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  • It's All Allowed: The Performances of Adrian Howells ed. by Deirdre Heddon and Dominic Johnson
  • Christopher Grobe (bio)
It's All Allowed: The Performances of Adrian Howells. Edited by Deirdre Heddon and Dominic Johnson. London: Intellect, 2016; 260 pp.; illustrations. $28.50 paper.

I never saw Adrian Howells perform, but, then again, very few people did. Over the last decade and a half of his life—from the turn of the millennium until his death in 2014—Howells spent most of his time creating ritual encounters meant for just one person at a time. He would launder your clothes while coaxing you into discussing your metaphoric "dirty laundry" with him (Adrienne's Dirty Laundry Experience [2003]). He would wash and anoint your feet while gently guiding conversation toward questions of humility and care (Foot-Washing for the Sole [2008– 12]). He would even bathe you (The Pleasures of Being [2010–11]) or spoon with you in bed (Held [2006])— both of these, if you please, in total silence. Once a born-again Christian, Howells was born-again once more late in life—as a high priest of secular ritual, as an impresario of invented tradition.

It's All Allowed: The Performances of Adrian Howells aims to be the definitive book on Howells—not just for scholars, but for artists and arts patrons, too. It bursts with color photographs of Howells and with anecdotes about him, but it also features a thorough bibliography, a good-enough index, and many scanned documents from his personal archive at the University of Glasgow.

The book's structure is hard to discern at first. Its editors seem to imagine perusers more than they do readers. But nonetheless it begins with a substantial introduction and a "working biography" of Howells, both coauthored by editors Deirdre Heddon and Dominic Johnson. This exhaustive preamble is then followed by representative excerpts from an interview Johnson conducted with Howells, all reprinted from Johnson's book The Art of Living (2015). From that point onward, the book is structured around eight scholarly essays: half of them reprinted journal articles, the other half published here for the first time. The reprinted works include: an essay Heddon cowrote with Howells on the journey "from talking to silence" in his work; an article by Jon Cairns on the relationship between "autobiographical and photographic truth"in Howells's early solo performances (149); a piece that Heddon cowrote with Helen Iball and Rachel Zerihan on their differing experiences of the same Howells performance; and an essay by Iball on the "ethics of intimate audiences," with special attention to a time when Howells's work had to go before a university ethics review board. New scholarly work considers the relationship of Howells's Foot-Washing to medieval and Byzantine rituals (Kathleen Gough, "Sole History"); the aesthetic, social, and economic significance of "generosity" as a label for art like Howells's (Fintan Walsh, "On Generous Performance"); the material and institutional conditions of Howells's practice (Stephen Greer, "What Money Can't Buy"); and the particular "challenge" that Howells's work posed to its audience, analyzed here in psychoanalytic terms (Jennifer Doyle, "Distance Relation"). [End Page 207]

All around these scholarly essays, the editors have scattered brief memoirs by Howells's fellow travelers: his artistic collaborators, his producers, his students, etc. Highlights among these include a clear-eyed essay by Tim Crouch about his play The Author, an uneasy collaboration with Howells; and a poetic essay by Caridad Svich on intimate address (reprinted here from the TCG blog). The editors' placement of this material is mostly associative. For instance, memoirs by Shelley Hastings and Jackie Wylie on "producing Adrian Howells" lead directly into Stephen Greer's essay on Howells's contracts and other business archives. The effect of this approach is to erode—in welcome ways—the distinction between theory and practice, as well as the line between impersonal argument and personal reflection.

How does it all add up? As Heddon and Johnson observe in their introduction, "Whilst each experience [of Howells's one-to-one work] is singular, these experiences do not occur in a vacuum. They may not be of the public sphere, but...


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