Research & Writing

Book Project

Shanks’s book project, Waterscapes: Race, Performance, and Imagining Los Angeles, examines representations of the city’s water via film, multimedia installations, and performance. The book focuses on small arts non-profits and biennales that use public spaces in the city as exhibition sites, bringing a curatorial and museal analysis to such sites. Framing LA as an exemplar case study, the project explores how urban space becomes aesthetically mobilized for particular political, environmental, and economic ends. Such ends, Waterscapes argues, are tied to water scarcity, of key importance to the city and state, but also the trajectory of the 21st century. As cities like Dubai attempt to manage their water scarcity or global climate change produces droughts in Northern China and Morocco, an attention to a desert city that has long dealt with such concerns is needed. Waterscapes does not offer policy solutions, but rather explores how aesthetic imaginaries produce affect and argues that representations of the city’s water function like landscapes: as both spaces and ideas. Shanks argues that waterscapes’ efficacy as a way of seeing and understanding our contemporary moment is tied to considerations of race, gender, and sexuality, and emerges in the tension between urban belonging and exclusion.

The book builds upon scholarship by Arjun Appadurai and Sean Metzger, who theorize “scapes” in relationship to cultural production and global circulations, and José Muñoz and Sianne Ngai, who reimagine aesthetic and affect theory through race and late capitalism. The project reveals how waterscapes reflect and create relations within LA, California, the US, and—through the global circulation of certain LA imaginaries—a transnational context. Waterscapes highlights three primary scapes: the Pacific Ocean, the LA River, and the residential swimming pool. The book opens with an introductory chapter that draws these sites together by focusing on Chinatown (1974) and Singapore artist Ming Wong’s re-imagining of the film, Making Chinatown (2012), which reveals how representations of LA’s water are produced through racism and sexism. Waterscapes challenges such imaginaries by placing them in conversation with artists who surface the relationship among water, racial injustice, and environmental degradation. A piece on Rafa Esparza and Rebeca Hernandez’s 2014 performance at the LA River was recently published in X-TRA.

Previous Research

In recent decades, art museums’ definition of art has expanded to include not only inanimate objects but also live performers, a marked transformation in museum culture. Shanks’s dissertation, published as a series of essays, focused on this curatorial shift, and explored how gender, labor, and race are negotiated between performer and institution. Shanks’s research focused on the gendered and racialized objectification performers experienced in museums. She argued nineteenth-century histories of displaying people deemed ‘other’ must be brought to bear upon an analysis of contemporary performance. Shanks ultimately argued that the way performance intersects with the strategies and histories of museum display reproduces gendered and racialized narratives about how women, women of color, and artists of color have been rendered visible in relationship to museums. This project is one of the first to analyze contemporary performance focused on or performed in museums through prior histories of displaying people in exhibitionary contexts, asking scholars to think anew about the relationship among display, gender, race, and embodiment. This research is published in the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism and is forthcoming in a French-langauge anthology on performance in the museum and in Writing the Body; Staging the Other published through MacFarland Press. Shanks’s research was supported by grants from the American Society of Theater Research and the Mellon Foundation.

Collaborative Research

This project, which will become a special journal issue, focuses on the interface between contemporary art and performance from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and museum curation. Expanding upon emerging debates in theater studies that question the relationship between performance and museums, this research explores how US cultural institutions function as political actors within larger geopolitical discussions of the relationship between the US and MENA Muslim-majority states. Interdisciplinary in scope, it draws together the research expertise of Shanks and Leila Tayeb. Tayeb, a PhD candidate in Performance Studies at Northwestern University, works on music performance practices in contemporary Libya.


Edited Works

 2019            Editor, Being With: Thoughts on Collaboration, Living Collections Catalogue, Walker Art Center (forthcoming)

 2017            Guest Editor, Not a Trump Issue, Lateral: Journal of the Cultural Studies Association 6.2.

Refereed Journal Articles

2018            “Adobe, Dust, and Water: Rafa Esparza and Rebeca Hernandez’s building a simulacrum of power.X-TRA 20.2: 89-107.

2016            “The Political-Aesthetics of Groundlessness and Philippe Petit’s High Wire Walk.” Performance Matters 2.2: 43-62.

2014            “Visualizing Now: the Island, the Alien, and Mariko Mori’s Beginning of the End.” Third Text 28.4-5: 393-405.

2012            “Lying with a Speaking Spine: Re-performing Marina Abramović’s ‘Nude with Skeleton.’” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 27.1: 109-123.

Book Chapter

2018            “Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George: Staging Stillness, Gender, and Artistic Legacies,Writing the Body; Staging the Other, Ed. Brynn Shiovitz, New York: McFarland Press (forthcoming).

2018            “Dancing Objects: Gender, Labor, and Contemporary Dance at the Hammer Museum.” Le Musée par la Scène, Eds. Pauline Chevailer, Aurélie Mouton-Rezzouk, and Daniel Urrutiaguer. Montpellier: L’Entretemps (forthcoming).

2015            “The Ground of (Im)Potential: Historiography and the Earthquake.” Theatre/Performance Historiography: Time, Space, Matter, Eds. Rose Bank and Michal Kobialka. New York: Palgrave MacMillian, 2015. 219-235.

Book and Performance Reviews

2017            “Review Theatrical Heritage: Challenges & Opportunities.” Theater Journal 69. 3: 439-440.

2012    “Seeing the Ghost: Cheng-Chieh Yu’s The Good Person and Dancing Mother Courage.” Center for the Study of Women Update: 19-23.