Document, audience, affect: festival performances in Los Angeles of the 1970s and 80s

Orchard Learning Resource Centre (OLRC)
Wednesday 30 November 2016 (17:00-18:30)
  • Critical and creative encounters

Speaker: Harriet Curtis (King’s College London)

In 1980, John Duncan, an artist who has used conceptual, performative and sound elements in works that explicated nascent themes of violence, trauma, and male sexuality in his work, created a performance called Blind Date. Part of a performance festival in Los Angeles that was featured in High Performance magazine, Duncan’s piece was described by its editor Linda Burnham as ‘highly morally objectionable’, and documentation of the work was not included in the magazine. Burnham felt that by documenting this piece she was condoning and thus participating in its content; even discussing the reasons for her disapproval was deemed to be ‘carrying it forward.’

I want to complicate the aversion to and rejection of Blind Date in relation to documentation as a repetition or continuation of the performance itself. In this case it is the role of the magazine editor as gatekeeper that determines the ‘work’ that documentation does and which specific elements of the performance are documented and ‘carried forward’. In this way the very particular sensibilities around this complex and difficult work – expounded by Burnham but also in accounts by fellow artists – shapes and determines my way of working on and writing about this piece as a performance scholar. Specifically, by approaching the performance through the context of its reception, the ‘work’ of documentation becomes mediated through discourses on oral history, affect, and censorship.

Taking Duncan’s work as a starting point, I want to consider connections to other artists making performances in Los Angeles, notably, Paul McCarthy and Johanna Went, whose work similarly generates adverse or antagonistic effects on audiences and shares a certain aversion to documentation. The paper articulates the beginnings of a research project that explores the performance and body-based work of multidisciplinary artists of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Harriet Curtis is a teaching fellow in Performance Studies and Liberal Arts at King’s College London. Her research interests include performance and live art, interdisciplinary art practices, visual culture, and art history post-1960, and she has written on topics including feminist and activist performance practices, exhibitions and performance in Los Angeles, and performance archives.

Venue: Orchard Learning Resource Centre, Selly Oak

All welcome, no booking required.