Document, Audience, Affect: Johanna Went’s L.A. Club Performances
How can we make sense of performances that continually slip between categories of art and entertainment, and which also seem to alienate and/or aggravate audiences? Such performances might be described as ‘messy’ in relation to their visceral nature, but also in terms of how slippery they are to study or write about. Artist Johanna Went created legendary performances in Los Angeles during her ‘club years’ (1977-87) in venues that were specifically not related to the formal art or theatre worlds, but more often programmed punk music and club nights. Using over-sized props, home-made costumes, buckets of fake blood, and accompanied by live improvised noise-music, Went’s chaotic, unstructured, yet celebratory performances embraced the immersion and participation of live audiences. Went has described herself as in a constant state of flux on stage – her experience of performing was ‘cathartic’ and ‘frenzied’ – a delirious atmosphere that enveloped not only the performer, but also the audience, the live band, journalists, and photographers who documented the work. Using spectators’ descriptions of live experiences and my own readings of recorded performances, I look to the visual and visceral excesses of Went’s work as an embrace of the grotesque and the transgressive, and as a kind of antidote to the grim isolation of the actions of some of her male peers, such as Paul McCarthy and John Duncan. This paper explores one case study in research project that looks at performance and body-based art in the 1970s and 1980s. My proposal is that art which occupies a shifting and at times difficult position within both the art and theatre worlds might usefully be read via three interdisciplinary frameworks: documentation; audience studies; and affect theory.
Citation : Curtis, H. (2018) Document, Audience, Affect: Johanna Went’s L.A. Club Performances. TaPRA (Theatre & Performance Research Association) conference, University of Aberystwyth, 7th September.
Research Institute : Institute of Drama, Dance and Performance Studies
Peer Reviewed : No
- School of Arts