I completed my PhD in Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London in Autumn 2018, having submitted a practice-based portfolio (full of O Shows and other assorted pieces) and a written thesis (piled high and deep at just over 70k words). The latter is entitled “Performance Art Can Change Your Life! Shame Attacking and Parrhesia as Feminist Practices of Freedom“. It is currently available to read in Goldsmiths library and will be made available online after a three-year hiatus.
This research project investigates the risky self-disclosure that certain feminist performance artists practise in their work in order to assess how it impacts their lives. Focusing on artists whose work blurs the boundaries between art and life, the personal and the political, it uses original interviews and first person written accounts, close readings of artworks, alongside the author’s own performance practice, to examine acts of self-exposure as critical forms of self-care. To assess the rewards and drawbacks of shamelessness, this thesis utilises Foucault’s late theorisations on parrhesia, a risky form of truth telling, and a therapeutic technique called shame attacking, developed by the psychologist Albert Ellis. While Ellis prizes acting against shame because such action can lead to increased confidence and greater self-worth, Foucault values parrhesia as a form of transgression and critique. Bringing together the work of these two theorists for the first time, this thesis interrogates the imbrication of these distinct outcomes, which in turn compete and align for the artists whose work it analyses as case studies. The project’s main practical outlet is a talk show, The O Show (2011 to 2018), which also explores this overlap by showcasing the author-qua-talk show host’s self-disclosures and those of other artists, often alongside the insights of psychologists.
Thus the author’s practice attempts to answer the same research questions but with a broader scope than this thesis, which looks closely at art that challenges norms of appearance. The work of Martha Wilson, Oreet Ashery, Cassils, Mark Aguhar and Katherine Araniello provides potent examples in exploring beauty, ugliness, masculinity, femininity, mental health and disability. By demonstrating the ways that each of these artists transforms shame into courage, this project stakes a claim in the numerous debates around the value of the personal and the therapeutic in feminist art, advocating for its importance.