Catherine Damman 


The Work of Art Against Work: Art, Labor, Politics
Spring 2020 at Wesleyan University

How do artists conceive of––and interogate––the “work” of art today?

Understandings of late nineteenth and early twentieth century avant-gardes are tied inextricably to leftist theory, particularly that of the Frankfurt School. This advanced seminar considers the legacy of that entwinement, while attending to its transformations from the late twentieth century to the present, looking at how artists have engaged the work of art in relation to the rise of post-Fordism, deindustrialization, and a globalized economy, as well as new theories of anti-capitalism.

Animated by the possibilities of a world without work, we will consider artists’ engagement with the historically gendered division of labor (including “craft,” affective labor, domestic work, care work, sex work, and more) and issues of racial capitalism, dispossession, theft, and debt.

How do artists make work out of outsourcing their labor or infiltrating factories; selling themselves or refusing to; caring for children or receiving care when sick? We will pay attention equally to the work of trained and professionalized artists as to that of curators, docents, guards, and art handlers, and to the art and labor of the uncredentialed, unnamed, and incarcerated. Rooted in art history, this course will draw on a range of interdisciplinary methodologies, including literary, film, and performance studies, as well as the perspectives of feminist, queer, disability, and critical race theory.

What is the work of organizing and striking? Of repatriation and memory? Rest and refusal?
Techniques of the Liar: Performance, Artifice, Fraud
Spring 2019 at Wesleyan University

A cultural and intellectual history of fraudulence, fiction, and faking it.

To deride a person or phenomenon as “all a performance” is to make an accusation of artificiality or inauthenticity. How do colloquial uses of language reflect longstanding cultural suppositions, and how do connotations of performance as fakery or fabrication intersect with the actual work of performers themselves? In this interdisciplinary seminar, we will explore questions of performance, affective labor, subjectivity and self-making (and re-making), both onstage and off.

Topics  include illusion, ventriloquism, and sleight of hand, as well as mimetic acting and the manufacture of “emotion,” dance technique and the concealment of effort, and musical improvisation and the politics of invention. We consider the potent complexities of drag, camp, and minstrelsy—and historicize their surrounding discourses of fraudulence and authenticity. Looking at a range of (predominantly U.S.-based) practices from the mid-nineteenth century to the late twentieth, this course is not a comprehensive survey, but rather, examines key episodes in the history of modern “performers.” 

We study performances found equally in everyday life, popular entertainment, and avant-garde art, and center the contributions of black, feminist, and queer studies.

Together, we will grapple with the ways that artifice and theatricality have been historically reviled as qualities inherent to femininity and queerness, respectively; the historically complex entwinement between ideas of race and authenticity; and how hiding, fabulation, exaggeration, and duplicity have been mobilized as strategies of freedom and resistance—from the spectacular escape act of Henry “Box” Brown to the sensational camp and hyperbolic glamour of the East Los Angeles art collective Asco.