Professor Dominic Johnson, BA (Warw) MA PhD (Lon) FHEA
Professor of Performance and Visual Culture | Head of Drama
I am an art historian with expertise in performance art and live art – experimental forms of performance that do away with many of the formal conventions of theatre. I focus especially on artists whose work has tended to be marginalised or stigmatised in institutional and critical histories of art and performance. To date I have published original research on a range of artists including Reza Abdoh, Skip Arnold, Oreet Ashery, Ron Athey, Franko B, Anne Bean, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, James Lee Byars, Christopher D'Arcangelo, Adrian Howells, the Kipper Kids, Del LaGrace Volcano, ORLAN, Jack Smith, Ulay, and others. I have published books and chapters on performance art and live art in relation to such varied themes and problems as extremity and endurance, objecthood, abbreviated duration, censorship, HIV/AIDS, intimacy, and pornography. From 2005 until 2012, I presented my own performances around the world in festivals, galleries, museums, theatres and clubs, a commune, a dungeon and a desert.
My research has been funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Terra Foundation for American Art, Queen Mary Humanities and Social Sciences Collaboration Fund, and Arts Council England.
In 2014 I was awarded the TaPRA Early Career Research Award, an annual research prize from the Theatre and Performance Research Association (UK). In 2014, I was also awarded a Fellowship (Early Career scheme) from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, to work on a research project on hardship and extremity in performance art (2014-16). In 2018, Deirdre Heddon and I received the TaPRA Editing Prize for our co-edited book on Adrian Howells. In 2019 my book Unlimited Action was nominated for the Historians of British Art Book Prize.
I was appointed Global Visiting Scholar in the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality (with Department of Performance Studies), New York University (NYU), New York (January to April 2016); and Scholar in Residence and AHRC Honorary Visiting Fellow in the Department of English and QueerLab Research Center, University of California Riverside, (January to March 2015).
I am a founder member of the Sexual Cultures Research Group in the School of English and Drama, which actively fosters and develops cross-disciplinary conversations about sexuality, gender, identity, and both intimate and public sexual cultures.
I am a member of the AHRC Peer Review College (2012-present); a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (2016); a Director of the Live Art Development Agency; a founding Friend of the Ulay Foundation (Slovenia/Netherlands); and an Editorial Associate of the peer-reviewed journal Contemporary Theatre Review.
I was a long-standing member of the Board of Directors of LADA for more than a decade until 2021. With LADA, I co-edited Intellect Live, a series of books on artists working at the thresholds of performance, which published books on the work of Raimund Hoghe, Ron Athey, Lois Weaver, Adrian Howells, Kira O’Reilly, Anne Bean, and Joshua Sofaer. The series was co-published by LADA and Intellect Books.
Since 2017 I have been collaborating with Queen Mary Archives to acquire for posterity the posthumous papers of significant artists working in and around Live Art whose work risks being lost, forgotten, or obscured. To date we have acquired the papers of the performance artist Ian Hinchliffe (2017); the body modification artist Jon John (2018); and the disabled artist and activist Katherine Araniello (2021).
I am Head of the Department of Drama.
In 2020-21, I convene and teach the following module:
- DRA266 Performance Art in the 1970s
- Performance art and live art after 1960
- The body and identity in contemporary art
- Archives, oral history and historiography of art
- Contemporary queer and trans* visual cultures, including sexual cultures
Recent and On-Going Research
My research is generally artist-focused, and is always concerned with the cultural politics and historiography of experimental and/or marginal practices of art, including (but not limited to) contemporary performance.
I am the author of four monographs and the editor of five books. My most recent authored book is Unlimited Action: The Performance of Extremity in the 1970s, published in 2019, which seeks to provide a fresh account of the now-commonplace assertion that performance art engages with risk, difficulty, and endurance, by accounting critically for the way artists seek out, identify and strive to overcome limits; it studies the pioneering art of Kerry Trengove, Ulay, Genesis P-Orridge and COUM Transmissions, the Kipper Kids, Anne Bean and Stephen Cripps (among others). Unlimited Action has been reviewed in Art Journal, Oxford Art Journal, Journal of Visual Culture, TDR, PAJ, Theatre Journal, Theatre Research International, and elsewhere.
My current research concerns the seemingly incompatible concepts or states of exorbitance (too much) and void (too little). I am currently interested in the relationship between performance art and sculpture, two forms of artistic production commonly associated with immateriality and durability, respectively, yet which also seemingly emerge from shared historical and cultural contexts and mutual formal commitments.
I regularly publish and present research on live art in the UK. I was guest-editor of a special issue of Contemporary Theatre Review on ‘Live Art in the UK’ (2012), which includes articles on major figures in the field, interviews, and artists’ pages; it was subsequently republished in an revised and expanded version as Critical Live Art: Contemporary Histories of Performance in the UK (2013), with a foreword by the late Carolee Schneemann.
I have published extensively on aspects of visual art and culture, including: essays on and interviews with artists; contributions to exhibition catalogues and artists’ books; interviews and artist profiles in magazines such as Art Monthly; and a short book, Theatre & the Visual (2012), which explores the contingency of visual experience in historical and contemporary theatre and performance.
- Unlimited Action: The Performance of Extremity in the 1970s, Series: Theatre - Theory|Practice|Performance (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2019).
- The Art of Living: An Oral History of Performance Art (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan/Red Globe 2015).
- Glorious Catastrophe: Jack Smith, Performance and Visual Culture, Series: Rethinking Art’s Histories (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2012).
- Theatre & the Visual, with a foreword by Del LaGrace Volcano, Series: Theatre& (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan/Red Globe, 2012).
- (with Deirdre Heddon), It’s All Allowed: The Performances of Adrian Howells (Series: Intellect Live) Bristol and London: Intellect and Live Art Development Agency, 2016).
- Pleading in the Blood: The Art and Performances of Ron Athey, Foreword by Anohni (Bristol and London: Intellect and Live Art Development Agency, 2013).
- Critical Live Art: Contemporary Histories of Performance in the UK, Foreword by Carolee Schneemann (London and New York: Routledge, 2013).
- Manuel Vason: Encounters – Performance, Photography, Collaboration (Bristol: Arnolfini, 2007).
- Franko B: Blinded by Love (Bologna: Damiani, 2006).
Guest-edited journal issues
- (with Maria M. Delgado, Aoife Monks, and Lara Shalson), Contemporary Theatre Review, Special issue: Alphabet: A Lexicon of Theatre and Performance, 23.1 (2013)
- Contemporary Theatre Review, Special Issue: Live Art in the UK, 22.1 (2012).
Chapters in Peer-Reviewed Books (Selected)
- ‘Is Death Fast or Slow/Doctor Feelbad: Reza Abdoh’s Bogeyman’ in Reza Abdoh, ed. by Negar Azimi, Tiffany Malakooti and Michael C. Vazquez (Berlin: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2021), pp. 289-99.
- ‘Divine Fire: Ron Athey in Europe’, Queer Communion: Ron Athey, ed. by Andy Campbell and Amelia Jones (Bristol: Intellect, 2020), pp. 294-303.
- ‘The Gold Standard: The Performances of Franko B’, in Live Art in the UK: Contemporary Performances of Precarity, ed. by Maria Chatzichristodoulou (London: Methuen Drama, 2020), 89-104.
- ‘Dead Star Mileage: Jack Smith’s Fandom for Maria Montez’ in Fandom as Methodology: A Sourcebook for Artists and Writers, ed. by Catherine Grant and Kate Random Love (London: Goldsmiths University Press, 2019), pp. 65-82.
- ‘Those Who Have Suffered Understand Suffering: Notes on the Body (in Pain)’, in Agency: A Partial History of Live Art, ed. by Theron Schmidt (London and Bristol: Live Art Development Agency and Intellect, 2019), pp. 45-56.
- ‘How Does Performance Disrupt Institutional Spaces?’ (on Christopher D'Arcangelo) in Thinking Through Theatre and Performance, ed. by Maaike Bleeker, Adrian Kear, Joe Kelleher and Heike Roms (London: Bloomsbury Methuen, 2019), pp. 243-56.
- ‘Impossible Things: The Life Art of Anne Bean in the 1970s’, in Anne Bean: Self Etc., by Rob La Frenais (Bristol and London: Intellect and Live Art Development Agency, 2018), pp. 24-53.
- ‘File Under COUM: Art on Trial in Genesis P-Orridge’s Mail Action’, in London Art Worlds, 1960-1980, ed. by Jo Applin, Catherine Spencer and Amy Tobin (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2018), pp. 183-99.
- ‘Transition Pieces: The Photography of Del LaGrace Volcano’, in Otherwise: Imagining Queer Feminist Art Histories, ed. by Amelia Jones and Erin Silver (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2015), pp. 340-55.
- ‘Intimacy and Risk in Live Art’, in Histories and Practices of Live Art in the UK, ed. by Deirdre Heddon and Jennie Klein (Houndsmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), pp. 122-48.
- ‘Ecstatic Intervals: Performance in a Continuum of Intimacy’, in Intimacy: Across Visceral and Digital Performance, ed. by Maria Chatzichristodoulou and Rachel Zerihan (Houndsmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), pp. 89-101.
- ‘Psychic Weight: The Pains and Pleasures of Performance’, in ORLAN: A Hybrid Body of Artworks, ed. by Simon Donger with Simon Shepherd and ORLAN (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2010), pp. 84-99.
Peer-Reviewed Articles in Journals (Selected)
- ‘Delete the Idea Down: James Lee Byars and the Performance of Abbreviation’, Art Journal 80.2 (2021): 30-53.
- ‘Rudimentary Things: Becoming an Object in the Performances of Skip Arnold’, Art History, 43.3 (2020): 538-63.
- ‘Naked Hitchhikers: The Unknown Photography of William A. Rhoads’, Porn Studies, 4.1 (2017): 67-87.
- ‘“Sitting. With a Candle? Up My Ass!”: A Portrait of Harmodius in Exile’, TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, 2.4 (2015): 695-700.
- ‘Modern Death: Jack Smith, Paul Thek, Fred Herko’, in Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts 56.2 (2014): Special Issue: Jack Smith, pp. 211-234.
- ‘Introduction: The What, Where and When of Live Art’, in Contemporary Theatre Review, Special Issue: Live Art in the UK, 22.1 (2012), pp. 1-16.
- ‘Ron Athey’s Visions of Excess: Performance After Georges Bataille’, in Papers of Surrealism: The Journal of the Centre for Studies of Surrealism and its Legacies 8 (2010), pp. 1-12.
- ‘Jack Smith’s Rehearsals For the Destruction of Atlantis: Exotic Ritual and Apocalyptic Tone’, in Contemporary Theatre Review 19.2 (2009), pp. 164-80.
- ‘The Wound Kept Open: Jack Smith, Queer Performance and Cultural Failure’, in Women and Performance 16.4 (2007), pp. 3-18.
Interviews in Journals and Books (Selected)
- ‘“Personality Crisis? Honey, I was Born with One”: Lydia Lunch Interviewed’, in Post Punk: Then and Now, ed. by Gavin Butt, Kodwo Eshun and Mark Fisher, London: Repeater Books, pp. 25-56.
- ‘The Subtle Aggressors: An Interview with Julia Bardsley and Simon Vincenzi’, in Return, Rewrite, Revisit: Theatre and Adaptation, ed. by Margherita Laera (London: Bloomsbury Methuen, 2014).
- ‘The Kindness of Strangers: An Interview with Adrian Howells’, in Performing Ethos: An International Journal of Ethics in Theatre and Performance, 3.2 (2014): Special Issue: One-on-One Encounters: Desire, Reciprocity and Ethics, pp. 173-90.
- ‘Carrying Her Liver in a Shopping Cart (And Other Bohemian Notions): An Interview with Bruce Benderson’, in Social Text 114, 31.1 (2013), pp. 107-25.
- ‘Positive Surrender: An Interview with Breyer P-Orridge’, in Contemporary Theatre Review, Special Issue: Live Art in the UK, 22.1 (2012), pp. 134-45.
- ‘The Skin of the Theatre: An Interview with Julia Bardsley’ in Contemporary Theatre Review 20.3 (2010), pp. 340-52.
- ‘Perverse Martyrologies: An Interview with Ron Athey’ in Contemporary Theatre Review 18.4 (2008), pp. 503-13.
Essays in Exhibition Catalogues
- ‘Exaggerated Super Normal: General Idea’s Television-Essays’, in General Idea: Retrospective, exh. cat., National Museum of Canada, Toronto (forthcoming).
- ‘Circlejerker’ in Solitary Pleasures, ed. by Marquard Smith, exh. cat., Freud Museum, London (London: Live Art Development Agency, 2018), pp. 73-9.
- ‘A Pyrotechnics of the Mind: The Performances of Stephen Cripps in Context’, in Stephen Cripps: Performance Machines, ed. by Sandra Beate Reimann, exh. cat., Museum Tinguely, Basel (Vienna: Verlag für Moderne Kunst 2017), pp. 33-9. (Translated as ‘Eine Pyrotechnik des Geistes: Die Performances von Stephen Cripps im Kontext’ in a separate edition, pp. 33-9.)
- ‘A Battle of Wills: Ulay and Marina Abramović’s Relation Works’ in Ulay: Life-Sized, ed. by Matthias Ulrich, exh. cat., Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (Leipzig: Spector Books, 2016), pp. 124-8. (Translated as ‘Willensschlacht: Die Relation Works von Ulay und Marina Abramović’, pp. 120-23).
- ‘Crocodile Tears: A Counter-Archive of Glam Aesthetics’, in Glam: The Performance of Style, ed. by Darren Pih, exh. cat., Tate Liverpool (London: Tate Publishing, 2013), pp. 95-107.
- ‘The Queer Voice’, in Queer Voice, ed. by Ingrid Schaffner, exh. cat., Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2010), p. 2.
Essays in Artists' Books (Selected)
- ‘Franko B: Blinded by Love’, in Franko B, I’m Here (London: Live Art Development Agency, 2020). Reprint.
- ‘Introduction’, in Kat Toronto, Miss Meatface (London: Circa Press, 2020).
- ‘Falling is Not so Pitiful: On Syncopal Actions and Falling States’, in Kira O’Reilly: Untitled (Bodies), ed. by Harriet Curtis and Martin Hargreaves (London and Bristol: Live Art Development Agency and Intellect, 2017), pp. 294-5.
- ‘Jamie McMurry: Shit Parade (Best Left Unsaid)’, in Jamie McMurry, Shit Parade (Los Angeles: JMM, 2015).
- ‘Stay a While: Raimund Hoghe’s Histories’, in Throwing the Body into the Fight: The Life and Work of Raimund Hoghe, ed. by Mary Kate Connolly (London and Bristol: Intellect Books and Live Art Development Agency, 2013), pp. 109-13
- ‘False Messiah: Oreet Ashery’s Saint/s of Whitstable’, in Oreet Ashery: Dancing with Men (London: Live Art Development Agency, 2009), pp. 94-7.
- ‘Aftermaths: A Dialogue with Kira O’Reilly’, in Manuel Vason: Encounters, Bristol: Arnolfini,2007), pp. 204-7.
- ‘Hounded by Love, Blinded by Lights’, in Franko B: Blinded by Love (Bologna: Damiani in association with Galleria Pack, 2006), pp. 10-4.
- ‘No Love’, in Slava Mogutin, Lost Boys (New York: PowerHouse Books, 2006).
I welcome queries and applications from prospective doctoral students with proximate or parallel research interests.
I am currently supervising eight doctoral research projects on: live art and ageing; self-injury in performance art; Black feminist performance art; performance art in Ukraine and Russia; performance art in Slovakia and Czechia; the performance of extremity in post-dictatorship Chile; the art of Leigh Bowery; and the riserva of Italian multimedia artist Emanuele Balzani.
I supervised the following projects to completion:
- Lewis Church, ‘No Discipline: The Post-Punk Polymath in Contemporary Art’ (2017)
- Eleanor Roberts, ‘The Third Space: A Feminist Reading of Performance Art at the ICA, London, 1968-1980’ (2016)
- Lauren Barri Holstein, ‘‘The Agency of The Displayed Female Body: The Political Potential of Negative Affects in Contemporary Feminism and Performance’ (2016)
- Daniel Oliver, ‘The Social Turn: Engagement and Efficiency in Contemporary Performance’ (2016)
- Harriet Curtis, ‘Blood and Ketchup: Documents, institutions and Effects in the Performances of Paul McCarthy 1974-2013' (2014)
- Saini Manninen, 'Duration Materialised: Investigating Contemporary Performance as a Temporal Medium', co-supervised with Nicholas Ridout (2014)
- Helena Walsh, 'Irish Femininity and the Live Body: Between Rebellion and Conformity, Negation and Reproduction' (2013), co-supervised with Caoimhe McAvinchey
- Eirini Kartsaki, 'Repeat Repeat: Repetition in Performance' co-supervised with Nicholas Ridout (2010)
I have curated many large-scale public events, including: talks and screenings with -- most recently -- the Kipper Kids (Tate Britain, 2019) and Skip Arnold (Live Art Development Agency, 2019); a public engagement project on the legacies of Ian Hinchliffe, Lol Coxhill, Rose Finn-Kelcey and Roger Ely (Afterlives with Lois Keidan and Dave Stephens, 2017); the one-day symposium Unlimited Action: Limits of Performance at Whitechapel Gallery, with Ulay, Anne Bean, and Nigel Rolfe; a series of artists’ residencies and a symposium on performance and politics in the 1970s, also at Whitechapel Gallery (with Nicholas Ridout, in collaboration with Acme Studios, Live Art Development Agency, and Matts Gallery, 2015); two series of Action Lectures by performance artists at Queen Mary (2015-16); an 18-month festival of performance art at QMUL (with Lois Weaver, 2010), and a retrospective of and symposium on the films of Jack Smith at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (with Matt Williams and LUX, ICA, 2011); and many other one-off events and public engagement activities. With the Live Art Development Agency I founded and convene the Annual Live Art Lecture at Queen Mary (since 2019).
Talks, Keynotes, and Conference Contributions (selected)
‘Love On Me: Life and Death in Jon John’s Archive’, Don’t Leave Me This Way: Accessing and Activating Challenging Archives (symposium), University of Bristol and Arnolfini, Bristol, 2020
‘Reading Art School, 1969-1973’, with Anne Bean, The Fine Art of Performance: Living Legacies of UK Art School, Attenborough Centre for Contemporary Art, University of Sussex, 2019
Derek Jarman: A Celebration, with Maria Balshaw, Neil Bartlett and Olivia Laing, Tate Britain, London, 2019
‘Becoming an Object: The Performances of Skip Arnold’, research seminar series, Department of History of Art, Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh, 2019
‘Body Probe: A History and Theory of Piercing in Performance Art’, 23rd Annual Conference of the Association of Professional Piercers, Las Vegas, US, 2018
‘An Eight Day Passage’, Human Resources: Whither the Human? On the Human as a Quantitative-Qualitative Resource (conference), Institute of Education, University College London, 2018
‘What Makes Us Human: The Body’, What Makes Us Human: Conversations on Art and Philosophy (seminar series), Tate Britain, 2018
‘There is a Criminal Touch to Art: Ulay Steals Germany’s Favourite Painting’ (and conversation with Ulay), Ulay: So You See Me – An International Symposium, Cooper Gallery, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, University of Dundee, 2017
‘It Hurts: Art, Performance, and Pain’, Skopje Pride Weekend (festival), National Museum of Art, Skopje, Macedonia, 2017
‘An Eight Day Passage: Endurance and Performance Art in the 1970s’, Centre for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University (NYU), 2017
‘An Eight Day Passage: Endurance and Performance Art in the 1970s’, Contemporary Art Practice lecture series, Royal College of Art, London, 2017
‘Impossible Things: The “Life Art” of Anne Bean in the 1970s’, research lecture series, Leicester School of Art, De Montford University, Leicester, 2017
‘Impossible Things: The “Life Art” of Anne Bean in the 1970s’, Art History Research Lectures (seminar series), Department of History of Art, University of York, 2016
‘Homelands: An Excavation – In Conversation with Issam Kourbaj’, Sacred: Homelands (festival), Artsadmin/Toynbee Studios, London, 2016
‘It Hurts: Art, Performance, and Pain’, In Pursuit of Pain (‘Friday Late’, public event), Wellcome Collection, London, 2016
‘It’s All Allowed: Adrian Howells, Queer Performance, and the Logic of Permission’, Annual Queer Studies Lecture, King’s College London, 2016
‘Reckless People: The Performances of Stephen Cripps’, Stephen Cripps in Context, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, 2016
‘Institutional Bodies: A Roundtable on Pedagogy and Risk’, Department of Performance, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, US, 2016
‘K. O. Kippers: The Kipper Kids and the Art of Sabotage’, Department of Performance, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, US, 2016
‘Archiving the Kipper Kids’, Live Artists Live: Performance Art and the Archive (symposium), Roski School of Art and Design, University of Southern California, US, 2016
‘Cassils: In Conversation with Dominic Johnson’, City of Women (festival), Pritličje, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2015
Keynote speaker, ‘Incendiary: Fragments of a Poetics of Fire in Performance’, A Day of Incendiary Art, MU Eindhoven (museum), Netherlands, 2015
‘Naked Hitchhikers: The Private Photography of William A. Rhoads’, How to do the History of the 1970s: Unearthing and Archiving Queer Lives, Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh, 2015
‘Naked Hitchhikers: The Private Photography of William A. Rhoads’ (public lecture), ONE National Lesbian and Gay Archives, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, US, 2015
‘File under COUM: Art on Trial in Genesis P-Orridge’s Mail Action, 1976’, Graduate Lecture Series, Roski School of Art and Design, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, US, 2015
I have presented solo and collaborative performances both nationally and internationally. My performance solo Transmission was presented more than twenty times between 2007 and 2011, at festivals including Fierce (Birmingham), National Review of Live Art (Glasgow), Queer Zagreb (Croatia), Visions of Excess at SPILL Festival (London), International Festival of Performance (Copenhagen), Commitment Issues (Toronto) and as part of Gay Icons at the National Portrait Gallery (London).
I collaborated on two performances with Ron Athey: Incorruptible Flesh (Perpetual Wound) was co-commissioned by Chelsea Theatre (London) and Fierce (Birmingham) and presented at both festivals in 2006 and 2007; a subsequent piece, Self-Obliteration Double Bill, was performed at Souterrain Porte IV: Monstres (Maxéville), 2007) and Donaufestival (Krems, 2008). I have also performed extensively in clubs, including at Duckie (2008, 2009) and Torture Garden (London, 2007; Rome, 2008; Maxéville, 2009; and Edinburgh, 2010). My most recent practice-based research project was a series of performances involving live tattooing, which was funded by a Grant for the Arts from Arts Council England, and toured nationally in 2011-12.