This article develops the concept of “the masturbatory” as a way of theorizing performance art and performance studies' recent turn to reperformance. In reperformance, previous performance artworks — often from performance art's “classic” era of the 1970s — are reenacted, creating a fundamental shift in the older conception of the performance artwork as a unique event. The article explores the way in which both reperformance and pornography are characterized by a mode of reception in which a document of a past performance becomes the occasion for the creation of new affect in the present. The masturbatory quality of performance documentation and porn is characterized by self-pleasure and a plentitude of affect. It also involves the structuring of a present performance in relation to the fantasy of a previous performance that is viewed in a technologically mediated form of documentation. In reperformance, the documentation image is made live again, thereby reorienting its temporal relationship to performance. Through an examination of the work of porn-star-turned-performance-artist Annie Sprinkle, the “grandmother of performance art” Marina Abramović, and younger Canadian artist Diane Borsato, the article examines some constellations of women's bodies and pleasures created in porn and reperformance. These constellations can enable new forms of pleasure and new bodily interrelationships. But they can also reproduce certain forms of privilege, as occurs in the reproduction of the whiteness of performance art history in some performance reenactments. Ultimately, the article aims to recuperate the concept of the masturbatory, which is often used as a derogatory term in academic and artistic discourse to indicate self-involvement and self-pleasure. Sprinkle's and Borsato's performances demonstrate how the masturbatory can in fact be a powerful way of reckoning with history, and of creating intersubjective connection.
Adair Rounthwaite; From This Body to Yours: Porn, Affect, and Performance Art Documentation. Camera Obscura 1 December 2011; 26 (3 (78)): 63–93. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-1415434
Download citation file: