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  • Holy Body:Erotic Ethics in Ron Athey and Juliana Snapper's Judas Cradle
  • Amelia Jones (bio)

Expanding on Ron Athey's legacy of exposing the holiness of his body in body art performances, and on Julianna Snapper's training as an opera singer, Judas Cradle evokes relations of desire, connection, and repulsion. Holy Body takes off from the queer ethics proffered by Judas Cradle through a rapturous and sometimes pained interpretive hysteria directed toward affirming the erotic ethics implicit in the piece.

Perhaps a politics without verifiable identities and acts (even those that are stigmatized and shameful) may be incoherent (although I am not completely convinced of this), but what of an ethics without verifiable identities and acts? Such an ethics would not be a complete denial of identities and acts (how would such a denial ever be possible?), but would be an interruption in the discursive protocols that make identities and acts verifiable. This, then, would be an ethics without sexual content, what I am calling an erotic ethics: without a positive, epistemological ground, and therefore without a struggle for recognition (even a shameful recognition).

—John Paul Ricco (2002:16)

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Ron Athey and Julianna Snapper, Judas Cradle, 2004-05. (Photo by Manuel Vason)

In brief: there are two kinds of radical queering put into play by Ron Athey and Juliana Snapper's 2004-2005 performance Judas Cradle. JC, as I will refer to it, in fact, is a work that pushes forward the very notion of queer, enabling (even violently insisting on) new ways of thinking about bodies that acknowledge rather than disavow their hol-i-ness. 1 First: JC produces a dehabituated body that sloughs off the shackles of the naturalizing gestures and patterns through which our bodies are encouraged to perform in normative ways, every day, on and on. Second, JC flamboyantly confuses [End Page 159] the heteronormative structures of conventional Euro-American narrative (whether novelistic, operatic, theatrical, cinematic, televisual, or otherwise—still in the main retained today) by appropriating the very stories and enunciative gestures that gel these structures and then performing them with bodies that are male and female but decidedly not masculine and feminine in the conventional sense.

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Carlo Crivelli (c. 1435/40-1495), The Annunciation with St Emidius, 1486. National Gallery London. (Courtesy of The Art Archive/National Gallery London/ Eileen Tweedy)

JC offers what John Paul Ricco, in the quotation above, describes as an "erotic ethics." Unmooring the sexed body from its alignment with categories such as male and heterosexual, JC nonetheless maintains an ethics of embodiment, pulling us continually into its multisensual texture to reclaim us as bodies with holes: permeable to the potential violence and pleasures that surround and inhabit us.


The annunciation is the beginning of Jesus in His human nature. Through His mother He is a member of the human race.

New Advent/Catholic Encyclopedia (2005)

JC was a body full of holes and a holy body: human, penetrable, scarred, bloody (if there's any doubt about it, see the gorey "realism" of Mel Gibson's horrific The Passion [2004], which elaborates the making and suffering of his holes ad nauseum).

I am a body of holes. Dripping, mucousy, bloody.

I wait outside in the freezing Slovenian air. It is 2 a.m. outside Kodeljevo Castle in Luna Park in Ljubljana, and Peter Mlakar, founding member of the political art movement Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK)—politician, artist, and philosopher in true Eastern European style—orates something empassioned in Slovenian out the castle window. People, a chic international crowd of arty types but much more motley than the standard biennale or London/New York gallery crowd, mill around, clustering under heat lamps.2

I am a body permeated—every pore open to the night chill. Ears cocked. Mouth closed against the cold.

Finally, the doors to the castle's old chapel open: It is, of course, desanctified (and about to be profaned), its poor 19th-century imitations of baroque religious murals and sculpture (the latter covered, provocatively, in twisted sheets), glowing forlornly in the artificial light brought to bear on this...


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