Sensibilities and Censorship: John Duncan’s Blind Date (1980)




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TaPRA (Theatre & Performance Research Association) conference



Peer reviewed



In 1980, artist John Duncan participated in the Public Spirit festival, performances from which were documented in High Performance magazine. Duncan used conceptual, performative and sound elements in works that explicated nascent themes of violence, trauma, and male sexuality in his work. In Blind Date, Duncan presented the audience with an audio recording of himself having sex with a female corpse and an account of receiving a vasectomy shortly afterwards. The piece was described by High Performance editor Linda Burnham as ‘highly morally objectionable’, and documentation was not included in the magazine, as she did not ‘wish to be responsible for publishing it.’ Burnham felt that by documenting this piece she was condoning and thus participating in its content; even discussing the reasons for her disapproval was deemed to be ‘carrying it forward.’ I complicate further the aversion to and rejection of Blind Date in relation to documentation as a repetition or continuation of the performance itself. In this case it is the role of the magazine editor as gatekeeper that determines the 'work' that documentation does and which specific elements of the performance are documented and 'carried forward'. As with many cases of censorship, the narrative of the performance's absence from public view (including its documentation) becomes part of its story that is re-told and repeated, and determines the conditions in which it enters into histories of art and performance. In this way the very particular sensibilities around this complex and difficult work – expounded by Burnham but also in accounts by fellow artists – shapes and determines my way of working on and writing about this piece as a performance scholar. Specifically, by approaching the performance through the context of its reception, the 'work' of documentation becomes mediated through discourses on oral history, affect, and censorship.



performance art, performance documentation, John Duncan, censorship


Curtis, H. (2016) Sensibilities and Censorship: John Duncan’s Blind Date (1980). TaPRA (Theatre & Performance Research Association) conference, University of Bristol, 5th September.


Research Institute

Institute of Drama, Dance and Performance Studies