The Wound Kept Open: Jack Smith, Queer Performance and Cultural Failure
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Jack Smith is an artist on the margins of official narratives of art of the 1960s. This essay attempts to read his works as a means of questioning the challenges posed to normative readings of the work of culture, by presenting ideas about queer performance. Smith’s almost hysterical identification with Maria Montez, a 1940s film siren, is privileged in my reading. Her key film, Cobra woman, turns on the image of a wound that will not heal. In this essay, I read the wound as signaling the breaches in our attempts at full communication, and compare this state of being to the idiosyncratic form of the camp effect, which functions as a kind of hieroglyph, or broken sign. Read through Maria Montez, the ‘failures’ of Smith’s practice are explored in order to invigorate the seemingly exhausted discourse on camp, as well as to pose a critique of the ways in which certain bodies are failed by dominant culture.
- Department of Drama