Dr Sylwia Dobkowska

Supervised by

Personal profile

Ontology of Absence

My doctoral research examines what absence is and how it works in a performance. I study the paradox of representation, whereby absence is never absent and presence is not present. I have named this using the oxymoron present absence.

In my research, I question the dualistic philosophy, which defines a sign as a relationship between a signifier (a thing) and a certain signified (its meaning), and I look for another interpretation of absence in performance. I read Jacques Derrida’s philosophy and survey various theories in theatre studies, which define limits of presence and absence. I do not agree with all of them, but they provide important different perspectives on the question of absence.

These theoretical perspectives on presence and absence are applied to multiple examples of visual culture, which include theatre, performance and art. A structure of visual representation is studied as writing. I refer to Derrida’s theory of arche-writing, which is a non-linear type of writing that does not rely on defining being as presence. Present absence is studied through linguistic theory and tested in the three-dimensional space of performance. In my thesis, I apply Derrida’s philosophy to read objects, human beings, and the structure of language, without referring to its essence in the concept of presence. I build my argument on the premise that representation can be read as metaphor. I use Derrida’s term grapheme, not only to refer to negative marks in writing as he did, but also to refer to a word in arche-writing. My research provides an alternative account of the mode of reading the notion of absence in performance. I find the significance of absence in political context of visual culture.



PhD researcher at Royal Holloway, University of London

Drama and Theatre Department

September 2010 – November 2014

Thesis title: Ontology of Absence


MA in Design at Goldsmiths College, University of London

Graduated with Distinction

September 2009 – September 2010

Dissertation title: Performative Absence


BA (Hons) in Drama and Performance at University of Wolverhampton

Graduated with a First Class Degree

September 2006 – June 2009

Dissertation title: PerFormArt: The Postmodern Phenomenon of Hybrids in Contemporary Art



College Scholarship         

Royal Holloway, University of London

September 2010 – September 2013


College Maintenance Award

Royal Holloway, University of London

September 2010 – September 2013


Conference Grant

Royal Holloway, University of London

Invited to present a paper on ‘Present Absence as Exchange of Signifiers’

Theatre and Performance Research Association annual conference

September 2013


Departmental Prize for Highest Classification Grades

University of Wolverhampton

September 2009


Project Grant          

Youth in Action Programme, European Commission

Awarded €12000 grant for Sound-Light project

June 2005 – June 2006



‘Performative Absence as Exchange of Signifiers.’ Theatre and Performance Research Association. University of Glasgow and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, United Kingdom. 4-6 September 2013.

‘Present Absence in Theatre.’ Postgraduate Pioneers. Royal Holloway, University of London, London, United Kingdom. 23-24 June 2013.



Dobkowska, Sylwia and Paul Johnson Eds. Justitia: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the work of Jasmin Vardimon Company. Bristol: Intellect Books. (Forthcoming)

Dobkowska, Sylwia, Stacey Pitsillides and Duncan Fairfax.‘Immortal “Brand Me” Identity Immersion in a Digital Space.’ Making Believe: Goldsmiths Postgraduate Exhibition Catalogue 2010. 56-70.

Graphic Designer of Theatremorphosis by Dan Rebellato, July 2013

Graphic Designer of Platform 7.2: Staging Play, Playing Stages, Autumn 2013

Graphic Designer of Platform 7.1: On Corporeality, Spring 2013

Graphic Designer and Editorial Board Member (under Adam Alston and Louise LePage) of Platform 6.2: Representing the Human, Summer 2012

Graphic Designer and Editorial Board Member (under Adam Alston, Charlotte Hammond and Emer O’Toole) of Platform 6.1: Spectatorship and Participation, Autumn 2011

Graphic Designer and Editorial Board Member (under Emer O’Toole and Mara Lockowandt) of Platform 5.2: Communities and Performance, Spring 2011



I am a member of Theatre and Performance Research Association




View all (1) »

  • Platform (Journal)

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workPeer review of manuscripts

View all (1) »

ID: 10076