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' discourse in which practitioners, historians, and critics alike fervently seek the body while doubting it can ever be found.
Jane Blocker is assistant professor of art history at the University of Minnesota and author of Where Is Ana Mendieta? Identity, Performativity, and Exile (1999).