Week 1: Performance Art and Feminisms: An Introduction

This first week entails an introduction to and a discussion of performance art and feminist theory. We will briefly address the history of performance art in order to ground our understanding of the revolutionary nature of performance art for feminist artists. We will also consider the variable positions of performance art and feminist politics/theory (hence feminisms). Attention will be given to the mid-to-late 1960s as an emergent moment of feminist-motivated performance art, with focus on works such as Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (1964); Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy (1964); and VALIE EXPORT’s TAPP und TASTKINO (Tap and Touch Cinema) (1968), among others. We will also discuss the relationship between body art and performance art, specifically women’s use of their own bodies in the making of their art.

Week 2: Gender and Sexuality

In this second week, we will consider how feminist-minded performance artists foreground the fluidity of gender and/or sexuality as a means of destabilizing singular subject positions and dismantling heteronormative, patriarchal social standards/expectations. We will discuss writings by contemporary theorists of gender and sexuality, such as Judith Butler and Jack Halberstam, whose work has been deeply informed by phenomenology (a philosophy of experience) and feminism. Attention will be given to how performance artists employ “accessories of gender and sexuality” (clothing, makeup, posing, etc.), as we trace a history from the performative photography of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, to gender as performance in the work of Adrian Piper, to contemporary “Gaga feminism.”

Week 3: Political Actions

Feminist performance art as direct political action will be discussed in week 3. We will consider work that engages in the social sphere to raise awareness of, for example, sexual assault and harassment, racial discrimination, environmental concerns. We will look at performances by Ana Mendieta, Suzanne Lacy, Helène Aylon, and Emma Sulkowicz, among others, as we discuss the power of direct interaction between artist, audience, and space. We will further consider the impact of “consciousness raising” sessions, as used by feminist groups in the 1970s (and Civil Rights groups starting in the 1960s), on the development of direct action performance art.

Week 4: Mediated Connections

In this final week, we will focus on feminist interventions into mass media and visual culture, as we consider the impact of new media on feminist performance art. We will discuss how new technology, such as portable video equipment (Sony Portapaks to iPhones), and the rise of social media platforms have allowed for experimental strategies of feminist artistic engagement. Readings by new media and performance theorists, such as Philip Auslander and Kate Mondloch, will inform our understanding of the contemporary moment. To this end, we will conclude with discussion of what feminist performance art could and should look like in the midst of a global pandemic, when social distancing necessitates mediated connections.