- Performance, un arte del yo: autobiografía, cuerpo e identidad by Josefina Alcázar
This wide-ranging, exploratory treatise on performance and the self offers surprises and revelations along its peripatetic journey through classical philosophy and critical theory, feminist and gender theory, literature, visual arts, ethnography, and several performance genealogies. Revealing an impressive depth and breadth of expertise on performance in relation to other aesthetic media past and present, Alcázar boldly advocates for performance art (synonymized with body art, “arte no objetual,” “arte acción,” and other terms) as a form revolving around the subject, even as that subject has undergone constant change, lately dismantled by poststructuralism. Alcázar’s investigation turns on a paradox: while performance may be about the self, what does this mean if there is no “self” (in the event that we agree on that point, and not everyone does)? The larger challenge is to write cogently on performance, a multifaceted form that lacks a center and has lately come to permeate many other aesthetic and social realms (271). Alcázar tackles questions around the history and recent fate of “autoconocimiento” in light of a series of topical debates that she unfurls with aplomb.
While chronicling the turns of the subject in the histories of literary autobiography (85–96; 101–106; 238–44), self-portraiture (107–17), and an internationalized performance art ecology that is also firmly grounded in post-1960s Mexico’s rich history of “arte no objetual” (60–70), Alcázar introduces us to scores of artists working in performance, visual arts, “artes plásticas,” and multimedia, from the 1960s to the present. Rather than entering the genealogy of performance through theatre (theatre is basically absent from the book), she approaches the thorny “subject-under-erasure” through phenomenology, theories of self-reflexivity, and aesthetics. Alcázar asserts that performance has (perhaps unintentionally) inherited the techniques and concerns of autobiographical writing and self-portraiture from ancient Greece through the works of Montaigne, Rousseau, and Rembrandt, and into a modernity whose crisis [End Page 255] of meaning “puede ser vista como el reconocimiento de la irreconcilable escisión entre significado y significante” (110).
Joining this strand of inquiry to the questions arising from post-minimalism (covered in her comprehensive survey in Part I), Alcázar then allows these genealogies to converge with the concerns of phenomenologists, poststructuralist critical theorists, and feminist theorists, artists and activists into a subtle and multifaceted argument. After detailing performance art’s antecedents, Alcázar turns to artists’ practice-driven definitions of performance. This practice-led inquiry proves fruitful as the book moves with practitioners’ theories to generate its conclusion about performance and the self. That conclusion is: rather than describing a life or documenting the self, performance sees no preexisting self to discover; rather, that which artist and audience may (or may not) codetermine to be the self becomes as much through performance’s corporeal action: “en el performance lo importante no es tanto conocer la identidad como autoconstruirla” (269). The coordinates of this “autoconstrucción” of the self in performance are ritualized transformation; time and space; reflexivity and “vivencia;” reception (and audience participation in meaning-making), and the body as the “soporte” of the work. In the end, performance takes on the mantle of the current art form of the self par excellence because it does not presage a self for the documenting or seek to define a self, but rather creates the self through its own body-based medium.
How Alcázar arrives at this conclusion—that performance actively fashions the self, using the body as aesthetic material—is one of her most deft and rewarding contributions. The argument gains traction in Part III, when Alcázar locates the central debate about performance and self that she seeks to unpack. After detailing poststructuralist theorists’ views of embodiment and subjecthood, she delves into a nuanced chronicle of the feminist consciousness-raising movements that arose in the 1960s, coinciding with the rise of performance art. This is no coincidence, however, as second-wave feminism and...