Clairvoyance (For Those In The Desert): Performance Pieces, 1979-2004 [NOOK Book]


The performance artist Joanna Frueh has emerged over the past twenty-five years as a wildly original voice in feminist art. Her uninhibited performances are celebrations of beauty, sensuality, eroticism, and pleasure. Clairvoyance (For Those In The Desert), which features eighteen of her essential performance texts, is a celebration of this remarkable artist and her work. Arranged chronologically, from The Concupiscent Critic (1979) through Ambrosia (2004), the pieces reveal Frueh’s evolution as an artist and ...
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Clairvoyance (For Those In The Desert): Performance Pieces, 1979-2004

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The performance artist Joanna Frueh has emerged over the past twenty-five years as a wildly original voice in feminist art. Her uninhibited performances are celebrations of beauty, sensuality, eroticism, and pleasure. Clairvoyance (For Those In The Desert), which features eighteen of her essential performance texts, is a celebration of this remarkable artist and her work. Arranged chronologically, from The Concupiscent Critic (1979) through Ambrosia (2004), the pieces reveal Frueh’s evolution as an artist and intellectual over the course of her career. Many of these texts have never before been published; others have not been readily available until now. Among the sixteen color photographs in this richly illustrated book are pictures of Frueh performing and images from Joanna in the Desert, a 2006 collaboration between Frueh and the artist and scholar Jill O’Bryan.

Frueh’s performances are unabashedly autobiographical, as likely to reflect her scholarship as a feminist art historian as her love affairs or childhood memories. For Frueh, eros and self-love are part of a revolutionary feminist strategy; her work exemplifies the physicality and embrace of pleasure that she finds wanting in contemporary feminist theory. Scholarly and rigorous yet playful in tone, her performances are joyful, filled with eroticism, flowers, sexy costumes, and beautiful colors, textures, and scents. Recurring themes include Frueh’s passionate attachment to the desert landscape and the idea of transformation: a continual reaching for clarity of thought and feeling.
In an afterword as lyrical and breathless as her performance pieces, Frueh explores her identification with the desert and its influence on her art. Clairvoyance (For Those In The Desert) includes a detailed chronology of Frueh’s performances.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Clairvoyance couples the strength of her words and the stage direction, to give the reader quite a vivid look into the life of this exceptional artist.” - Jenna V. Loceff, Curve

Clairvoyance (For Those In The Desert) is an artful, insightful, and important collection of performance texts by artist and scholar Joanna Frueh. Indeed, Clairvoyance could be considered an essential primer for feminists.” - Joanna Chlebus, Feminist Review blog

“[A] a beautiful and very pink 400-page tome that looks great on a coffee table. . . . Clairvoyance is a great place to start learning about not just 20th-century performance art, but also about one of the more intriguing and unheralded performance artists of our time.” - Jarret Keene, Tucson Weekly

“In this time of fabrication and disconnect—body from image, self from its representation—it is good to be reminded that early feminist artists did not separate body from consciousness from politics from theory. Joanna Frueh’s explorations in performance, photography, and texts are the real (un-airbrushed) deal, revealing the works of a particular and specific body-self, just flawed enough to be inspiriting.”—Suzanne Lacy, Otis College of Art and Design

“There is a lot of talk in academia about innovation and independence, but there is also a lot of what Nietzsche called ‘herd mentality.’ For those searching for an independent voice, here it is. Joanna is everything academic critics like: theoretically sophisticated, complex, ambiguous, experimental. She is also a lot of things academic critics don’t trust: openly sexual, oblivious of convention, dreamy, ecstatic, wild beyond classification. As she says: ‘She disobeys injunctions against knowledge, for the severest education forces the initiate to reject the law.’ If you aren’t dubious about this book, you aren’t an academic. But if you don’t find something to love in it, you might consider discarding some of the books in your library and substituting this one.”—James Elkins, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822390466
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 2/21/2008
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 8 MB

Meet the Author

Joanna Frueh is a performance artist, writer, scholar, and teacher. For more than twenty-five years, she has performed one-woman shows throughout the United States and abroad. She is Professor of the Practice of Art at the University of Arizona and Professor of Art History Emerita at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is the author of Swooning Beauty: A Memoir of Pleasure; Monster/Beauty: Building the Body of Love; Erotic Faculties; and Hannah Wilke: A Retrospective. She is a coeditor of Picturing the Modern Amazon; New Feminist Criticism: Art, Identity, Action; and Feminist Art Criticism: An Anthology. Her art, essays, and criticism have appeared in many publications, including Art Journal, New Art Examiner, Art in America, Artforum, Hypatia, and High Performance. Frueh lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Jill O’Bryan is an independent scholar and artist. She is the author of Carnal Art: Orlan’s Refacing.

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Read an Excerpt


Performance Pieces, 1979-2004

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2008 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4040-9

Chapter One


Having sprayed the space with Balenciaga's Quadrille, one of her two signature scents, Frueh awaits the audience's arrival. Dressed in two shades of mauve-a long-sleeved silk blouse tucked into a mid-calf wool crepe skirt-and taupe leather pumps with a subtly squared toe and a heel no more than three inches tall, she now and then fondles the coral-red gladiolus pinned into her hair above one ear. The visual effect is of contrast, even disjuncture: understated city wear and the dazzling brilliance that only nature can provide. The overall effect is sensual and minimalist.

Every day she walked to dinner at dusk. As the mariachi band played "Canta Canta Pajarito" and tiny crabs scuttled away from her feet as she walked across the cooling sand, she tried to perceive the exact advent of night. The rhythm of the waves filled her ears, alternating with the distant tinkling of glasses raised in drunken toasts. Her muslin dress, white like the moon and full with the wind, blew above her knees, and the trees on the islet in the bay, mauve under pink clouds, began to disappear, as if felled by puffs of wind. The fragrance of hibiscus blew toward her along with that of sizzling meats and strong coffee. She was hungry, the daylight had disappeared, and, as always, she had missed the moment of darkness.

In the city she rarely planned acute observations of nature. She sat at her desk and turned on the light when she could no longer read the words she was writing. Sometimes, alone in the apartment at night, she switched off all the lamps, stood by a window with her hands on the glass, and tried to see the stars. In summer the leaves looked amber beneath the streetlamps' garish light. If a murder were to occur, the knife would glisten red before even entering a victim's body.

But here near a beach on the west coast of Mexico, sunup and sundown were unaccompanied by electric light. She inhaled so slowly and deeply that she felt the air pass into her pelvis. She thought of the stranger she slept with and heard him calling, "Giovanna! Giovanna!" in imitation of the lonely Italian who also desired her company at this isolated resort. "Call me Lorenzaccio," the Italian said to the women he nagged and ogled, for he saw himself as a mischievous Medici, a sly and stately fellow whose body, covered only by daringly scant pink trunks, would appear, like the vision of a savior, in the minds of the sun cream-slathered women who lay, with their eyes closed, along the palm-edged sand from mid-morning to late afternoon. If he had allowed himself even an inkling of his unromantic presence, the pudgy belly, the sad though flinty eyes that tried to twinkle, he would have wished himself sealed in a marble coffin, one fashioned by a gifted artisan and secluded in a quattrocento church.

Neither ignorant, foolish, nor pretentious, this would-be scamp never considered the burden he carried in idolizing himself through his own romanticizing of the past. If some women wanted to be Botticelli sylphs, flaxen hair flowing in a Cyprian breeze, shell-like skin enveloping slight frames, modesty belied by beauty too abundant, too vulnerable, he wished himself the face and figure of a Piero Christ.

"Giovanna! Giovanna!" She too had worshipped the same aesthetic incarnation of divinity, but her love had more to do with a desire for possession than with an envious, though adulatory, need to identify. For almost an hour she had stood before The Resurrection of Christ. "He holds His banner and stares at me as if I were His beloved. But I am no Magdalene, no Christian penitent. Passers-by linger to look at my loving eyes without noticing His. They glance at His pale rose robe that droops so comfortably, yet provocatively, over a sturdy knee and shoulder, below a slender waist and deep navel. They sleep like the soldiers at His tomb, unaware of His more than spiritual charms." She could not keep her distance, nor did she want to. A bird fluttering among the trees' thin branches; a hill climber resting near a clump of bushes; a horsewoman reining her mount at the horizon; a believer watching from the ramparts; an insect crawling along an armored biceps; a lover caressing a bearded cheek or massaging the muscular torso: she was them all, and as part of the picture she later knew that instead of losing her art historian's integrity, she had extravagantly extended her ability to see.

Piero had painted a human being, minimizing the wounds, making the hair as rich as the halo. Once she had read that Piero stripped his figures of emotion. If she had believed that, she might just as well have considered herself mad. Artists, she believed, did not paint in order to retard a viewer's curiosity about sensation. Painters offered pathways not only into their works but also into self-reflective territory. Did she want to feel the painted man's flesh or had Piero, alive in Christ, forever resurrected in Him, the quiet countryside, and the spiritually unawakened Romans, permitted her to feel his fundamental attunement?

"Giovanna!" She sequestered herself in the night but called back, "Come and get me. I'm so hungry. Come and get me, John, and take me to dinner. Find me through my voice." She started to sol-fa the song played by the band but began to laugh. John's body, like that of Piero's deity, did not in and of itself arouse her. The tender maleness of a lean anatomy and smooth skin did. "Come faster," she cried, "and kiss me."

She awoke alone the next morning. John had already gone scuba diving, but the remembrance of her dream kept her in bed. Actually she couldn't reconstruct it, but since she had left the city, every night, all of sound sleep, brought images of calm seas, lush jungles, singing parrots and cockatoos, unfamiliar flowers in variant primary colors, and sunny days never dimmed by the doubts-bred by the stench of exhaust fumes and alley garbage, multiple murders on the late-night news, antiquated social commonplaces like wolf whistles, expectorating workmen on subway platforms, and the flirtatious public primping of hopeful pubescent virgins-generated daily in urban outings.

The trouble this morning was that she could not forget the city. Or perhaps it could not forget her. Having lived there for ten years, she could not make a complete escape, for like a betrayed and relentless lover it pursued her into the paradise to which, in contrast, it was hell. The city wanted no rivals, and as it maintained the fodder for her work, she could not disregard its insistent intrusions.

Some might think that belonging, as she did, to the peerage of a provincial art capital would have many privileges: invitations to swank receptions; recognition in galleries where the hoi polloi were met with disdain; introductions to the supposedly glamorous instigators of the latest breathless brouhaha. However, like a fairytale maid in a tower, she remained chaste. As a writer about the art that moved her she could only be truly beguiled by the subject itself, and still she guarded her virginity as though dragons were always at her door.

"You always were an idealist, a purist," said a former friend, unseen for almost ten years, who called unexpectedly the day before she left for Mexico. "I'm being chided," she thought, miffed. But the next afternoon, flying south, she realized that idealism and naïveté did not have to be mates.

Sometimes, when walking toward a row of galleries, she imagined that she'd see in one of them a wall, a painting, a sculpture, a material whose substance suggested puréed gold. She never saw it, but she never expected to, for that anticipated reality was a desire, not a need. What a disappointment it would have been for that fantasy to vanish, which it would have if that golden room or remnant of someone's imagination had actually awaited her. Although she sometimes strained for pleasures that no mental picture could provide, her devotion to fantasy did not wane. "Once you go to bed with someone you've desired for weeks or months," she thought as she rang the bell to an artist's studio, "the urgency and languor of the longing die. Passion for art, like passion for a human being, produces periodic renewals of lust, but fantasy, so clean because of its utter privacy, continually purges one of emotional cynicism."

She sat with the painter and talked, studying his paintings, then his face. He was afraid. His closest friends and colleagues did not like this new work. Surely he was a failure. He had lost his touch and at the age of twenty-seven was facing the future as a has-been.

She was not ashamed for him because of his insecurity. It drew him to her heart, and even though his paintings looked less attractive, less fervid and startling than before, they possessed a singular, slow beauty; they showed his newfound capacity to weep. The gay colors were gone, replaced by sandy, stormy, murky ones; lagoon and wasteland colors nuanced with soft applications of pigment and occasional fluttery strokes that looked like small bands of one-winged birds. She saw him as a lame animal and held back tears. "I am a cripple too, so I cry for us," she resisted saying. "All of us human animals bruised by each other."

He, like the others, bared himself to her. Divorces, abortions, illegitimate pregnancies; suicidal mothers, alcoholic fathers, philandering mates; financial burdens, pressing professional jealousies, the sacrifices of security made in the name of Art: all these unasked-for stories, from detailed accounts of affairs with members of the same and opposite sex to angry confessions about lack of time, sales, and love, she remembered long after the telling and kept to herself. She did not want her life publicly dismembered and assumed that neither did these touching raconteurs. Scars and liberations demanded the continuation of the privacy in which they had been conceived.

She questioned herself about the artists the same way she questioned herself about their art. How fragile was the ego? How strong the soul? How soon did she want to see them again? Was the memory enough?

The longing that drives Frueh's words and her speaking of them increases.

"The last stop today," she sighed to herself as she buzzed for entry to the studio of an artist she had never met. Her heart always beat hard before such meetings, and as she smelled her wrist, lavished with her favorite perfume, peppery, reminiscent of the spicy flowers and sweet silvery weeds she dreamed were in a fox's lair, a musky woman answered the door. Seven stories up they sat, teacups resting on their knees, looking as carefully at each other as they did at a wall of drawings. They were portraits, real and imagined, and hers was there. The two women stared at one another. They could not even ask what was happening.

The eyes of each portrait gazed from a flowered paradise where wind had damaged forests to deserts or water had rushed down mountain peaks to cover their life-infested feet. Garnet, crimson, carmine, rose: sometimes there seemed to be pools of blood curdling beneath the hot sun of this gifted woman's skies.

Their hearts beat harder as they tried to keep themselves from crying. "Rivers and oceans, heavens and stars." The words repeated in her mind so many times she could not count them. "Fish and crocodiles, mudpacks from the Nile for my face. My face. It looks at me from one of these drawings. Some memory ... some memory of mine ... must have forecast today." Her perfume suddenly reminded her of the scents escaping from an ancient coffer that she envisioned herself digging up beside the Nile. She had never been to Egypt, and the next day she would leave for Mexico where she would see the Pacific.

Pacific. She was hardly pacific. The city had disturbed her serenity. The artist who had drawn her haloed by bleeding hearts could not be forgotten. This time memory was not enough, and John, who sang to her at night about a sailor lost at sea, would never follow her home.

BRUMAS 1982 Lyrics and text by Joanna Frueh Music by Thomas Kochheiser Frueh and Kochheiser complement one another in stylishly simple rock 'n' roll looks. They wear cotton: Kochheiser, a black T-shirt with arms ripped off and jeans; Frueh, a maroon tank top and black cropped pants. His white tennis shoes and her black stockings and flat white leather jazz shoes complete a drama of trim appearance: pared down, in dark colors, readying the audience for stark emotions elegantly expressed.

The performance begins with melodic strains from Kochheiser's guitar, as Frueh stands leaning with one hand on the back wall, turned away from the audience. She faces them slowly, moves towards them, and begins to sing a song that starts as a ballad.

Here we stand on heroin corner, Streetlamps shine, the city glares. I'm waiting for our eyes to meet, But I'm crying because no one cares If I moan or sigh or eat a meal, If I drink myself to death. I tell you, I don't act too real, 'Cause you're always giving me a raw deal. Don't forget that I exist. Don't opt for oblivion. Or someday it's you who'll slit your wrists. No one's having fun. You're not the only one. See me now, the sad dolly: Faded lips and uncombed hair. You, who never know your folly, You, who always say you're fair. Your heart needs harder wear. So I dare you ...

The tempo increases and the attitude, though not the sound of Frueh's voice, turns harsh.

Jump off a cliff, waste no time, Fall in a cesspool, swim in the slime. Find your way to a health retreat. Tell them there that you're really beat. Test their feelings, hear them laugh, You'll leave with a heart that's ripped in half- Shreds of muscle, drops of blood. They'll send you back into the mud. That's what you get for being smug- No friendly kiss, no tender hug. I know you're dying just like me. I'd like to smirk, but I'd rather be free.

The tempo slows, and Kochheiser's melodic strains, as in the beginning of the song, return.

Here we stand on heroin corner, Streetlamps shine, the city glares. I'm waiting for our eyes to meet, But I'm crying because no one cares If I moan or sigh or eat a meal, If I drink myself to death. I tell you, I don't act too real, 'Cause you're always giving me a raw deal.

Her name was Brumas, and she resembled a vampire. Lipstick seemed to melt from her mouth when she sang, so she joked with her band about the victims that she had to drain each night in order to energize a performance. Or else she just said, deadpan, "Too much cherry juice."

She powdered her face pale and circled her eyes with white shadow. When the roots of her blue-black hair appeared, she religiously dyed them dark again so that no one would know the true color. Her gowns, in which she became a dervish Salome before a multitude of Herods when she whirled and grinded onstage, were dark plum and raisin. Designed by a woman Brumas wooed once a week with her deep voice, they looked like dense webs. "My body must shine through the fabric," the singer regularly reminded her fan.


Excerpted from CLAIRVOYANCE (FOR THOSE IN THE DESERT) by JOANNA FRUEH Copyright © 2008 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 000
Nota Bene 000
Fucking Hot: An Introduction by Jill O'Bryan 000
Joanna Frueh's Writing
The Concupiscent Critic (1979) 000
BRUMAS (1982) 000
Performed by Joanna Frueh and Thomas Kochheiser
Justifiable Anger (1982_83) 000
Performed by Joanna Frueh and Thomas Kochheiser
Dual Conception (1983) 000
Written by Joanna Frueh for a Piece to be Performed by Frueh and Thomas
Solar Shores (1984) 000
Performed by Joanna Frueh and Thomas Kochheiser
A Few Erotic Faculties (1985_86) 000
Clairvoyance (For Those In The Desert) (1985_86) 000
Performed by Joanna Frueh and Thomas Kochheiser
Breathing (1988) 000
Proposal Written by Joanna Frueh for a Piece to Be Performed by Frueh and
Russell Dudley
Vermilion (1988) 000
Mouth Piece (1989) 000
Amazing Grace (1990) 000
Written and Performed by Joanna Frueh and Russell Dudley
Pythia (1994) 000
Dressing Aphrodite (1997) 000
Sade, My Sweet, My Truffle; or, Giving a Fuck (1999) 000
The Aesthetics of Orgasm (2002) 000
Voyaging to Cythera (2003) 000
The Performance of Pink (2003) 000
Ambrosia (2004) 000
Shaking out the Dead: An Afterword by Joanna Frueh 000
Joanna Frueh Performance Chronology 000
Key Readings from Joanna Frueh's Childhood to the Present:
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