Live art, life art: a critical-visual study of three women performance artists and their documentation

Droth, Barbara Elektra (2014) Live art, life art: a critical-visual study of three women performance artists and their documentation. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis is a 'practice-led' project that uses observational documentation methods, a long-term collaboration with three live artists, and a narrative analysis to encourage a visual display of 'knowing' the person who makes live art, the performance work itself and the reality of producing and archiving live art.

My practice of documenting live performances produces digital representations of the three artists I collaborated with. The fragmented and non-linear expressions of the live performances, which can be viewed in the video documents, also find echo in the life history interviews of the artists. Triangulated with an examination of the artists' websites, these diverse texts provide insight into how the live artists make sense of their embodied autobiographical experiences in a virtual environment. A post-structuralist narrative analysis proposes that the live and online performance-narratives constitute the artists' self as 'an artist' and examines these texts for ideas of the 'self-portrait' and of 'life as experienced'. The research suggests this is especially helpful to the audience's meaning-making processes when engaging with Live Art.

The thesis investigates the three artists' representations of the body, specifically their strategies to compel a disruptive reading of nudity, femininity and motherhood. Other performative strategies found in these artists' work lead to discussions on ritual enfleshed in performance, based on Richard Schechner's (1995) understanding of iterative practices, and of participatory incantations that integrate narratives found in myths into narratives of selfhood and community.

This thesis aims to develop the understanding of contemporary performance art pratice through examples of three artists' autobiographical performativity in live and online environments. The thesis advances narrative theory beyond its literary framework through a visual and practice-based approach. By linking narrative theory with visual methods this project seeks to demonstrate that experiential approaches could be relevant to narrtaive researches, visual anthropologists, performance ethnographers, as well as live artists, all faced with the inevitability of mediatisation. It contributes to ideas on the digital dispersions of the live artists' identity as not a fracturing of the unified body experienced in live performance but instead as a place for the artists to exercise agency through virtual performativity.

The thesis consists of two parts, a website ( and a written text. The online videos and the written text, when read together, form a performative analysis towards the 'knowing who' of the artists. It contributes to the growing interest in methodologies that investigate, document and present cultural experiences and their perceived value. The online presentation of my practice also demonstrates the digital and virtual environment the live artists' work operates in, as exemplified in this thesis. The website is a physical manifestation of integral ideas in this project, around authenticity, ownership and virtual experiences.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > Media and Film
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater > PN2100 History > PN2131 By period > PN2181 Modern > PN2193 Special topics, A-Z > PN2193.E86 Experimental theatre
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 18 Jun 2014 07:36
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:37

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