Ron Athey, Acephalous Monster.
Ron Athey is an iconic cultural figure who started in performance in the early 1980s in context of L.A.’s underground music scene. Best known for his boundary-pushing body mutilations, Ron Athey has been pursuing the transcendent and sublime through performance for more than three decades. Ron's work invents new forms of ritual and celebration, conjuring the sacred as an antidote to the empty individualism of contemporary life, and pushing towards the merging of humans and gods. Ron is a patron of the Live Art Development Agency.
To mark the UK tour of Ron's new work Acephalous Monster, Unbound invited Ron to be our Guest Editor, for the month of October. Ron has written this blog and chosen eleven Unbound titles which caught his eye to be offered at 20% discount until mid-November. We are also pleased to offer Pleading in the Blood, the first monograph on Athey's practice at a special price during his guest edit.
I’ve always collected books and returned to the same texts for most of my adult life. One of ‘The Gateways’ to concepts came to me in 1981 with the Jean Genet play, The Maids. The singer from the Nervous Gender off-shoot band, Gobsheit, Patrice Repose, proposed directing Rozz Williams and I as the role-playing sisters Clair and Solange. Two kinky death rock maids? Even though we studying the texts - endless monologues for my non-theatre brain! - we never put this on. But it led me to Our Lady of the Flowers, A Thief’s Journal, Funeral Rites, and onwards through the Francophile canon.
The parallel door was through the industrial culture and music scene tabloids - RE/search (before the books), and, more local to L.A., NoMagazine. These eventually led us to William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. This was the revelation to leave linear logic behind. Here to Go.
Through this early 80s period, I never encountered an artist book or monograph on any of the body artists and body art I was interested in. However,the magazine High Performance was full of grisly activists reviews, I caught Chris Burden performances, and radical feminist art at the Woman’s Building in LA. Annie Sprinkle’s LOVE Magazine laid the ground for post-porn and introduced me to Fakir Musafar years before the seminal Modern Primitives book was published.
Additionally, my day job for 18 years was at what was called alternative media, the LA Weekly, which later absorbed into Village Voice Media, then kept merging until it exploded. My duties there included opening all the books (in the era of excessive swag), and I had a handle from 1988 thru 2006 of every book published (that I cared about). At some point, books like C.Carr’s On Edge and Amelia Jones’ Body Art: Performing the Subject started trickling in. This evolved my thinking about a medium I was already digging in since ’81, but certain to always be an outside of if this weird oppressive boring art world thing prevailed. Long live the underground, DIY spirit, and derelict buildings!
I think the most important aspect of my hunger for finding and reading was the search for a logic. Why was I alive? Why did I hate breeders and mainstream gays? Where did I sit? What were the possibilities? Back again to the Francophile train, and finally the Semiotexte translations from French to English of George Bataille! Don’t come at me with “Oh! Story of the Eye!” I was already “abject” and once Tears of Eros, The Trial of Gille de Rais, and Visions of Excess were digestible, I found in readings of Bataille - someone who had lived and died the “scatological philosopher” - both affirmation and stimulation.
I could keep going through biographies! But I’ll come back to artists and the dilemma of publishing/public images, assumed public domain, cooption, thievery, and the problem with art directors and stylists - even ones who are supposed to be your friends! I would almost advise not to publish if you’re trying to save your image from being copied or used in derivative way for advertising, but then there’s the social media mess - and we (in most cases) voluntarily feed that particular monster.
I’m almost a hundred years old, still I’m in parties. A few years ago I met a dazzling beauty who informed me she “supplied content” for a company she co-founded. I felt blank for a few minutes and asked, such as? To which she faffed on and I couldn’t figure out what the company actually did, but that maybe, she supplied both words (blurbs) and photographs, aka “stories”. or trends? Click bait?
Friends of mind have been prolific publishers. I looked forward to every Franko B publication, which could be a lush monograph or a single project with a strong polemic, such as Still Life. I would definitely state this has always been a part of his practice that opens up other experiences and readings of his work.
So on that note, let me openly pimp the family first, after stating this list is by no means inclusive, in order, or exhaustive:
Yes - the undisputed queen of harsh has delved into theatre, performance art, lots of spoken word, curating events, as well as a dozen bands starting with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. All of these projects hinge on her loaded fun writing. This latest offering is in line with her cultural contributions.
Special price £11.12
The 70s were in many ways a larger manifestation of the counterculture evolutions of the 60s. This is a Brit-centric look, including Genesis P-Orridge, Anne Bean, but also the pivotal Ulay, and cover dudes The Kipper Kids. This is what I’m currently reading so I’ll give a report when I finish!
Special price £14.39
The yam mam is everything. Read Shock Treatment! before or after this most current take-down on the ugly people in power (who are unfortunately part of the discourse of sex or more like harassment). Also look for videos and recordings, particularly her involvement of Jerry Hunt’s Song Drapes - it is a chilling work from the AIDS pandemic.
Special price £10.40
This is a beauty and I’m all up in it! Yes we’ve mentored, worked close and far, and I feel grateful for the realms Martin has brought me into. The Bob Flanagan parallels have never been a shadow, but more a guiding light.
Special price £12.00
This magic person! This fabulous smart work! Her practice that’s fearless went through bio, medicine, body, burlesque, ritual, environment, intimacy, interactivity. Untitled (Bodies) is always out on my table.
Special price £20.00
This has been a long relationship with an artist its been exciting to watch grow into art stardom! This book is the context, with former Toxic Titty collaborator Julia Steinmetz and queer scholar David Getsy laying it out.
Special price £28.00
Books I haven’t read but am invested in:
This is a bit foundation and somehow a scene that endures and evolves/devolves. Gothletics? lol. I think I pop in a place or two “including ghosts embedded in queer theory, shadowy crypts in lesbian pulp fiction, monstrosity and cannibalism in AIDS poetry, and sadomasochism in queer performance.”
Special price £19.99
“Employing diverse critical theories from Benjamin to Lacan to postcolonial and queer theory, Schneider analyses artistic and pop cultural depictions of the explicit body in late commodity capitalism.” This is a key lens.
Special price £25.59
Amber Jamilla Musser
Patty Chang, Nao Bustamante, I’m sold. The J word? yes please. And in a way continuing the explicit body theme: “Musser unpacks the relationships between racialized sexuality and consumption to interrogate foundational concepts in psychoanalytic theory, critical race studies, feminism, and queer theory. In so doing, Sensual Excess offers a project of knowledge production focused not on mastery, but on sensing and imagining otherwise, whatever and wherever that might be.”
Special price £17.59
Love Meiling’s writing in Other Los Angeleses, I look forward to her take on time-based works - probably the most difficult form for me to get my head around! Yet nowhere as boring as what I’m critiquing! “From cannibalism to light-calligraphy, from self-harming to animal sacrifice, from meat entwined with sex toys to a commodity-embedded ice wall, the idiosyncratic output of Chinese time-based art over the past twenty-five years has invigorated contemporary global art movements and conversation.” My cuppa.
Special price £24.00
Mara Polgovsky Excurra
Its not a revelation to me that many narratives are missing in amiable art history. An earlier survey leading up to “the long 80s” were brilliantly curated at the LACMA show, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985. In Touched Bodies, Excurra “describes the rise of performance art in the context of feminism, HIV-activism, and human right movements, taking a close look at the work of Diamela Eltit and Raúl Zurita from Chile, León Ferrari and Liliana Maresca from Argentina, and Marcos Kurtycz, the No Grupo art collective, and Proceso Pentágono from Mexico.”
Special price £25.20