Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Claire Bishop

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


aesthetics and politics, contemporary history, globalization, performance studies, theories of subjectivity


Performance art is conventionally seen as having a privileged relation to reality because of the way it insists on the immediate experiences of specific human bodies, the full depth of which can never be adequately reproduced or captured. This understanding of performance as accessing authenticity through ephemerality has long made it a stage for artistic and political subversion. Since the early 1990s, however, a group of European artists responding to processes of globalization that have changed the nature of political economy--the demise of the Soviet Union, NAFTA, and new regulations concerning trade and travel in the E.U.--have developed performance strategies that unsettle the traditional understanding of performance that insists on the potency of an eruptive ephemerality. This dissertation discusses how the performance-based works of Santiago Sierra (b. 1966, Spain), Artur Żmijewski (b. 1966, Poland), Christoph Schlingensief (1960-2010, Germany), and the artist collective, Neue Slowenische Kunst (formed 1984, Slovenia) use non-artist participants as a primary medium alongside photography, video, and web-based platforms to assert the reproducibility of both people and events.

I argue that performance art since 1989 comprises a new mode of addressing audiences designed to illustrate how history persists and repeats in the present, especially when we imagine we can escape it. As such, each artist engages and describes a specific local horizon that defines a global totality in its own terms, at once acknowledging the newness of the post-1989 world and refuting it. The works I analyze present audiences with the "same" object of interpretation in order to elicit and describe the range of responses possible. I argue that every reproducible performance functions as a sonar ping, issuing from the work of art and mapping the surrounding human territory. From this notional zero-point, the work creates a political portrait, detailing a spectrum of opinions and speculating on their historical derivation. Because of how these works themselves deviate from traditional performance, they are able to chart a cognitive landscape that describes where each of us stands in relation to others--they picture us and our various pictures of the world as so many standard deviations.