'Leaking Men and Abject Masculinities'
Since 2011 I have been interested in how artists and scholars of performance have explored representations of masculinity as a way of challenging normalcy and patriarchy. This project started after watching Vito Acconci’s performance with Kathy Dillon, Conversions III (1971); a performance to camera in which Acconci attempts to transcend into the feminine. What became apparent after watching this, and engaging in the scholarly discourse that surrounds it, is that there is a large body of work that challenges notions of normative masculinity through its deconstruction. Whilst evidently performing the instability of hegemonic masculinity these artists also reinforce those images that have continued to oppress those who are pushed to the social margins, and as such offer very little in the way of alternative understandings of normative gendered identities. We might call this an act of progressive sexism. That is, these male artists challenge images of oppression through their performances, but as a result of their sex, they also retain the ability to return to a site of comfortable privilege. My research over the last five years then is interested in how male body based artists can challenge representations of normalcy without reinforcing images of normative masculinity. Through my practice I have come to believe that male artists can achieve this through a process of generosity.
In addition to the performance practice that I have developed in relation to generosity and masculinity, this page includes links to articles and conference papers that I have written on the subject. Furthermore, ideas, and excerpts of writings can also be found on my blog.
Spitting Distance (2012 and 2013)
Spitting Distance (2012 and 2013) is a performance experiment that was performed twice, once at the University of Plymouth, and again three months later at Tempting Failure in ]Performance Space[, London.
The aims of this performance were to:
1. Reconsider how masculinity is represented, and challenged, in male body based performance art.
2. Focus on the use of masculine identity as a point of departure instead of the characteristics, behaviours and traits of normative masculinity
3. To consider why masculine identity might destabilise normative assumptions about masculine representation
TALKING ABOUT KEITH (2014)
Talking about Keith (2014) was the second piece of work of made for my Practice as Research PhD thesis. It was a seventeen-minute performance that was presented twice on the same day at the University of Plymouth once in a female public toilet and once in a male.
The overarching aim for Talking about Keith (2014) was to identify how the male body in performance can be used to challenge normative representations of masculinity. The objectives for this performance were:
1. To identify how masculine identity might intertwine with the male body in performance to create a heteroglossic representation of gender
2. To explore signification in performance from the perspective of the body affecting language.
3. To make explicit why the body creates an excess of meaning in performance and how this might affect representations of masculinity
GENEROUS Enema (2016)
Generous Enema (2016) is the third and final instalment of my Practice as Research PhD project. To be performed in September 2016 at Plymouth University, this One-to-One performance responds to the concept of generosity as a strategy for challenging normative representations of masculinity. As such, this is a culmination of knowledge that was generated through my other performances, Spitting Distance (2013) and Talking about Keith (2014), and can be seen as an alternative challenge to Amelia Jones' (1994) concept of Phallic Dis/play and my own concept of Muscular Masculinity.
The objectives for this performance are:
1. To pull upon the knowledge generated in previous performances in order to create a piece of body-based performance that is indicative of generosity and that challenges representations of masculinity.
2. To explore what generosity feels like in relation to the coherence of my identity in the moment of performance.
3. To articulate the dynamic relationship between participant and performer that emerges as a result of embracing generosity.
The questions that I have at the start of this project then are:
1. Why does generosity challenge normative representations of masculinity?
2. What does generosity look like in male body-based performance art?
3. How and why might it feel different to previous works, and why might this be created through the dynamic relationship of participant and performer?
What is Generosity?
When I use the term generosity I am, in part, referring to the already established discourse surrounding generosity in performance. With this in mind, the work that I create does attempt to create gaps that can be resided in (Skantze, 2007), so that participants can have their own voice within the work (Walsh, 2016). However, I am not just interested in the impact of my generosity on the participant/audience of the performance, I am also interested in the way that their generosity affects me. Specifically, how the participant's interaction with my body affords me the opportunity to be confronted with understandings of my self that I had not previously considered.
The purpose of generosity in performance, for me at least, is to allow the work to become a type of self-writing for the artist, a way in which the artist can take stock of their selves and the impact our identities have on the world around us. I believe this to be a very powerful tool for male artists attempting to challenge normative representations of masculinity. Rather than simply performing normativity with the purpose of demonstrating its impossibility, generosity in performance allows the focus to be drawn inwards towards the artist, and in doing so it foregrounds the question, to what extent am I complicit in patriarchal privilege? By attending to this question, I hope this offers the opportunity for me to change.
I am not, however, suggesting that this change is easy, self-reflexivity needs to be a continuous practice, and as my research has already demonstrated to me, it can evoke struggle, one might not always like what is revealed to them, one might not understand as meaning can be too messy. Yet, I suppose this is what makes generosity so important to me, for it is the embracement of struggle that can challenge the coherence of normative masculine identities.