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Sites of Representation


Since its conception, the United Nations (UN) has often convened in spaces that possess extraordinarily rich performance histories. Examples range from the signing of the UN Charter in the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House to the appropriation of former sites of World Fairs for meetings of the General Assembly and more recent ad hoc conventions held within performing arts centers. These theatres do more than solve the logistics of how to assemble a large number of bodies; these spaces perform and they create the conditions for performative action to occur. This photo essay collects a series of images from the UN Online News and Media Photo Archive which document the history of the organization and its work. The images I have selected recall the other performance histories that haunt the theatrical spaces so as to draw attention to the symbolic playing field that the UN acts upon. These images beckon us to contemplate the complex relationship between the physical and material reality of the theatrical spaces of the UN and the symbolic actions created by the use of theatrical structures—for it is no coincidence that the General Assembly would makes its home the site of the 1939 World Fair, “Building the World of Tomorrow,” which included a model of “Democracity.” Democracy has always been located in the theatre. The Greeks used theatres as democratic institutions and their dramatic texts were designed to promote democratic debate in public space. Unlike UN meetings which have taken place in corporate spaces, such as hotels and convention centers, and private spaces, such as resorts and chalets, the meetings in theatres retain the Greek connection to public space and connect the content of the meeting to the world outside. The theatre is thus a key site in which to investigate the cultural practices that go about building the world in a city...

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