Enduring Belief: Performance, Trauma, Religion
The medium of performance art locates both the art-making subject and the art object in the body of the artist. Performance art thus serves as an appropriate medium for integrating the complex, repetitive, and often unconscious somatic knowledges developed by two distinct experiences: the practice of religious ritual and the overwhelming conditions of trauma. In this dissertation, I explore the foundational idea that the artist's body can become a site of both theological significance and traumatic memory. I examine the connections among the forms of performance art, bodily worship practices, and traumatic experience in the work of three contemporary U.S. performance artists with devout religious backgrounds. Born between the1940s and the 1960s, Linda Montano, John Duncan, and Ron Athey have all consistently positioned their work in religious contexts. This trans-generational set of artists represents a spectrum of Christian traditions in the United States: Athey's improvisational Pentecostalism, the liturgical tradition of Montano's Catholicism, and mainstream Protestantism in the form of Duncan's Calvinist Presbyterianism. At the same time, all three artists struggle with the persistent affect of traumatic experience, from domestic violence to sexual assault. These artists' works represent their traumatic experiences as mediated through the bodily, visual, intellectual, and aural forms of their respective Christian traditions. My dissertation identifies religion as a neglected foundation of performance art and as a fundamental motivating factor and force in shaping its forms, content, and significance.
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