Ron Athey

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Ron Athey
Born (1961-12-16) December 16, 1961 (age 53)
Groton, Connecticut, U.S.
Nationality American (United States)
Known for performance art, body art, experimental theatre, video
Notable work(s) Four Scenes in a Harsh Life (1994), "Deliverance" (1996), "Incorruptible Flesh" (1996), The Solar Anus (1998), "Joyce" (2002), Judas Cradle (2004)

Ron Athey (born December 16, 1961) is an American performance artist associated with body art and with extreme performance art. He has performed in the U.S. and internationally (especially in the UK and Europe). Athey's work explores challenging subjects like the relationships between desire, sexuality and traumatic experience. Many of his works include aspects of S&M in order to confront preconceived ideas about the body in relation to masculinity and religious iconography.

Life and work[edit]

Athey has been a regular contributor to magazines and newspapers including Honcho and the L.A. Weekly, and occasionally teaches performance studies. He currently lives in England, in the London area.[1]

The first book dedicated to Athey and his work 'Pleading in the Blood: The Art and Performance of Ron Athey' edited by Dominic Johnson was published in 2013 by the Live Art Development Agency.[2] It includes writing about his work by major artists including Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Antony Hegarty, Robert Wilson, Lydia Lunch and Bruce LaBruce, and essays by scholars such as Amelia Jones, Jennifer Doyle, Homi K. Bhabha and others.

NEA Controversy[edit]

In 1994 Athey became the target of controversy concerning the use of federal funds to support art work with visible gay content. In a performance of an excerpt from Four Scenes in a Harsh Life at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Athey made cuts in co-performer Divinity Fudge's back, placed strips of absorbent paper towel on the cuts and then, using a pulley, hoisted the blood-stained cloths into the air. Local art critic Mary Abbe (who had not witnessed the performance) wrote a sensationalizing story about the performance which appeared on the front page of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. That story was picked up by the Associated Press and quickly made national headlines. The then-widespread anxiety about AIDS combined with a shocked reaction from those unfamiliar with S&M-related art: some critics and lawmakers, including Jesse Helms, falsely described his performances as exposing audience members to HIV-infected blood.[3]

Although this 1994 performance was supported only indirectly (via the Walker Center) by $150 from the National Endowment for the Arts, Athey's name was frequently invoked in criticism of the NEA. Athey was not alone in this: performance artists Tim Miller, John Fleck, Karen Finley and Holly Hughes would later become the NEA Four as they fought a case regarding funding for their work before the Supreme Court. Unlike these other artists, Athey has never applied for federal funds to support his work. Nevertheless the controversy over this incident continues to shape public perception of his work.[4]

References[edit]

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