Elizabeth Kanost
Spencer Museum of Art

New book by Spencer Museum curator centers voices of unrecognized performers

Thu, 05/04/2023

LAWRENCE — A new book by Joey Orr, Spencer Museum curator for research at the University of Kansas, presents the often unheard experiences of collaborators who perform in other artists’ work.

Joey Orr“A Sourcebook of Performance Labor: Activators, Activists, Archives, All,” is part of the series Routledge Advances in Theatre & Performance Studies. The book includes an introduction and review of the concept of performance labor and 13 interviews with collaborators who participated in notable works attributed to famous contemporary artists including Francis Alÿs, Tania Bruguera, Suzanne Lacy, Ernesto Pujol, Asad Raza, Dread Scott and Tino Sehgal.

In the book’s introduction Orr asks, “Why aren’t the voices of the people who activate and provide the public access points for these works of contemporary art a more significant part of understanding them?” Throughout the chapters Orr and his interviewees unpack this question, including the struggle to accurately define this type of work.

“The ‘Sourcebook’ addresses a category of work I refer to as performance labor. I was trying to convey the experiences of these workers on their own terms. Without understanding the mechanics of how relations are co-constructed for socially engaged artworks among performers and participants, we are not fully addressing the work,” Orr said.

From Joy Whalen’s time spent listening to the stories of strangers in downtown New York to Richard Perales’ labor as one of 500 volunteers moving a sand dune in Lima, Peru, the range of experiences shared provides unprecedented insights into the effort, care and knowledge behind the spectacle of performance art.

A book launch and discussion will take place at The 8th Floor in New York on May 9. This event is supported by the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation to explore the potential of art as an instrument for social change in the 21st century. Orr will be joined by artist Dread Scott, whose 2019 “Slave Rebellion Reenactment” is a subject in the book, as well as Rudy Gerson and Kyle Carrero Lopez, who both participated in Tania Bruguera’s “Untitled (Havana, 2000)” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The talk will address the ethics of participation in performance art.

“A Sourcebook of Performance Labor” is published by Routledge and available for sale.

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