Bodies of Water:Performing Ecology, Imagining the City

The abundance or scarcity of water will determine the trajectory of the 21st century – its availability or paucity does not affect communities equally, but instead access is tied to racial and economic privilege and intertwined with gender and sexuality. Until now, discussions surrounding water have largely understood it as a resource or commodity; the ways it is ideologically inscribed and generates particular aesthetic imaginaries remains under-researched in contemporary art criticism. But, 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, I argue, reveals how art and, in particular, performance, offers nuanced ways of reimagining our engagement with water. It is precisely because our human bodies are dependent upon water that I argue performance, and theories like embodiment and corporeality, are key to understanding the substance. By asking how embodiment, water, and, more broadly, ecological structures correlate, my research reveals a significant and growing strand of inquiry within contemporary art and places performance squarely at the center of such scholarship. Bodies of Water: Performing Ecology, Imagining the City is located at the nexus of contemporary art criticism, performance studies, and ecology.

My research re-imagines water as “a substance whose political agency participates in the public sphere,” and I understand the substance as a series of physical spaces—i.e. a river or pond—and as discursive and symbolic sites. Coining the term waterscapes, my research aims to encompass both the theoretical multiplicity of how I conceive of water and to inaugurate a new genre of artistic practice. Such waterscapes, expanding upon art historian W.J.T. Mitchell’s notion that landscapes are not objects to be seen, but  “process[es] by which social and subjective identities are formed,” takes seriously the action inherent to the verb ‘process’ by focusing on art practices that engage the body and happen in time, literalizing the very process of social and subjectivity formation of which he writes.


The Museum Gaze: Race, Gender, and Power 

I am guest editing a special journal issue entitled The Museum Gaze: Race, Gender, and Power, which 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, the issue argues, reveals the complex dynamic of objectification and viewership, agency and critique present within the relationship between museum and performance.In addition to myself, contributors include Ellen Tani, Lydia Brawner, Aileen Robinson, Faye Gleisser, and Adair Rounthwaite.

Journal of Curatorial Studies

Undertaken collaboratively with Leila Tayeb, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University, this project for the Journal of Curatorial Studies 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.