Emotional contagion: the transformative potential of performance art

  • Marta Alves Fialho da Silva (Student)

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Performance art gathers a group of people in a certain time and space to live an experience that goes beyond the artistic realm. Despite this encounter being widely acknowledged as socially inscribed and despite the audience group playing an active role, this contribution remains, however, unclear. By exploring the social nature of the encounter and by focusing on a situation in which the co-present audience is bodily engaged, this dissertation proposes that through their sensorial worlds, each audience member may not only be the object, but also the subject of that engagement, nurturing and confronting the sphere of the gathered group and the artwork, infecting each other in a complex and dynamic interplay. Having this in mind, performance art is addressed in artistic, social and emotional terms. The aim is to inspect how an emotional contagion may happen amongst an audience group with and through an artwork. Emotional contagion – a term borrowed from Erika Fischer-Lichte – addresses here a process of reciprocal transformation found within a broad universe of sensorial forms mediated by the body according to cultural codes. A theoretical review on performance art is conducted in the context of Culture Studies. In this regard, four axes are addressed – knowledge, politics, audience engagement and emancipation – and an emotional framework, founded on three dimensions, is developed – liveness, immersion & intimacy and community. A case study was chosen to substantiate this theoretical proposal, resulting an in-depth analysis of Silent disco (2019), a performance by the Portuguese artist Alfredo Martins.
Date of Award17 Feb 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Universidade Católica Portuguesa
SupervisorPeter Hanenberg (Supervisor)


  • Performance art
  • Emotional contagion
  • Audience emancipation
  • Relational aesthetics
  • Participatory artistic practices


  • Mestrado em Estudos de Cultura

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