Beuys, Queer, Circus

The following text was written as part of expanded promotional materials or background stories for my solo performance

Crotch (all the Joseph Beuys references in the world...)




will soon be presented at Bluecoat Performance Space in Liverpool (Nov 12, 2010) and Shotgun's Ashby Stage in Berkeley (Nov 21, 2010), I'm posting these stories here.

Beuys, Queer, Circus

Blogging about Crotch and more

Keith Hennessy


What about Joseph Beuys interests you?

I dig Beuys because he talked to a dead rabbit, lived with a coyote in NYC,

planted 10,000 oaks, broke the rules at an art school by letting everyone

attend, co-founded the Green Party and then was rejected for being a

visionary freak, gave lectures as art, linked Dada to Fluxus to Performance

to Activism, had a persona as recognizable as Warhol (for a while), and used

honey to show life in action, flow, circulation, and magic.

Beuys is an art history giant in Europe and I wanted more of my friends to

know who he is. Even though I made this piece in Switzerland, if I lived in

Europe I would never have made it, because he's been exhibited too much,

written about too much and quoted too much. But I figured that if Matthew

Barney can quote him over and over and it's rarely or never mentioned, then

I can revisit Beuys' work and siphon his images for some fuel of my own.


Is Queer Performance a genre?

Queer performance is not really a genre. It’s more of an attitude, an attitude towards the body, especially its sex and gender, and how that body is or is not resonant with social norms and rules.

Queer performance is also a historical marker, describing a wave of theatrical action, on stage and off, that emerged symbiotically to the massive action/visibility/struggle/celebration of queerness during the gay male AIDS times, from the mid-80’s to the mid-90’s. Queer is also a weave of historical performance legacy, with no beginning and no end.

Queer is an alchemical detournement of insult and slander, of violence and rejection. That means magical transformation and recycling of the master’s tools. To perform queer is to embody, shamelessly, the shadows of a culture so colonized, it can’t recognize it’s own losses and failures.

Queer embraces social disruption in favor of sexual liberation, and that includes in the theater, as well as in the streets, the family, the school and beyond.

OK, if genre is how a work of art relates to audience (comedy, noir, cartoon, camp), then queer is a qualifier of genre, or an affect on genre. For example, one could be macho or sissy (or a sissy macho!) and still identify as male. Queer is that kind of description.

My work is queer because I found my performance voice in the 80s and was deeply influenced and inspired by the cultural explosion of that gay old time. My work continues to be queer because it celebrates &/or investigates faggotry, lesbian theory, camp, desire, shame, abjection, loss, LGBTIQ solidarity, and is always on the lookout to eradicate images of misogyny, heterosexism, white supremacy, and other deeply embedded and embodied shit that makes us less free.

Queer performance is a utopian phantasia. It fails, but it fails fabulously.


How does your circus training influence your work?

Circus is about putting on a show, entertaining, all in the family. Most

performance art either challenges the spectacle, or ironically works with

the idea of putting on a show to draw attention to the manipulation and

falseness and pretentiousness of the spectacle, i.e., its ideological

agendas in service of the dreadful hegemony! And performance tends towards

celebrations of the abject or queer or taboo, and therefore is not for kids

of all ages. My work tends to hover in the inbetweeny spaces where spectacle

and anti-spectacle are debated, where children's theater and conceptual

installation rub together. Also, circus training helps me look young but

makes me feel old. And it reminds me of why I play with risk and danger in

the face of a culture obsessed with safety and comfort while obliterating

any recognition of the dreadful hegemony at work in the manufactured consent of comfort and safety. That is, security makes us stupid and weak and racist. This response is starting to feel more like a circus performance

than a promo blog.