Pathologising Performance: “Self-Harm,” Performance Art, and Personhood
My project asks what pathologisation does to performance art that is perceived as “self-harming.” In doing so, I decentre the conventional focus on pain or the psyche of the artist and turn my attention to examining why pathologisation has become a common-sense response to what may be perceived as instances of “self-harm” in performance. My original contribution to knowledge is to unveil the power dynamics and historical oppressions that the critical pathologising of artists can silently snap into place. Each part of my thesis supports and furthers this goal. In the introduction I lay out the terms of my argument and position my intervention into ongoing conversations about self-wounding in performance art but also about “self-harm.” In Chapter 1, I take the work of Kristine Stiles as exemplary to explore the power dynamics of the pathologising critic. I articulate the links between the critic and the doctor that hail the artist as the patient, and the relationalities these encourage. In Chapter 2, I examine the reception of works by L.A. Raeven which demonstrate that pathologisation is not limited to scholarly or art historical readings but is widespread in popular media as well. I then look to works by Kris Grey that articulate ambivalence towards the material effects of diagnosis, medicalisation, and pathologisation. In Chapter 3, I look to the performance work of Esther Marveta Neff to analyse how the forms of personhood that underpin contemporary diagnostical tools perpetuate values of whiteness (as a system of power), including imperatives toward individuation, self-possession, and self-mastery. I then look to how Neff and Kamil Guenatri resist, refuse, and exit the offered terms of this orientation towards personhood. By doing so, these artists explore new relationalities which can orient towards new ways of worlding. In this sense, the stakes of my argument are high because the pathologising of new ways of relating (making the strange into the sick) risks limiting the possibility of perceiving other ways of being together and other forms of worlding, which we so urgently need.
- Theses