Radical Gestures: Feminism and Performance Art in North America

By Smith, Briony | Women & Environments International Magazine, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Radical Gestures: Feminism and Performance Art in North America


Smith, Briony, Women & Environments International Magazine


RADICAL GESTURES: FEMINISM AND PERFORMANCE ART IN NORTH AMERICA Jane Wark McGill-Queen's University Press, 2006 $32.95 CDN (paperback) $80.00 CDN (cloth cover)

Jayne Wark's text Radical Gestures: Feminism and Performance Art in North America has brief flashes of colourful anecdotes and language that provide a respite from the dense theory that pads out the majority of the text, but it can't transcend its academic thrust to appeal to any but the most thesis-minded.

Its chock-a-block theory makes Radical Gestures decidedly not for the faint of heart. The book assumes knowledge of several major art movements, including conceptualism, modernism, and minimalism, and tosses about complex feminist terms and references without explanation. Sentences, such as the ponderous "He added further that the neo-avant-garde addressed the relationship between art and the praxis of life not by collapsing the two but rather by testing the conventions of each with reference to the conventions of the other - that is, by testing the limits of art in relation to commodity and industrial forms of bourgeois capitalism within the specific context of the postwar period," often require decoding, whether of the unfamiliar terms rolled out within them, or, if you're jargon-savvy, of the multiple clauses jammed together. Even though it is undeniable that a record of the rich variety of feminist performance art is a must, it is ironic that the book gets so mired down in the high-falutin' academic language and theory that is accessible to so very few, at the same time tamping down considerably the joy, vibrancy, wit, and zest present in these artworks.

Documentation of the actual art is, in fact, the saving grace of the book. …

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