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What the Body Cost

Desire, History, and Performance

2004
Author:

Jane Blocker

What the Body Cost

Reexamines rebelliousness and desire in the history of performance art

Jane Blocker revisits key works in performance art by Carolee Schneemann, Vito Acconci, Hannah Wilke and others to challenge earlier critiques that characterize body art as a purely revolutionary art form and fail to recognize its reactionary—and sometimes damaging—effects.

The scholarship on performance art has not, she finds, gone far enough in locating the body at the center of the performance.

What the Body Cost is an elegant meditation on the historiography of performance art. Jane Blocker's subtle account of the links between writing and embodiment help us to see a range of artistic practices and performances with fresh eyes.

Richard Meyer, University of Southern California

Because performance is by its very nature ephemeral, it elicits a desire for what is lost more than any other form of art making. But what is the nature of that desire, and on what models has it been structured? How has it affected the ways in which the history of performance art gets told?

In What the Body Cost, Jane Blocker revisits key works in performance art by Carolee Schneemann, Vito Acconci, Hannah Wilke, Yves Klein, Ana Mendieta, and others to challenge earlier critiques that characterize performance, or body art, as a purely revolutionary art form and fail to recognize its reactionary—and sometimes damaging—effects. The scholarship to date on performance art has not, she finds, gone far enough in locating the body at the center of the performance, nor has it acknowledged the psychic, emotional, or social costs exacted on that body.

Drawing on the work of critical theorists such as Roland Barthes and Catherine Belsey, as well as queer theory and feminism, What the Body Cost reads against patriarchal and heteronormative tendencies in art history while providing a corrective to the established view that performance art is necessarily transgressive. Instead, Blocker suggests that the historiography of performance art is a postmodern lovers’s discourse in which practitioners, historians, and critics alike fervently seek the body while doubting it can ever be found.


What the Body Cost

Jane Blocker is assistant professor of art history at the University of Minnesota and author of Where Is Ana Mendieta? Identity, Performativity, and Exile.

What the Body Cost

What the Body Cost is an elegant meditation on the historiography of performance art. Jane Blocker's subtle account of the links between writing and embodiment help us to see a range of artistic practices and performances with fresh eyes.

Richard Meyer, University of Southern California

Jane Blocker is as good a writer, scholar, and original thinker as feminists could hope for, and this book is often downright brilliant on gender dynamics. It is a catalytic and enlightening book that takes our conceptions of ‘desire, history, and performance’ into new territory.

Lucy R. Lippard, author of The Pink Glass Swan: Selected Feminist Essays on Art

What the Body Cost casts a light on underexplored aspects of late twentieth-century art history, performance art, gender studies, and postmodern theory.

Kathy O'Dell, University of Maryland, author of Contract with the Skin: Masochism, Performance Art, and the 1970s

Jane Blocker investigates the desires provoked by the body’s imminent presence in mid-twentieth century performances.

Signs

Proposes a new way of writing about performance: one that requires engagement with a different kind of remembering; one that moves beyond the archive and into the realm of desire; one that acknowledges the doubt surrounding the body and its texts.

Parachute

What the Body Cost

Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface: A Flash of Skin
Acknowledgments

Introduction: Bodies Sought and Doubted

1. Mouths
2. Lovers
3. Captivating Delights
4. Blood’s Work

Afterword
Notes
Bibliography

Index