitute the core of the ‘imagineering’ concept. Media are constantly in interaction, so in order for me to say anything about violence in the early modern theatre, I also have to consider the representation of violence in contemporary journals and historiography, as well as in visual media (mostly etchings) and in public events (such as royal entries). I believe it’s really important to cross disciplinary lines.”

Have you ever experienced a Eureka moment in your research?

“No, not really. I sometimes had Eureka-ish moments upon reading secondary sources that made me look at my project from a totally new perspective, a perspective that broke through my own discourse. But I never had a real Eureka moment in the strict sense of the word. The deeper insights in my own project never come spontaneously, it takes formulating and reformulating to get at them.”

What is the most inspiring study you have recently read? And the most recent one?

“The most inspiring study I have ever read is Bernhard Siegert’s Cultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors, and Other Articulations of the Real (2015). Siegert is a media-archeologist, whose approach has been a great source of inspiration for the ITEMP project. In his book, Siegert questions the existence of an objective truth to precede representation. His main thesis is that reality cannot be known without the ways in which we make it knowable. He gives the example of maps. These are not merely representations of territories but they actually shape them: like the chaotic medieval city centre that made way for a tightly organized ‘grid’.

The most recent study I read, is Erika Lin’s Shakespeare and the Materiality of Performance (2012), which was on the reading list for a workshop on performance historiography in which I recently participated. Lin shows the interrelation between the theatre’s material and immaterial signifying practices, and its connection to broader social logics. Attitudes and practices outside the playhouse underlie theatrical signification, but they are in their turn transformed through it. Lin does not consider theatre as a mere performance, but as an epistemology in its own right. As a matter of fact, when I first read the introduction, I had a feeling many scholars are probably familiar with. I wished I had discovered this study at the start of my research, because what Lin does is very close to what I intended to do in my PhD. Luckily, this initial hint of panic soon gave way to gratitude for this immense source of inspiration.”

What will the future bring for you?

“After my doctoral defense, I would love to teach art history and conceptual history in academies for (theatre) arts. Furthermore, I want to cooperate with individual artists (writing reflections on their work and applications for grants). I want to assist them with my pen and my conceptual background. I feel there is a strong need among artists for someone who can be their conversation partner, their sounding board or their art coach.”