Long Suffering productively links avant-garde performance practices with religious histories in the United States, setting contemporary performances of endurance art within a broader context of prophetic religious discourse in the United States. Its focus is on the work of Ron Athey, Linda Montano, and John Duncan, American artists whose performances involve extended periods of suffering. These unsettling performances can disturb, shock, or frighten audiences, leaving them unsure how to respond. The book examines how these artists work at the limits of the personal and the interpersonal, inflicting suffering on themselves and others, transforming audiences into witnesses, straining social relations, and challenging definitions of art and of ethics. By performing the death of self at the heart of trauma, strategies of endurance signal artists’ attempts to visualize, legitimize, and testify to the persistent experience of being wounded. The artworks discussed find their foundations in artists’ early experiences of religion and connections with the work of reformers from Angelina Grimké to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who also used suffering as a strategy to highlight social injustice and call for ethical, social, and political renewal.
“The author introduces us to previously understudied performance artists, zooming in on moments and performances that many other critics and audiences have chosen to avoid… she models what it means to lean in, to seek to understand the works on their own terms in as deep a way as possible. Such critical generosity (a term borrowed from performance scholar David Román) is invigorating and productive.”
—John Fletcher, Louisiana State University
“The author’s engagement with the actual performances through an intense immersion in archival material, primary sources, interviews with the artists, and a broad and sustained engagement with the context and historical circumstances of this work make this book particularly compelling, and her attempt to counter the academic mistrust of fundamentalism and embrace of secularism is laudable. Equally significant is her engagement with the relationship between ecstatic religions, ethical actions, moral imperatives, and the history of religious revivalism and reform in the U.S.”
—Jennie Klein, Ohio University