Gwyneth Shanks is a Helena Rubinstein Curatorial Fellow in the Whitney Independent Study Program. Prior to that, she was the Mellon Postdoctoral Interdisciplinary Arts Fellow at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. She earned a PhD in Theater and Performance Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles and an MA in Performance Studies from New York University. Shanks’ research and teaching focuses on contemporary performance, gender and sexuality studies, critical race theory, and urban studies.
She is currently working on two projects; the first of which, entitled The Museum Gaze: Race, Gender, and Power, draws upon performance studies frameworks, like embodiment and liveness, as well as feminist visual theory to articulate the notion of the “museum gaze.” The project focuses on the increased attention museums are giving to performance-based work. As a critical heuristic the museum gaze reveals the complex dynamic of objectification and viewership, agency and critique present within the relationship between museum and performance.
A second project, Bodies of Water: Performing Ecology, Imagining the City, contends that a close analysis of water as not simply a resource, but as culturally and symbolically constructed, is needed to fully articulate prescient relationships among environmental degradation and restoration, racial and gendered inequities, and economic privilege. This focus reveals how art and, in particular, performance, offers nuanced ways of reimagining our engagement with water. By asking how embodiment, water, and, more broadly, ecological structures correlate, Bodies of Water reveals a significant and growing strand of inquiry within contemporary art and places performance squarely at the center of such scholarship.
Shanks’s work has been published in X-TRA, Performance Matters, Third Text, and the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism. An essay on Rafa Esparza and Nari Ward that thinks across curatorial practice and queer and critical race theory to advance the notion of an aesthetics of concealment is forthcoming in Cultural Dynamics. Additionally, her work appears in a handful of anthologies: Le Musée par la Scéne (Deuxième époque, 2018), Writing the Body: Staging the Other (McFarland Press, 2018), and Theater/Performance Historiography: Time, Space, Matter (Palgrave, 2015). A forthcoming essay (Oxford University Press, 2020) focuses on Jennifer Moon and Anat Shinar, offering a feminist reading of their projects and arguing that the two complicate the rhetorical structures common to self-help literature through invocations of the body.
Shanks has taught in the Theater Department at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at the University of Southern California, in the Art Department at the University of Minnesota, in Art and Design at Montclair State University, in the English Department at Pace University, and in Visual Studies at the New School. In addition, she worked in education and programming at the Hammer Museum, a contemporary art institution, in Los Angeles.
In addition to her academic work, Shanks is a choreographer and performer. Most recently, she created works for the non-profit experimental architecture space Materials & Applications in Los Angeles, projects funded through the Graham Foundation and the Foundation for Contemporary Art. As a performer she has worked with, amongst others, The Trisha Brown Dance Company, Marina Abramović, Jérôme Bel, Maria Hassabi, and Meredith Monk.