What the Body Cost: Desire, History, and Performance

What the Body Cost: Desire, History, and Performance

What the Body Cost: Desire, History, and Performance

What the Body Cost: Desire, History, and Performance


Blocker (art history, U. of Minnesota) examines performance art works by Carolee Schneemann, Vito Acconci, Hannah Wilke, Yves Klein, Ana Mendieta, and others, in a challenge to earlier critiques that characterize performance, or body art, solely as a revolutionary art form. She argues that the acceptance of the body in art came at a price, that th


Is not the most erotic portion of a body where the garment gapes? in perversion (which is the
realm of textual pleasure) there are no “erogenous zones” (a foolish expression, besides); it is
intermittence, as psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin
flashing between two articles of clothing (trousers and sweater), between two edges (the open
necked shirt, the glove and the sleeve); it is this flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging
of an appearance-as-disappearance.

—Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text

I am interested in how histories of performance art are written, in what it means to weave shrouds of words for bodies long gone. the historian plies a shuttle through the tattered threads of a wide range of artifacts, what Barthes would call collectively “texts,” a word in which touch is insinuated. To engage in that labor is to be seduced by gaping holes in the text/ile of written descriptions, by flashes of skin, provocative edges in film and video where appearance and disappearance meet, and luscious images lit by the documenting camera’s flash. It is to long for bodies now absent, to pore over photographs, to read firsthand accounts. To write a history of performance art is therefore to engage in the pleasures of the text.

Performance art’s seductive power lies partially in the fact that it engenders a form of vision defined by glimpses and intermittence, a vision that always arrives too late. “I was not yet three years old,” Amelia Jones writes,

Living in central North Carolina, when Carolee Schneemann performed Meat Joy
at the Festival of Free Expression in Paris in 1964; three when Yoko Ono performed

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