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School of English and Drama

Dr Martin O'Brien, BA Hons (Dartington College of Arts), MA (Aberystwyth University), PhD (University of Reading)


Lecturer in Drama



I am a performance artist and scholar. Both my practice and research are concerned with the performance and representation of illness and disability. My professional performance work considers existence with a severe chronic illness within our contemporary situation. My practice uses physical endurance, hardship and pain based practices to challenge common representations of illness and examine what it means to be born with a life threatening disease. I have performed throughout the UK, Europe and the USA including Spill Festival (London), Kapelica Gallery (Ljubljana), Abrons Art Center (New York), ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives (Los Angeles), Dansehallerne (Copenhagen). My work has been funded and commissioned by organisations such as Arts Council England, British Council, and the Live Art Development Agency.

I completed my PhD at the University of Reading and have published on my own work and the work of other artists in books and journals. This has included chapters in several forthcoming books as well as in Contemporary Theatre Review, Dance Theatre Journal, and as editor of a special edition of Performance Research ‘On Medicine’ in 2014. My own work has also been received significant critical attention for other scholars.

Undergraduate Teaching

I have taught on:

  • DRA114: London/Culture/Performance
  • DRA117: Practices
  • DRA209: Reading Theatre
  • DRA302: Beyond Acting
  • DRA351: Writing about the Arts


Research Interests:

  • Illness and disability in performance
  • Durational Performance and Endurance Art
  • Medical Performances
  • Death and the Undead in art and performance
  • Pain and BDSM in performance

Recent and On-Going Research

My current research, generally, is concerned with the representation of illness and disability through physical endurance, disgust and pain-based performance practices. More specifically I am currently working on a number of publications and performances which interrogate the figure of the zombie as a metaphor for discussing sick bodies. I am also engaged in a research project based on the legacy of the marginalised but important BDSM artists Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose. I will publish the first ever book dedicated to their significant practice.


‘Cough Bitch, Cough: The Sick Coughing Body in Performance’, in Performance and the Medical Body, ed. by Gianna Bouchard and Alex Mermikides (London: Methuen, forthcoming 2016)

‘Flesh eaters: Performance, Zombies and Cannibalism’, Leonardo Journal of Arts, Science and Technology (forthcoming 2015)

‘Lie Back and Take it: BDSM and the performance of pationethood’, in Body, Space, Technology (forthcoming 2015)

with Bouchard, G (eds), ‘On Medicine’, Performance Research (2014)

‘Performing Chronic: Illness, Endurance and Performance’, Performance Research, 19, 4 (2014)

‘A Dialogue with Ron Athey’, in Sexuality (Documents of Contemporary Art), ed. by Amelia Jones (London: Whitechapel Gallery Publishing, 2014)

‘Abject Clearances: Considering the Cough, Mucus and Breathing’, in Lois Keidan and CJ Mitchell (eds), Access All Areas: Live Art and Disability, (London: Live Art Development Agency: 2012)

‘Treating the Body’, Contemporary Theatre Review, 22, 1 (2012), 146-151

with others (eds), Journal of Media Practice, 12, 3 (2011)

with Joseph Mercier and Gillie Kleiman, 'Threesome', in Dance Theatre Journal, 24, 4 (2011)

Public Engagement

I review performance for Disability Arts Online and have appeared on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Free Thinking’ as an expert on Freak shows and contemporary performance. My performance practice has been shown throughout Europe, the US and the UK.


If It Were The Apocalypse I’d Eat You To Stay Alive: 2015. Funded by Arts Council England, Artsadmin and Jerwood Foundation. Performed at Toynbee Studios

Taste of Flesh/Bite me I’m Yours: 2015. Commissioned by Arts Catalyst as part of the European initiative ‘Trust me I’m and Artist: Towards an Ethics of Art and Science’. Performed at The White Building (London), Waag (Amsterdam)

Anatomy of a Bite: 2015. Commissioned by MAC for the exhibition ‘Disrupted’

Dust to Dust: 2015. In collaboration with Sheree Rose, Commissioned by ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, USC (LA) with additional funding from British Council and Arts Council England

Last(ing): 2013. Performed at SPILL Festival of Performance 

The Baby: 2013. In collaboration with Sheree Rose. Commissioned by Live Art Development Agency and Peopling the Palace at Queen Mary University of London, performed at Peopling the Palace Festival, The Peoples Palace, Queen Mary University of London

Breathe for Me: 2012-2015 Funded by British Council and Arts Council England. Performed at Grace Exhibition Space (New York), In Between Time Festival of Performance at Arnolfini (Bristol), Dansehallerne (Copenhagen), Performatorium Festival of Queer Performance (Regina), Warwick Arts Centre

Regimes of Hardship #1, 2 and 3: 2012. IN collaboration with Sheree Rose Commissioned for and performed as part of a six month residency at Performance Space (London)

Mucus Factory: 2011-2014. Commissioned by the Live Art Development Agency (LADA). Performed at LADA’s Access All Areas (London and New York), Chelsea Theatre (London), Spill Festival of Performance (London), Performance Space (London), Chapter Arts Centre (Cardiff), Kapelica Gallery (Ljubljana), The Basement (Brighton), Edinburgh Festival 2013, Abrons Art Center (New York)