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Cutting Performances

Collage Events, Feminist Artists, and the American Avant-Garde

James M. Harding

Publication Year: 2012

"A thoughtful and engaging contribution to the field that will have a sustained and lasting impact on the way feminist performance is defined and understood, as well as on how feminist histories and historiographies continue to challenge and transform the larger field of performance." ---Charlotte Canning, The University of Texas at Austin "Harding forcefully challenges and destabilizes the male-centered Eurocentric genealogy of the avant-garde, which he claims is an uncontested, linear, positivistic history, unproblematized by theory. Then he argues that this gendered biased version of the European avant-garde is carried over into American historiography . . . A forceful case for a revisionist history." ---Daniel Gerould, The City University of New York Graduate Center Cutting Performances challenges four decades' worth of scholarship on the American avant-garde by offering a provocative reconceptualization of the history of avant-garde performance along feminist lines. Focusing on five women artists (Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Gertrude Stein, Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneemann, and Valerie Solanas) whose performance aesthetics made prominent use of collage techniques, James M. Harding sheds light on the cultural history of the avant-garde and the role that experimental women artists played in that history. He investigates the prominent position that collage technique occupied within the artists' performance aesthetic, and the decisively feminist inflection that their work gives to collage as a mode of avant-garde expression. The radical juxtapositions in their works produce the powerful effects of making the familiar strange and establishing contexts from which new understandings may emerge. Harding examines the performative dimensions of collage in experimental, feminist redefinitions of the literary, graphic, and theatrical arts, filling a void in a scholarly discourse that, while ostensibly about the vanguard, has lagged well behind other significant theoretical and historiographical currents. Cutting Performances not only challenges assumptions that have governed scholarship on the American avant-garde but also establishes a context to rethink the history of American avant-garde performance along feminist lines. It will appeal to audiences interested in theater history and performance studies as well as those interested in the cultural history of the avant-garde and the role that feminist experimental artists have played in it. James M. Harding is Professor of English at the University of Mary Washington. His other books include Not the Other Avant-Garde: Transnational Foundations of Avant-Garde Performance (with John Rouse); Restaging the Sixties: Radical Theaters and Their Legacies (with Cindy Rosenthal); and Contours of the Theatrical Avant-Garde: Performance and Textuality. Illustration: Carolee Schneemann in Eye Body-36 Transformative Actions (1963) Action for camera (Photograph by Erró). Reproduced by permission of Carolee Schneemann.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance

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Chapter One: Toward a Feminist Historiography of American Avant-Garde Performance: Theories and Contexts

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pp. 1-34

A little over a decade ago, Jill Dolan paused momentarily in the introductory essay that she wrote for Carol Martin’s . . .

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Chapter Two: Nude Descending Bleecker Street: Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and Performing Gender in New York Dada

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pp. 35-66

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, once proclaimed by her New York contemporaries to be “the ‹rst American dada” if not “the Original . . .

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Chapter Three: Avant-Garde Performance, Collage Aesthetics, and Feminist Historiographies in Gertrude Stein’s 'The Mother of Us All'

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pp. 67-91

One of the most persistent characteristics in the critical reception of twentieth-century collage, especially the reception of its extension . . .

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Chapter Four: Between Material and Matrix: Yoko Ono’s 'Cut Piece' and the Unmaking of Collage

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pp. 93-120

A Ceiling Painting so small that a magnifying glass was necessary to decipher its content: this is what awaited John Lennon when in November . . .

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Chapter Five: Between Dialectics, Decorum, and Collage Sabotaging Schneemann at the Dialectics of Liberation Congress, London 1967

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pp. 121-149

On a midsummer evening in 1967, Carolee Schneemann found herself on London’s East Eisham Street, far away from the dinner party across . . .

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Chapter Six: Forget Fame: Valerie Solanas, the Simplest Surrealist Act, and the (Re)Assertion of Avant-Garde Priorities

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pp. 151-173

After the ambulance had rushed a near mortally wounded Andy Warhol from the Factory to a hospital on June 3, 1968, a small brown paper bag . . .

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Conclusion: Collage and Community

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pp. 175-181

My earlier reading of The SCUM Manifesto emphasized the implicit allusions to collage in the acronym for Solanas’s “Society for Cutting Up . . .


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pp. 183-214


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pp. 215-222

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029006
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472035205

Page Count: 244
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance