About looking and looking away: Performance art, visuality and the vision of excess

Irene Gerogianni

Punctum, 2(1): 18-27, 2016
DOI: 10.18680/hss.2015.0018

Despite the centrality of looking to the experience of performance art, relatively little has been published on the visual as a condition of the production of meaning in this particular art form. Tracing the theoretical roots of performance art’s vocabulary to linguistics, anthropology and theories of poststructuralism, it comes as no surprise that the concepts of ‘theatricality’ and ‘performativity’ have increasingly gained ground in the history of performance art. However, the act of looking, or looking away, should also be accounted for through an understanding of ‘visuality’, a third term that highlights the contingency of meaning making. For this, this essay affirms the anthropological paradigm, by focusing on situations of visual extremity in both ritual contexts and performance art, as a series of instances where the problems of vision are thrown into particular relief. However, it shall also strive to underline the differences between the two, just as Bataille has, especially on the ground of the creation and undermining of social orders.

KEYWORDS: performance art theory, visuality, performativity
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