QUEERING OURSELVES: PERFORMANCE AS A SITE FOR LEARNING

Open Access
Author:
Washington, Garnell E
Graduate Program:
Art Education
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
July 08, 2005
Committee Members:
  • Yvonne Madelaine Gaudelius, Committee Chair
  • Marjorie Wilson, Committee Member
  • Christine Marme Thompson, Committee Member
  • Ian E Baptiste, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • performance art
  • queer theory
  • art education
  • critical pedagogy
  • social invisibility
  • learning
Abstract:
Abstract The following study examines learning communities that are involved with art. It is an investigation of culture in action and community as interactivity. Here learning and culture are both examined “as” performance, as a happening only understood in hindsight, as an event that becomes known through experience. By employing queer criticism, I engage in a process of re-considering, re-investigating, and re-examining what I thought was familiar about the cultures that are near me. In this study I ask how various performances of my art classroom are and are not related to one another. In this report queer theory is combined with performance theory to articulate alternative notions of subjectivity. The combination of queer and performance theory is useful because it forces knowledge to be understood as activity. On the one hand queering is about the use of direct address to gain insight through the inclusion of the other. And, on the other hand, performance theory is about the development of subjectivity through critical reflections on what has been done. In the space of performance art new meanings for the relationships between subjects can erupt. This work with queering and performance is an attempt to understand how experiences of difference can be used as sites for learning in the art classroom. The intention of this paper is to push us to find those queered points of engagements between ourselves and the students, the curriculum and our experiences in the world. It must be understood however that knowing is always difficult because it is the learned application of a particular relationship to a subject. There is nothing that we just “know.” All of the events cited in this writing come from performance works done in and around my university art classes. Performance art is a useful medium for the critique of difference because it forces individuals to confront the responsibility of being present. The interdisciplinary nature of performance invites individuals (on their own terms) to participate in an evolving critique of culture, genre, identity, and the very idea of knowledge. The texts, criticism, and performances that have been included in this paper deal explicitly with the challenges of visibility and the oppressive results of social invisibility. Like knowing, seeing is also difficult. Here, performance art is used to make visible the terms and conditions of our relationships to each another. This dissertation explores how performance art undertakes the process of decontextualizing concepts, ideas, or observations in order to recombine them into new ways of perceiving and including the other in the body of the self. As such viewer-participants are compelled to see themselves in a polymorphic vision with the performance. Here it is argued that with the use of performance, the artist and audience, teacher and student, or author and reader can be queerly re-positioned so that they both feel as though their presence matters in conversation. Specifically, this study mixes ideas from critical theory, race criticism, and feminist pedagogy with practices of performance pedagogy. I have also tried to create a lively interplay between the writings of gay theorists, media philosophers, art educators, sociologists, performance artists, and queer theory. The exploration of social invisibility through the observation of being in conversation is the one common characteristic of all the texts mentioned in this work. As curriculum researchers, this study pushes us away from an obsession with what will be learned and how it will be taught, and toward an investigation of the process of identification within the classroom. This study demonstrates that the meaning of identity must be performed. Through this work it is clear that identification is always a process pushing and pulling between what is and is not. Identities are spaces of difference-between subjects. It is the perpetual movement of identity that makes knowing difficult. An important conclusion of this study is that self-awareness combined with a subjective understanding of otherness is a necessary part of experiencing the world critically. And, critical experiences are required for bringing about change and learning to see differently. It should be understood that I believe education is about learning to see others as well as ourselves differently. This work is involves learning to love the process of understanding, because it is through understanding that we become participants, not bystanders, in each other’s fight for life. This is the only position that a teacher can perform—co-participant with the other’s struggle for understanding.