Uneasy Masculinity: Anxious Bodies and the Performance of Pain
Pain makes us uneasy. As Elaine Scarry explains in her seminal text The Body In Pain, pain is inarticulate, pre-linguistic, a phenomenological problem that exists on the margins of what can be represented. It is, like Kristeva’s formulation of the abject, both part and other to the self. We long to free ourselves from pain and we long to understand it. It is an uneasy dynamic that reflects the intersubjective exchange of performance itself. As Peggy Phelan has argued, there is a continual disappearance of meaning in performance, on both sides of the stage. Identity, she argues, emerges in the failure of a performance to communicate fully, creating a reliance on the other for being but also a feeling of loss. This loss is a kind of absence which longs for presence: a desire to know that which cannot be known, or what we might in the context of pain call empathy.
The performance of pain puts us at the threshold of doubt—it is a place of uneasiness and anxiety about who we are and how we mean in the world—but pain also puts at the threshold of a new kind of belonging. I propose a lecture/performance that explores the work of male body artists and their use of pain as aesthetic strategy. The apparent machismo of works by artists like Chris Burden, the Viennese Actionists, Mathew Barney or even local artists like David Young, reveals an anxiety about the permeability of the male body and its concomitant signs of strength, power, and stability. As Amelia Jones suggests, the painful, masochistic stunts of these artists draw attention to the instability of masculinity as a category. However, they also propose a new visceral understanding of identity as contingent on a shared experience.
Following Joanna Frueh’s example of an embodied logic, this lecture/performance will be both the critical investigation of an academic and the creation of a practicing performance artist.
christine stoddard is a performance artist/theorist whose interdisciplinary practice is engaged with theories of embodiment, performativity and cyber-feminism. christine graduated with an MFA in Interdisciplinary Studies from the School for Contemporary Art at Simon Fraser University in 2001. She is co-founder of proximity lab, a collaborative, cross-disciplinary performance company based in Vancouver. She currently teaches in the Arts & Culture Studies area at SFU’s School for Contemporary Art.