Inefficient Moves: Art, Dance, and Queer Bodies in the 1960s

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Inefficient Moves: Art, Dance, and Queer Bodies in the 1960s

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Title: Inefficient Moves: Art, Dance, and Queer Bodies in the 1960s
Author: Aramphongphan, Paisid
Citation: Aramphongphan, Paisid. 2015. Inefficient Moves: Art, Dance, and Queer Bodies in the 1960s. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: This dissertation examines the intersection of art, dance, and queer sociality though Andy Warhol, Jack Smith, and their lesser-known contemporary, Fred Herko, a dancer and choreographer. Traversing art history, dance studies, and queer theory, this study uses analyses of movement, gestures, and embodiment as a bridge between the artistic and the social. In film, photography, and dance, these artists not only made art as queer artists, but their work stemmed from the form of sociality of their communities—the social and creative labor spent on seemingly unproductive ends, such as lounging together on a sofa, posing in performative-social studio sessions, or dancing in an improvised performance-party. Gestures and embodied experience became both the site of the art, and the site of the production of queer subjectivity in this watershed decade for art and queer histories. To unpack their cultural significance, I draw on the work of anthropologist Marcel Mauss on “techniques of the body,” and recent scholarship on embodiment and subjectivity. I propose queer gestures as dances of “inefficiency” in the Maussian sense, that is, as techniques of the body that do not confirm or sustain the social scripts of somatic norms. Given the contemporaneous debates about work, leisure, and alienation in the 1960s, inefficient techniques—as represented in the recurrent motif of the recumbent, languorous male body, for example—can also be read as a critique of industrial efficiency and heteronormative definitions of (re)productivity. Through this focus on bodily techniques, I open up a dialogue between this “underground” body of work with contemporaneous artistic milieus in which the body played an important role, including in 1960s sculpture, proto-feminist practices, postmodern dance, photography, and experimental theater.

Throughout I also foreground the intertwinement of dance culture and queer culture. Drawing on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s reading of the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, this study interprets artistic practices through a reparative lens, drawing together a queer repertoire made up of inefficient moves—just as the artists’ engagements with, and making of, dance culture and queer culture were reparative: an accretive practice of assemblage for imaginative and embodied sustenance.
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