Intimate Relations: A Genealogy of Queer / Performativity
Ron Athey, Incorruptible Flesh: Dissociative Sparkle, 2006; performed at Artists Space, New York
Amelia Jones is the Robert A. Day Professor at the Roski School of Art and Design at University of Southern California. A curator and a theorist and historian of art and performance, her recent publications include Seeing Differently: A History and Theory of Identification and the Visual Arts (2012), Perform Repeat Record: Live Art in History (2012), co-edited with Adrian Heathfield, the edited volume Sexuality (2014), and, co-edited with Erin Silver, Otherwise: Imagining Queer Feminist Art Histories (2016). Her exhibition Material Traces: Time and the Gesture in Contemporary Art took place in 2013 in Montreal. She programmed the events Trans-Montréal (2015) and Live Artists Live (at USC in 2016). She edited “On Trans/Performance,” a special issue of Performance Research (October 2016).
This talk is based on the book project Intimate Relations, where I trace the interrelated histories of the terms “queer” and “performative” since 1950 in anglophone discourse. This genealogy suggests that the terms have deeply informed not only our thinking about queer, about performance and the performative, and about queer performance, but as well our understanding of how art works and comes to have cultural value (or not) over the past 70 years. In this paper, the focus is on examples in art discourse, where resistances to performance, the performative, and queer sexualities expose the limits of these disciplines’ capacity to address art that moves, takes place over time, and/or foregrounds non-normative sexual identities and identifications—suggesting that these terms are often articulated together in ways that determine how particular kinds of artistic expression are evaluated. Ultimately I will point to how the work labelled as queer and/or performative encourages a kind of bodily intimacy or relationality that is deeply threatening to the structures of the art world.