Performing the Museum: Colonial Histories and Experience Economies

Performing the Museum: Colonial Histories and Experience Economies focuses on live art in museums and argues that performance curation must be understood as part of a longer history of colonialist practices of embodied display formative to the emergence of the art museum. Further, this history is as an antecedent to the current neoliberal “experience economy,” increasingly viewed as paramount to museums’ survival and regularly enacted through performance programming. By examining works by performance artists like Coco Fusco, Guillermo Goméz-Peña, Senga Nengudi, Blondell Cummings, and iQhiya, a feminist collective based in South Africa, Shanks demonstrate how performance in the museum is a cipher for representational practices, politics, and histories key to understanding the globalizing art world.

Image: PLASTIC, Maria Hassabi, Hammer Museum, 2016. Photo: Todd Cheney.


Bodies of Water: Performing Ecology, Queering the City

Shanks’s second book project Bodies of Water: Performing Ecology, Queering the City examines performances that entangle water and queered subjectivities. Exploring performances by Ming Wong, Rafa Esparza, taisha paggett, Eiko and Koma, Clarissa Tossin, and Patrick Staff, Shanks places them within and against a broader landscape of climate change, water scarcity, municipal (mis)management, and struggles for minoritarian spatial freedom. Building upon scholarship by Mel Chen, José Muñoz, and Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley, Shanks charts performance’s capacity to produce what she terms water dependence, a practice of corporeal and politicized empathy generated between minoritarian subjects, urban space, and water ecologies. This book joins a growing body of scholarship that links performance studies and ecological criticism, and argues queer and minoritarian performance is a means of rehearsing a different mode of corporeal survival in the face of climate change.

Image: everreachmore, taisha paggett and WXPT, 2015. Photo: Gina Clyne.

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“Dancing Objects: Gender, Labor, and Contemporary Dance at the Hammer Museum” examines the implications of curating contemporary dance in museum spaces by arguing dancers’ bodies, processes of objectification, and the space of the museum become intimately entwined through the curatorial process.


Focused on the 2008 West End and Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George, Shanks questions how the musical refracts narratives of artistic genius and creation, canonization and art historical legacies through a distinctly gendered understanding of visual cultures and modernity.


Shanks examines the performance building a simulacrum of power, presented alongside the LA River, as a means of imagining anew the relationships between water, power, and dispossession. Drawing upon José Muñoz’s conception of feeling brown and Rafa Esparza’s own articulation of his use of adobe bricks as a way of “building up…space out of brown matter,” Shanks explores how affective sensations are activated through materially felt ones.


On August seventh, 1974 Philippe Petit spent forty-five minutes a quarter mile above New York City, walking on a wire suspended between the two towers of the newly erected World Trade Center. Drawing upon the seeming groundlessness of his walk, Shanks forwards the notion of a politico-aesthetics of groundlessness as a means of framing the relationship among performance practices, urban planning, and economic marginalization in the 1970s.


Shanks theorizes the temporal and material stakes of historiography through the earthquake. Grounding her essay in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Shanks draws upon her family’s archive of the event as well as municipal and national narratives. The essay proposes the idea of historiography-as-earthquake, utilizing Giorgio Agamben’s notion of (im)potentiality.


Artist Mariko Mori's performance and photographic series Present from the larger project Beginning of the End grounds an island imaginary in global urban centers—New York, London, Tokyo—belying notions of insularity and periphery. Drawing together island studies and theories of globalization, Shanks argues Mori's photo series remaps temporal and spatial narratives of globalization as they attach to bodies.


This article frames Shanks’ experience re-performing Marina Abramović's durational performance piece Nude with Skeleton at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Drawing upon ideas of re-performance, Shanks theorizes sideways space as a means of articulating museums spatial production, predicated upon donor funding, gendered labor, and durational performance.