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Artistic research and the queer prophetic
To cite this article: Ben Spatz (2021): Artistic research and the queer prophetic, Text and
Performance Quarterly, DOI: 10.1080/10462937.2021.1908585
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/10462937.2021.1908585
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Published online: 08 Apr 2021.
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Artistic research and the queer prophetic
Department of Media and Performance, University of Huddersﬁeld, Huddersﬁeld, UK
This essay examines the intersection of queer, trans, and feminist
politics with artistic research. It begins with a discussion of
knowledge and form, arguing that we need to reinvent the formal
structures of academic knowledge production in light of the
digital revolution. I then examine two sets of examples of the
scholarly video essay: three from a videographic journal I edit and
three from my own practice. Such examples allow us to rethink or
even to reinvent the embodied situatedness of researchers from a
new perspective: the audiovisual body. I oﬀer the “prophetic”to
name this emerging mode of articulation.
Received 3 June 2019
Accepted 1 February 2021
Artistic research; queer
research; audiovisual body;
Read this book like a song. (Tinsley 1)
1. Knowledge and form
“Artistic research”is one of several terms currently used to describe hybrid forms of
scholarship that radically contest the equation of academic knowledge with written
texts. What these developments share is a determination to ﬁgure a mode of production
that is historically other to academia as no longer constitutively outside but instead inte-
grally present within academic research. In this regard, they dovetail with longstanding
conversations in some strands of performance studies (MacDonald and Riga), which
have long examined the place of performance practice within performance studies, includ-
ing “performance itself as an act of publication”(Shaﬀer 55). In the United Kingdom,
where I work, the dominant term is “practice as research”(Allegue et al.; Nelson), now
increasingly shortened to “practice research”(Hann), while in Canada it is “research-cre-
ation”(Manning and Massumi; Loveless). I have co-edited a volume on “performance as
research”(Arlander et al.) and staked my own claims on the concept of “embodied
research”(Spatz, Blue Sky Body). Each of these phrases carries its own geographies and
genealogies and oﬀers its own perspective on an emerging but still incomplete paradigm
shift according to which art, practice, creation, performance, and even embodiment itself
are no longer framed as objects of research but instead become the methods,
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/
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CONTACT Ben Spatz firstname.lastname@example.org
TEXT AND PERFORMANCE QUARTERLY
methodologies, and forms through which knowledge is generated and shared. If I use the
European term “artistic research”(Borgdorﬀ; Assis) in this article, that should not be taken
as a simple endorsement or a stable commitment. I use the term here strategically, because
of how it foregrounds a particular aspect of the broader paradigm shift that remains
underdeveloped: namely, the question of form.
As Michael LeVan observed some years ago, digital and multimedia environments oﬀer
new kinds of “hospitality to performance praxis”in which “[a]esthetic and epistemic
concerns”may interact through “dynamics of friction and encounter”(LeVan 213). As
far back as 2005, he notes, the journal Liminalities was publishing multimedia scholarship,
“challenging the supplementarity of documentation for performance”and inviting prac-
titioner-researchers to develop new forms of “digital thinking.”Following the philosopher
Jacques Rancière, LeVan even suggests that “the forms”(italics original) engendered by the
interaction of performance and the digital are “emerging as a potential center for the ﬁeld,”
with implications linked to emancipation and the politics of aesthetics (218). Yet, despite
the continued growth of digital publication platforms, relatively little has been established
when it comes to the aesthetics and epistemics of particular multimedia forms. Academic
disciplines are historically founded on the circulation of documents made of written words
(as well as musical and especially mathematical notation). With the stability and form of
the written text increasingly decentered in today’s digitally networked systems, one might
observe with John Law that “the division of labour which founds the academy, between the
good of truth and such other goods as politics, aesthetics, justice, romance, the spiritual,
inspirational and the personal, is in the process of becoming unravelled”(15). But where
are the substantively new forms of scholarship that would articulate such an unravelling?
Where are the successors to the text-based article, the “new forms of philosophy”that
transform “what it means to think”(Maoilearca 108, 110)? In which speciﬁc forms are
we able to ask ourselves “what thinking can possibly mean in the civilization in which
we ﬁnd ourselves?”(Haraway 130).
The form of a work –book, audio recording, live broadcast, ﬁlm, zine –is not strictly
separable from its knowledge content. While the passages between some forms may seem
relatively frictionless (article into book chapter; ﬁlm into video), distinctive media inherently
deﬁne and contour the types of knowledge that may be incorporated within them and
thereby also who can be recognized as an expert in the ﬁelds to which they contribute. In
a contemporary digital context, scholarly articles circulate online alongside blog posts,
movie trailers, and memes. Yet we are far away from anything like agreed best practices –
let alone style guides –for scholarly publications that exceed the textual. Nor can it be
said that we have escaped the hierarchy of knowledge according to which “too much
eﬀort doing performance at the expense of studying performance can make suspect a
tenure case,”or the general dependence on textual forms for all kinds of academic assessment
(LeVan 210). At this moment, multiple contradictory approaches are at work simultaneously,
reconﬁguring relations between documents and institutions and between textual and audio-
visual modes of communication. What are the forms and structures by which text, image,
sound, video, and interface can be integrated within a research publication? Which epistemic
modes and rhetorical strategies are realized by particular juxtapositions of media? If there is
such a thing as digital thinking, what are its present genres, styles, platforms, and techniques?
My focus in this article is on the form of publications and the particular ways in which
practitioner-researchers and artist-scholars can triangulate embodiment, textuality, and
audiovisuality to generate works and modes of thinking that are irreducible to written
scholarship, video artwork, or live performance. Some obvious precedents for audiovisual
thought include visual ethnography (Taylor) and the “essay ﬁlm”(Papazian and Eades).
Yet what interests me here is not only the mixing of textual and audiovisual media but
also, crucially, the implications of this mixing for the embodiment of the researcher. In
other contexts, I have argued on behalf of “embodied”research methods, in which the
embodiment and embodied practice of the researcher is central to the methodology.
Here I want to focus on the ways in which this embodiment is or is not carried
forward into the form of publication. We might think of research as deﬁned by two epis-
temic “cuts”: an opening cut, which sets initial conditions for something interesting to
occur; and a closing cut, the means by which that unexpected “something”is traced, ana-
lyzed, recomposed, and shared beyond its original context.
Embodied research, as an
opening cut, can include many diﬀerent methods, from traditional ethnography, perform-
ance ethnography, and autoethnography through to artistic practice and all forms of
personal and socio-cultural “autoexperimentation”(Preciado 247). Yet, time and again,
within present scholarship, these diverse embodied methods are returned to the conven-
tional medium of academic epistemology: the written text as closing cut. My appeal to
“artistic research”here emphasizes alternatives to this return: forms of publication in
which the technology of writing itself is decentered as the privileged technology of episte-
mic closure. I not only want to argue that new forms of publication aﬀord new ways of
thinking. I also want to claim that such new forms imply new institutional structures,
new communities of knowledge, new ethical positions, and new political interventions.
In this article, I develop that claim by drawing links between artistic research and what
I propose to call the queer prophetic.
I want to argue that there is something potentially, although not necessarily, queer about
the position of the artist-scholar or practitioner-researcher, and that this queerness is located
not only in the act or practice of doing research but also in the forms through which that
research is shared. These forms, I suggest, might at their most radical constitute a new
mode of articulation, or even a new kind of thought, in which the embodied and the critical
are integrated –or rather, mutually incorporated –to a degree that I will call prophetic. This
does not happen automatically, nor would I claim that it is widespread or even clearly estab-
lished as a possibility. Rather, it is a potentiality that I have observed and been searching for,
both in my own work and in that of others, in situations where embodiment, textuality, and
audiovisuality come into new relations within digital media. In the present context, I will not
be focusing on performances or installations that make use of digital media. Instead, my
starting point will be what I call the archival obligation of academic research: the responsi-
bility of researchers to generate transmissible documents that can circulate beyond their orig-
inal contexts and support both synchronic and diachronic communities of knowledge. What
interests me here is the unmaking of text/body and theory/practice dichotomies through the
introduction of a third term –the audiovisual –which reveals the asymmetry of the other
two. In other words, I believe that practical experimentation with the relationship between
textuality and audiovisuality can help us reconceive how both of these relate to embodiment.
I am not the ﬁrst to suggest connections between artistic research, digital media, and
queerness. It has even been argued that artistic research is always already queer,
because of its engagement with desire, embodiment, and mess. According to Alyson
Campbell and Stephen Farrier, queer artistic research is
TEXT AND PERFORMANCE QUARTERLY 3
attracted to messiness as a methodology, where messiness is imbricated with queerness and
where cleanliness in knowledge production is associated with knowledge forms that have
routinely occluded the queer and the non-normative in an eﬀort to tidy up hypotheses
and conform to hegemonic forms of “rigour.”(84)
Importantly, however, the queer messiness of artistic research does not refer to a complete
disregard for epistemological structure: “Messiness here does not equate to methodless-
ness”(86). What might then make research formally and structurally queer? Kath
Browne and Catherine J. Nash suggest that the “messiness of sexuality and gender”
might require new approaches beyond the qualitative (12). Benjamin Haber, responding
in part to their challenge, asks researchers not to overlook the queer potential of quanti-
tative methods and the political need to wrench quantiﬁcation away from its instrumental
deployments by racial capitalism. Although Haber mentions video, he introduces it as
qualitative data that is ripe for quantiﬁcation (158), which is indeed how video is often
used in the social sciences (Vannini; Harris). I would locate my claims about artistic
research at the opposite end of the epistemological spectrum from such debates. While
Haber looks for queerness in and through quantiﬁcation, I am proposing a mode of articu-
lation that is neither quantitative nor qualitative, as those terms are used in the social
sciences. The queer prophetic in my sense is located beyond the social sciences and
even beyond the “soft”research of the humanities, in a zone of critical and creative practice
that bypasses the assumptions of both qualitative and quantitative methods and decon-
structs the subject/object division on which such methodologies still often rely.
In the queer prophetic as I understand it, video and audiovisuality are not operative
only at the level of method, to be converted into writing at the time of publication.
Rather, the queer prophetic demands that scholarship take audiovisuality into account
as a form of knowledge in its own right. This means that the embodiment of the
researcher, which had previously oscillated between intentional concealment (in the dis-
tanced objectivity of “hard”methods) and discursive revelation (in the acknowledgment of
positionality and standpoint, discussed below), potentially comes to the fore in an entirely
diﬀerent way. My suggestion will be that academia itself, precisely because of the way it has
historically equated writing and knowledge –just think of how often we refer to the
“thought”of a philosopher when we actually mean their writing –is ill prepared to
grapple with audiovisuality as mode of thought and will require additional resources to
do so. In particular (and in alignment with Haber’s political commitments, if not his
methodological bent), I will be looking to feminist, queer, and queer of color critique
for understandings of the queer prophetic that go beyond what academic institutions
are currently able to recognize. For example: Recognizing that “aesthetics and image
matter deeply”and that “the question of the visual is always also a question of the politi-
cal,”the editors of Trap Door, a recent volume on the politics of trans visibility, distinguish
between the “trap of the visible”and doors leading to “new visual grammars”(Gossett
et al. xix, xxiv, xv, xviii). Artistic research, I suggest, can be understood in exactly these
terms: On the one hand, it may function as a kind of trap within which all manner of
queerly creative and even antiracist and decolonial activities and practices are politically
contained within conservative epistemologies. This is certainly the dream of the neoliberal
university, in which creativity and culture are instrumentalized for economic gain. On the
other hand, artistic research may yet be a door or a threshold through which some of us
manage to smuggle tools that could eventually transform academic institutions and their
hierarchies of knowledge. It is not that new technologies will eﬀect such changes on their
own –obviously, the politics of their implementation will depend upon much broader
social movements and forces –but that academia remains an important site at which to
contest what counts as knowledge.
Many of the arguments made on behalf of artistic research and non-textual forms of
thought are inevitably formulated in writing –like this article –as they would otherwise
be unintelligible in an academic milieu that still runs on texts. These arguments, in their
emphasis on embodied and aﬀective excess, seem at least potentially allied with contem-
porary critical approaches to gender, sexuality, and race. On the other hand, the cultural
and institutional limitations of contemporary discourses promoting artistic research –
notably its predominant and largely unacknowledged whiteness (Kramer and Misa) –
have meant that they have largely failed to engage with the politics of identity as part of
what is inevitably staged when the body of the researcher appears audiovisually. There
is then a gap between artistic research, as it has been institutionalized thus far, and the
queer prophetic ends to which its methodological innovations could be put. To bridge
this gap, it will be necessary to examine more carefully the epistemological consequences
of new media forms and the unique capacities of audiovisuality to (re)situate the body of
2. Embodiment, textuality, audiovisuality
When it comes to the queering of scholarly form, few established models exist, but there
are many diﬀerent pilot projects and prototypes that might be considered. The journal
Liminalities, edited by LeVan, is a particularly longstanding one. In Europe, perhaps
the best-established platform that explicitly pushes formal boundaries is the Journal of
Artistic Research <http://jar-online.net/>, run by the Society for Artistic Research,
which publishes peer-reviewed research online in the form of nonlinear “expositions.”
With its open-ended, web-based design, JAR and its underpinning platform, the Research
Catalogue, could be said to represent one end of the spectrum of artistic research forms:
that emphasizing openness and nonlinearity, as do some of the multimedia works
published in Liminalities. At the other end of the spectrum we might locate the PhD
dissertation project of hip-hop artist-scholar A. D. Carson, recently completed at
Clemson University in South Carolina, which took the form of a rap album and cited
Stefano Harney and Fred Moten to identify itself as a work of “Black study and fugitive
planning”(Carson). While the form of the doctoral dissertation is opening up radically
in Europe (see Artistic Doctorates in Europe), this formal touchstone of PhD completion
has been much more diﬃcult to shift in the United States, where a book-length written text
is still almost always required. Carson’s thesis notably replaces the book with a diﬀerent
form –the album –that is both structurally linear and well-established.
Today, even long-established journals increasingly include multimedia in some form,
whether as linked or embedded references within textual articles or (less often) as standa-
lone contributions. While these vary widely in form, I will focus in the rest of this section
on two sets of examples with which I am closely familiar and which foreground the poten-
tial of a somewhat narrower and more speciﬁc medium: the video “essay”or linear video
work. As will become clear, I am interested in this form because of the way it allows for the
layering and mutual imbrication of textual and audiovisual elements within a container
TEXT AND PERFORMANCE QUARTERLY 5
(the video ﬁle) that itself is clearly deﬁned by particular technological parameters. I take
this as a useful model through which to focus on and engage in detail with a sprawling
landscape of possible forms. Among the advantages of linear audiovisuality are: its rela-
tively long history, dating back to the advent of cinema; its relative technological stability,
in comparison for example with a website; and increasing accessibility for both viewers
and creators. Moreover, the linear video form oﬀers an opportunity to explore the
relationship between textuality and audiovisuality from a perspective that reverses the
established hierarchy of knowledge: Rather than inserting videos within a written text,
the question becomes how text can be embedded within a video. This formal, aesthetic,
and epistemological question is my focus here.
The ﬁrst set of video works I want to consider have been published in the Journal of
Embodied Research <https://jer.openlibhums.org/>, which I founded in 2017. JER is a
peer-reviewed, open access journal that exclusively publishes video articles. As such, it
is deﬁned by two basic parameters: embodied research as topic and method, indicated
by its title, and the video article as a scholarly form. Unlike most academic journals
that publish video, JER does not publish any accompanying text or research statement
alongside the video work. A transcript of each video article is published, making its
textual contents legible to both search engines and accessibility tools, but this includes
only text that is spoken or written within the video. In fact, the process of transcription
provides a useful deﬁnition of textuality for my purpose: “Text”here refers to everything
in a video article that can be directly transcribed into writing. Such a deﬁnition applies
equally to words that appear onscreen and to (the verbal content of) recorded speech –
an equation that already reveals the extent to which the technology of writing shapes
our understanding of speech. I have come to see JER as a platform for experimenting
with relationship between textuality and audiovisuality through the video article form,
as well as the relationship of this form to underpinning methods and practices of embo-
died research. Through the journal, questions about knowledge and form become usefully
concretized: What are the diﬀerent ways in which textuality can be embedded within
audiovisuality? What kinds of knowledge can be articulated through this form? To
what extent can knowledge transmission be “implicit”and what do we even mean by
implicit or explicit in the context of videographic forms? The ﬁrst eight articles published
in JER, between 2018 and 2020, provide a useful window into some of the ways in which
embodied and artistic researchers are beginning to answer these questions.
Annette Arlander has pointed to the sometimes overlooked connections between
current debates in artistic research and feminist work of the 1970s on standpoint epistem-
ology and situated knowledge (Arlander et al. 343). In her video article in JER 1.1, “The
Shore Revisited,”Arlander makes use of nearly continuous voiceover alongside an
elegant montage of “performances for camera,”which show her appearing and disappear-
ing, present and absent, according to patterns of repetition that unfold over days or
months on Harakka Island oﬀthe coast of Finland (Arlander) (Figure 1). The voiceover
is complex, narrating the interaction of multiple moments that appear juxtaposed as
embedded videos onscreen. Arlander’s voice, speaking back to those moments, mixes in
the audio track with the sea and wind sounds of the earlier recordings. Written texts
also appear onscreen throughout the article: both academic quotations and fragments
from Arlander’s journal entries, as well as an occasional scrolling text within the
embedded videos, which sometimes echo and sometimes supplement the patient and
probing analysis of the voiceover. I want to suggest that there is already something queer at
work here, in the fragmentation and recomposition of the researcher’s multiple bodies –
visible, audible, and textual –as they appear and interact with each other in the article. We
might think, for example, of what Rebecca Schneider has identiﬁed as a crucial move made
by performance artists like Carolee Schneemann, who become “both subject and object at
once,”both “seer and seen,”in works that feature their own bodies but over which they
retain artistic control (Schneider 74; and see Jones). But while Schneider emphasizes
the empowering coherency of a process in which the artist sutures together both sides
of the subject/object division, I see here (as well as in Schneemann and other precedents)
something more like a generative fragmentation manifested by the interaction of multiple
elements. In “The Shore Revisited,”the juxtaposition of textual and audiovisual elements
works not to unite subject and object, but instead to unmake and remake the researcher’s
body, revealing its inextricability from time and place. Arlander, as the author of the work,
appears multiply, across multiple moments, even multiple bodies, diﬀerentiated from one
another, rather than as a coherent whole.
Across the ﬁrst eight videos published in JER, voiceover is the most common technique
by which textual information is conveyed. This likely reﬂects not only enduring assump-
tions about the necessity of propositional argumentation in research, but also a lack of
practical alternative techniques. The voiceover is clearly distinct from what it “voices
over”and, my previous point notwithstanding, to a certain extent intrinsically consolidat-
ing. This is especially the case when voiceover employs a rhetoric of explanation or
framing, speaking to the video as if from outside it. Yet the voiceover is not an external
text. It exists within the video document and remains in dialogue with it, bound to its
linear temporality. In another JER video article, “Carrying the Nest: (Re)Writing
History Through Embodied Research,”Nilüfer Ovalıoğlu Gros begins with a voiceover
in Turkish, accompanied by subtitles in English (Gros). This is already a layering of
Figure 1. Video still from Annette Arlander (2018), “The Shore Revisited.”Journal of Embodied Research
1(1): 4 (30:34). doi: 10.16995/jer.8.
TEXT AND PERFORMANCE QUARTERLY 7
two bodies: a spoken Turkish body and a written Anglophone body, both appearing
together, alongside an old photograph of a Turkish city. The Turkish voiceover is soon
accompanied by singing, even as the photo is overlaid by video showing a ﬂock of birds
in ﬂight. Later on, Gros’s own visibly pregnant body appears repeatedly as a moving
image. Throughout her article, Gros layers and juxtaposes archival images, video perform-
ance, personal recordings, and the sound of singing with textual quotations, subtitles,
references, captions, and voiceover (Figure 2). The result is a complex interweaving of
history and memory in which themes of exile and embodiment are addressed through a
decidedly nonlinear tapestry, woven into the linear form of the video article. The body
of the researcher is undeniably present here, in ways that it could not be in a written
text. Yet, the complex and layered form of the video article seems again to counter the
integrity or authority of that body, instead presenting its thorough enmeshment with
memory and history.
Falk Heinrich takes a contrasting approach in his video article, “To Be a Work Means to
Set Up a World: Into the Woods with Heidegger”(Heinrich and Wolsing). Responding
diﬀerently to the same formal problem, Heinrich speaks continually throughout the
video –in Danish, with subtitles –but not as voiceover. Rather, his speech is entirely die-
getic, originating at the same time as the primary audiovisual recording and incorporating
dialogue with his co-author as well as a ﬁrst-person testimony: “Now I am here …”
(Figure 3). This type of voicing is very diﬀerent from voiceover. More immediate and vul-
nerable, such speech is bound to the audible and visible moment of its recording, not
amenable to multiple takes or revisions. Heinrich narrates his own process as he helps
artist Thomas Wolsing in the creation of a site-speciﬁc artwork, the entire process
being recorded on a head-mounted action camera. The resulting video article is techno-
logically simple, involving minimal video editing, yet the relationships it implements
between embodiment, textuality, and audiovisuality are complex. Interestingly, the
moment when Heinrich is drawn most deeply into the physical labor of artmaking is
also a point at which the audiovisual image fades, almost disappearing behind a scrolling
text: an analysis of the moment that links it to a passage by Heidegger and which could not
have been made in the moment. Springing forth at this moment of deeply embodied
Figure 2. Video still from Nilüfer Ovalıoğlu Gros (2019), “Carrying the Nest: (Re)writing History Through
Embodied Research.”Journal of Embodied Research 2(1): 3 (23:30). doi: 10.16995/jer.23.
practice and taking over the screen, the written text simultaneously evokes embodiment
and highlights its inaccessibility to both writing and video.
These are some of the ways in which JER contributors have implemented the layer-
ing and composition of textual and audiovisual elements, aiming –I would argue –not
to consolidate an authoritative and coherent subject position but to share embodied
knowledge through complex articulations that are woven from particular, emergent
interactions of particular bodies, places, and techniques. Further analysis of JER
video articles could focus on the structure of authorship in videographic works –
where, for example, I have encouraged contributors to include as co-authors those
whose bodies and practices contribute materially to the article, even if they were not
responsible for the recording and editing process (like Wolsing in the previous
example). As JER continues to grow, every contributor faces the question of how
best to articulate their embodied research in this speciﬁc form of audiovisual scholar-
ship. However, keeping my focus here on relations between textuality, audiovisuality,
and embodiment in the video essay form, I now turn to a second set of examples,
drawn from my own work as a practitioner-researcher.
I have been creating video works since 2015, when I ﬁrst began to take seriously the idea
of video as a form of scholarship.
In these works, I have rarely used voiceover, instead
seeking other ways to compose words, images, and sounds. At ﬁrst, my approach to the
layering of textuality and audiovisuality was rigidly structured and attempted to establish
a kind of analytical authority over the audiovisual material. This is evident in one of my
ﬁrst video essays (Spatz, “Sequence of Four Exercise-Actions”), from 2015, which uses
explanatory texts, video clips, and one still image to augment and contextualize four
minutes of physical performer training that I led with two undergraduate students
The added elements essentially mount an argument for the legitimacy of
Figure 3. Video still from Falk Heinrich and Thomas Wolsing (2019), “To Be a Work Means to Set Up a
World: Into the Woods with Heidegger.”Journal of Embodied Research 2(1): 1 (19:27). doi: 10.16995/
TEXT AND PERFORMANCE QUARTERLY 9
the transmissible embodied knowledge documented in the video. They identify individuals
and exercises; draw textual and audiovisual connections between what is shown and
related practices, more or less distant; and cite scholarly works, both to provide context
for the exercises and to theorize them as epistemic objects. Although there is little
speech in the video, the absence of voiceover allows the rhythms of the practice to
become audible through the breathing of the practitioners and the sounds of their move-
ment in the theater studio. Following a convention of more distanced research, in these
textual annotations, I refer to myself in the third person.
A comparison between this video essay and a 2018 video article (Spatz et al.,
“Diaspora”) reveals how profoundly my approach to videographic composition
changed during this period, largely as a result of my intensive collaboration with
Nazlıhan Eda Erçin, Agnieszka Mendel, and a series of guest participants during the
research project “Judaica: An Embodied Laboratory for Songwork”(see Spatz, “Molecu-
lar Identities”). One of these guests, performer-anthropologist Caroline Gatt, introduced
a new way of working with books into the Judaica’s practice (see Gatt), which deeply
impacted my understanding of textuality in relation to both embodiment and audiovi-
suality. The new audiovisual embodied research method that crystallized during the
Judaica project is too complex to describe here.
However, several key diﬀerences can
be noted between the two videos, produced before and after that project:
(1) Title: In the 2015 video, the title “Sequence of Four Exercise-Actions”refers to what I
understood us to be doing at the time of the recording: a sequence of exercise-actions.
In contrast, the title “Diaspora”appeared only after the recorded session, when I
watched the video material and had a strong impulse to shape it into an exploration
of that concept. This is a major and epistemologically signiﬁcant diﬀerence in the
relationship between text and video: In the ﬁrst case, a single title or conceptual
Figure 4. Video still from Ben Spatz (2015), “Sequence of Four Exercise-Actions.”Urban Research
10 B. SPATZ
frame holds and unites both embodied practice session and subsequent video essay; in
the second, video emerges from a more open-ended process and only in retrospect
suggests a concept/title.
(2) Power dynamics: In the 2015 video, I am clearly the teacher, working with under-
graduate students, and the hierarchy of knowledge transmission is unquestioned. In
the 2018 video, I am working in a complex milieu deﬁned by shifting relations
amongst peers. In this context I am not teaching at all, but rather improvising and
experimenting in the moment.
(3) Videography: The primary video track in the 2015 video is shot on a stationary,
tripod-mounted camera, providing a sense of stability and objectivity in relation to
the documented event. In the 2018 video, the camera is mobile, wielded at diﬀerent
times by two diﬀerent members of the team (Eda and Agnieszka), both of whom
are also present as singing and moving performers in the video. This approach
oﬀers an intimate and emergent tracing of the event that is very diﬀerent from a docu-
(4) Montage: The primary video track in the 2015 video is uncut (without edits), with
additional information following along and responding to the temporality of the
documented practice. The ﬁrst 10 minutes of the 2018 video follow the same logic,
honoring the linear temporality of the practice, while the remaining 20 minutes
explore other approaches to editing, including several kinds of audiovisual montage.
(5) Parameters of the practice: The 2015 video focuses strictly on “embodied”technique:
movement-based exercises-actions in an empty room. The 2018 video incorporates
drawing materials (paper, pencils, charcoal, eraser) as well as books, intentional cloth-
ing choices (if not quite costuming), and other objects, while still retaining a central
focus on embodied practices like singing, speaking, and drawing.
(6) Textual design: In the 2015 video, all supplementary textual information appears at
the bottom of the screen in a visually separated, partially transparent bar. In the
2018 video, text is placed on screen in a variety of locations, as an element of visual
composition that responds to and even actively plays with the moving image it
(7) Textual content: In the 2015 video, the textual layer is narrowly focused on developing
a coherent argument about the epistemic status of the documented technique. The
2018 video includes much more widely ranging text, from basic information about
the participants to autoethnographic material and the repetition of words being
read or spoken aloud. At one point, video of me retelling a story from childhood is
accompanied by two simultaneously scrolling columns of text, one showing the
story in its oﬃcial, published form and the other oﬀering an autobiographical
comment about how I came to memorize that story –three simultaneous texts, if tran-
scribed (Figure 5).
In a third video work, yet to be published (Spatz et al., “He Almost …”), I have
inserted more than 50 scholarly quotations and references into a single uncut video
recording lasting 30 minutes. The result is challenging; more than one set of peer
reviewers have complained that the work fails to properly articulate any underlying
research questions or arguments. Yet for me, this video goes further than my others
toward a queer prophetic mode of articulation, foregrounding the prophetic as
TEXT AND PERFORMANCE QUARTERLY 11
embodied action and performance (Figure 6). I believe this video is perceived as illegi-
ble because reviewers expect its textual elements to frame its audiovisual elements and
this does not happen. Instead, I challenge the viewer to recognize the citations and
quotations as having been inserted into a ﬂow of audiovisual thought, just as they
would be inserted into a ﬂow of written prose. I want the viewer to recognize the criti-
cal rigor of the selection and placement of these texts as providing further depth and
context to what is already present as a ﬂow of thought in audiovisual form. This seems
possible to me because, as I placed each textual annotation, I knew that I was not
simply embroidering or decorating the raw video. Rather, I experienced myself to be
doing exactly what I do when I insert a quotation into a written article: namely,
ﬂeshing out a concept or argument by linking it to what others have said. With this
in mind, I have begun to refer to such textual annotations as “illuminations.”Reversing
the epistemic structure of medieval illuminated manuscripts, in which visual illus-
trations augment aspects of a primary textual work, in “illuminated video”it is the
inserted texts that augment, expand, contextualize, comment upon, illuminate, decon-
struct, problematize, and oﬀer generative criticism to a primary ﬂow of audiovisual
The act of inserting critical texts within a video recording that includes my own
audiovisual body seems to draw upon my entire self; or rather, it seems to combine
my selves in a way that is simultaneously deconstructive and open-ended. At the
same time, this approach breaks radically with scholarly convention insofar as my
textual voice, my writing self, does not appear. In this form of work, I rarely or
never arrive in the mode expected of a scholar or critic, as a contextualizing or expla-
natory voice. I am textually absent, an absence that I hope might stand as a challenge
to the viewer, inviting them to make connections between two other kinds of thinking:
the thinking (embodied, psychophysical, sung) that is traced audiovisually, owing to the
Figure 5. Video still from Ben Spatz with Nazlıhan Eda Erçin, Agnieszka Mendel, and Elaine Spatz-Rabi-
nowitz (2018), “Diaspora (An Illuminated Video Essay).”Global Performance Studies 2.1 (30:48).
12 B. SPATZ
combined practices of everyone who was present, and the thinking (critical, contextual,
interdisciplinary) by which I select and place quotations into that recording. In this way
of working, I cannot say that I am integrating or bringing together diﬀerent selves. The
quotations I insert do not aim to generate a synthesis. Instead, they often have a critical
relation to the audiovisual layer: unpacking, unraveling, disaggregating. In these videos,
my own documented embodiment is ampliﬁed and at the same time made vulnerable,
problematized by a host of other voices, which I have (merely) selected. This experience
leads me to ask: What would be videographic thinking if we did not assume that
thought takes place only in editing, or only in performance, but instead focused on
the relation between those moments? When I sit down to edit traces of my own audio-
visual body, must I choose between a coherent framing that consolidates and a critical
intervention that deconstructs? Must I write either with or against my audiovisual self?
I feel that I have only just begun to formulate these questions, let alone to answer them.
Going further, I suggest, will require other resources, including those to which artistic
research has thus far insuﬃciently turned, but upon which its future may depend. It is
to these “other”resources, and their challenges and invitations, that I turn in the next
3. Accounts and appearances
Since long before the audiovisual body of the researcher could make a literal appearance
within a research document (with the important exception of some ethnographic ﬁlms),
feminist thinkers have attempted to situate the knower or thinker by verbal means.
This occurs most clearly through what became, in the 1970s, a particular use of the
word “as”to declare one’s identiﬁcations as a premise for one’s arguments: “I write this
as a woman”(Cixous 875). Nancy Miller traces the evocation of the personal in a range
Figure 6. Video still from Ben Spatz with Nazlıhan Eda Erçin, Caroline Gatt, and Agnieszka Mendel, “He
Almost Forgets That There is a Maker of the World.”Unpublished work in progress.
TEXT AND PERFORMANCE QUARTERLY 13
of feminist texts that “mark the body’s presence, or personalize it; speak autobiographi-
cally or representatively”(Miller 7). The back cover of her book asks:
If according to the current protocols, every “I”must be located as an “as a”(as, for instance, a
middle-aged, white, East Coast feminist), where does what’s left over get placed in a singular
critical act? Does what’s left over get left out because it doesn’tﬁt the categories: too personal,
too embarrassing to be taken seriously?
The written “as”formulation is still in use. It is common enough that philosopher
Kwame Anthony Appiah has recently been moved to criticize it as overly reductive:
“Because members of an identity group won’t be identical, your ‘as a’doesn’t settle
anything”(Appiah). But “as”statements can also be seen as creative staging grounds
upon which emerging categories of identiﬁcation are rehearsed and performed,
claimed and established. Sarah Ahmed declares: “I write as a lesbian. I write as a fem-
inist”(214). In a more complex statement, G Patterson writes: “Positionality matters. I
write this essay as a nonbinary, trans, queer, dfab, gender-nonconforming, multi-ethnic,
neurodivergent, ﬁrst-generation academic with white-skin privilege”(Patterson 146). As
I have argued elsewhere, such a proliferation of identity terms is not merely an eﬄor-
escence of language, but a result of sustained embodied research that opens up and
reveals a territory of knowledge, which demands a new lexicon for its articulation
(Spatz, What a Body Can Do 206).
At stake in the “as”is the place of the researcher and their embodied identities in a par-
ticular work or context. For some time, the question for scholars has been how the body
and embodied practice can appear in writing,a concern that has animated not only fem-
inist theory but also anthropology (Stoller) and sociology (Wacquant) and which has
ongoing importance for trans scholarship: “How do trans and genderqueer poets write
the body onto and against the page?”(Blackston). But in emerging modes of artistic
research, something else becomes possible: The body of the researcher –or at least,
some traces of some aspects of that body –can now appear in the research audiovisually.
Not instead of but in addition to verbal identiﬁcations, the researcher’s aural and visual
appearance are increasingly traced and archived. The idea of writing “as a woman”there-
fore needs to be reexamined in light of two diﬀerent developments, which we might
suspect are related, at least historically: ﬁrst, a recognition of the incomplete and discur-
sively constructed status of the category of woman, as foregrounded by queer and trans
feminisms (Stryker and Whittle); and second, the question of how to understand the
“as”preposition when thought takes place audiovisually. In other words: What happens
to the “as”when critical thought enters the audiovisual domain? How might these
verbal or textual “as”statements be transformed by the presence of audiovisual embodi-
ment, and vice versa?
It is a habitual and commonplace assumption that how one looks and sounds should or
does not matter, especially in relation to “thought”and scholarship. This view is explicit in
technoscientiﬁc research, where it has been duly questioned by feminist and postcolonial
science and technology studies (Harding), but it is equally present in today’s“colorblind”
ideologies of race that purport to ignore visible racial identity (Catanese). Underpinning
this assumption is the idea that a person’s true or authentic qualities come through
more transparently in words than in visible or audible appearance, an assumption that
combines the modernist concept of the transcendent individual subject with a much
14 B. SPATZ
older logocentrism to imply that what we put into words is the key to our “inner”char-
acter. From that perspective, audiovisual embodiment is merely a distraction from what
one really has to say (where “say”again refers only to those aspects of speech that can
be transcribed in words). Perhaps, in a context where audiovisual embodiment is very
expensive, there could be a kind of validity to such logocentrism, insofar as writing
might be a more democratic means of expression. In such a context, it might be that
only celebrities can appear onscreen, while anyone can pick up a pen and write. But
this imbalance no longer holds, if it ever did, in a digital and audiovisual age. The fact
that so many of us now carry tiny, high resolution video cameras in our pockets only
reveals the extent to which audiovisual bodies have always mattered. The prioritization
of the written word, while in some cases perhaps justiﬁable, now starts to look like a
ﬂattening of identity that has more in common with patriarchal and colonial fantasies
of neutrality and “colorblindess”than with radical democratization.
One of the points made mostly clearly in recent scholarship about and from queer,
trans, and racialized identities, which artistic research might do well to consider more
deeply, is that audiovisual embodiment is as real an expression of the self as is the
written word. What if we were to reject “negative theories of appearance,”those that
dismiss appearance as merely superﬁcial, and instead recognize what Madison Moore
calls “fabulousness”as “creative labor, a type of ‘self-couture,’where our bodies become
the site of artistic expression and creativity”(Moore 42, 44)? What if we recognized, in
other words, that it absolutely does matter how one looks and sounds? If the prevailing
assumption is that acknowledging audiovisual embodiment will automatically reinscribe
patriarchal, racist, and ableist norms, it is nevertheless not at all clear that a predominantly
textual politics can counteract those norms. Rather, it would seem that what we need is a
radically alternative approach to audiovisual politics. If it matters how one looks and
sounds, then the politics of that mattering will depend on how audiovisuality and textual-
ity mutually construct each other in relation to that which underpins them both: embodi-
ment as life and practice. And since it is no longer possible to ignore or dismiss the
audiovisual body, that body must become a central point of analysis, debate, and interven-
tion –as happens when disallowed and abjected bodies make themselves audiovisually
present in the public sphere, contesting what Hannah Arendt called the “space of appear-
ance.”As Nicholas Mirzoeﬀwrites, regarding ongoing racist police violence in the U.S.
and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement:
Here I will call the interface of what was done and what was seen and how it was described as
“appearance,”especially as the space of appearance, where you and I can appear to each other
and create a politics. What is to appear? It is ﬁrst to claim the right to exist, to own one’s body,
as campaigns from antislavery to reproductive rights have insisted, and are now being taken
forward by debates over gender and sexual identity. To appear is to matter, in the sense of
Black Lives Matter, to be grievable, to be a person that counts for something. (17–18,
Appearance in Mirzoeﬀ’s sense, following Arendt, is not fundamentally textual or audio-
visual, but rather political. Yet textuality and audiovisuality are central modes of com-
munication through which public spheres and political actions are constructed today.
Perhaps this further clariﬁes what is at stake in the gradual troubling of distinctions
between textual and other modes of articulation within universities and other social
TEXT AND PERFORMANCE QUARTERLY 15
institutions: Writing is also appearance. Video is also thought. When we consider the
relationship between writing and video in research documents, we are not talking only
in abstract terms about what might constitute knowledge. We are also laying technological
and epistemological foundations for future institutions and the worlds they construct
The audiovisual body is not embodiment itself. It does not fully capture the body, or
fully deliver it to the archive, any more than writing does.
On the other hand, if audio-
visuality involves “signs,”these are not the same kinds of signs as words. Audiovisual
traces carry embodiment and identity, as well as histories of care and suﬀering, invisibility
and “fabulousness,”in ways that are fundamentally diﬀerent from writing. Consider, as a
further example, how José Esteban Muñoz analyzes “disidentiﬁcation”in the case of Pedro
Zamora, a participant in MTV’s television show The Real World. As Muñoz explains,
Zamora was selected for the show for reasons having little to do with his own life and poli-
tics and “his agency in this selection process was none”(152). Nevertheless, Muñoz ﬁnds
in Zamora’s audiovisual appearance the traces of “a Foucauldian ethics of the self”that
intervened in the space of appearance, taking “a leap into the social”and bringing to a
mass audience moments of queer Latinx intimacy and celebration “like none that was
then or now imaginable on television”(143, 153, 157). The site of these audiovisual inter-
ventions was highly restricted and determined by MTV’s editorial control –which, not
coincidentally, included a version of the “as”formulation in which MTV framed the
audiovisual appearance of cast members with stock identity accounts like “a Jewish cartoo-
nist from Long Island”or “a Republican Mexican-American from Arizona who is applying
to graduate school”(155). Yet what comes through in Muñoz’s account is the complexity
and instability of Zamora’s audiovisual appearance. It can neither be said that MTV’s edi-
torial power was deﬁnitive, nor that Zamora’s authenticity shone irrepressibly through.
Instead, Zamora’s appearance emerged from a series of negotiations in which the compo-
sitional framing of his audiovisual body was precisely at stake.
To clarify this point, we might also note the extent to which Judith Butler’s meditations
on “giving an account of oneself”are shaped by the assumption that such accounts will be
only or primarily textual. As in her earlier work on gender, Butler is concerned to postulate
“a subject who is not self-grounding, that is, whose conditions of emergence can never
fully be accounted for”(Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself 19). Drawing on Adriana
Cavarero, she contrasts the way that selves may be “exposed, visible, seen, existing in a
bodily way”as a “singularity,”a“being constituted bodily in the public sphere,”with
“the problem of giving an account of oneself”(33, 35). Because the relation of the self
to language is always incomplete and at least partly unchosen, “the account of myself
that I give in discourse never fully expresses or carries this living self”and the stories or
narratives that I tell about myself “do not capture the body to which they refer”(36,
38). Although Butler gestures towards a concept of “articulation”that includes “various
modes of expression and communication, some of them narrative and some not”(58),
the only sites in which the limitations of language are radically exceeded seem to be
those of actual lived encounter: either literally in public, as at a political protest, or in
the psychoanalytic scene of transference. Missing from Butler’s juxtaposition of
language/discourse and embodiment is the triangulation enacted by audiovisual modes
of articulation, in which the visual and audible singularity of the body may enter the
space of appearance in a strikingly non-narrative way.
16 B. SPATZ
if we require that someone be able to tell in story form the reasons why his or her life has
taken the path it has, that is, to be a coherent autobiographer, we may be preferring the seam-
lessness of the story to something we might tentatively call the truth of the person, a truth
that, to a certain degree, […] might well become more clear in moments of interruption,
stoppage, open-endedness –in enigmatic articulations that cannot easily be translated into
narrative form. (64)
I take it that narrative here refers not only to a coherent sequence of events but to any form
of compositional logic that might be used to assemble a verbal or textual account. Even the
most dreamlike or poetic composition of words would then follow such a logic. But audio-
visual recordings work in a diﬀerent way. They are not initiated with an act of compo-
sition, but instead use technological means to produce a functionally analogue (even if
technologically digital) trace of a lived moment. One’s body is ﬁrst of all “captured”by
the recording and only then does it become possible to edit, compose, or narrativize
that trace. As a result, the audiovisual body includes the singularity and exposure of the
self, along with its “moments of interruption, stoppage, open-endedness,”in a speciﬁc
way. Again, crucially, this does not mean that the audiovisual body oﬀers a fuller or
more complete account of the self. While “as”statements are limited by the inability of
verbal categories to capture many unchosen and unwilled dimensions of embodiment,
audiovisual traces face a diﬀerent set of challenges. Any attempt to develop an alternative
politics of audiovisuality must be aware of and responsive to increasingly dominant
oppressive and racist deployments of audiovisual surveillance (Browne). Furthermore,
because of its particular intimacy with embodiment, the audiovisual body can potentially
enact a distortion of the self that is even more violent than any verbal distortion, as seen in
the recent development of “deep fake”technologies that make it possible to show people
doing things they have never done (Schwartz). I am in no way suggesting that the audio-
visual body itself oﬀers a better or more accurate representation of the lived self, which
could supplant or improve upon that of writing. My point is that the relationship of audio-
visuality to embodiment is fundamentally diﬀerent from that of textuality; and that this
diﬀerence radically displaces what has often been ﬁgured as a dualistic division between
(physical) body and (textual) self, throwing open the question of what it might mean to
situate oneself, to account for oneself, or to appear.
If our public identiﬁcations now more often than not incorporate audiovisual modes of
appearance alongside textual ones –from the photo beside an author’s bio to the critical
juxtapositions of word and image that Mirzoeﬀanalyzes –this is not always done with the
aim of more completely or authentically accounting for ourselves, rendering ourselves
coherent, or convincingly narrating our trajectories. On the contrary, as I began to
suggest in the previous section, the juxtaposition of text and video can be implemented
in other ways, some of which might allow more “enigmatic articulations”to emerge,
which might better correspond to “something we might tentatively call the truth.”As
Mel Y. Chen writes in Trap Door, the shift from television and cinema to social media
posts and streaming video requires “moving beyond thinking merely in terms of spectacle
or visibility, and thinking more intensively about the kinds of presence that may be carved
out in a given medium”(Gossett et al. 149). Also invoking the question of form, Laura
Horak asks: “How do the parameters of YouTube aﬀect the form and content of trans
TEXT AND PERFORMANCE QUARTERLY 17
vlogs? What strategies do vloggers use to make their felt gender legible to viewers?”(Horak
572). Taking care to note that YouTube is hardly a utopian space, Horak points to the
speciﬁc strategies involved in “attempts to use audiovisual and network technologies to
grapple with the gaps between the felt body and the body as seen and heard by others”
(582). Through techniques of montage and the placement of “on-screen text to frame”
audiovisually evidenced processes (579), video blogs or vlogs can “position trans youth
as experts, implicitly contesting the expertise over trans bodies claimed by medical pro-
fessionals, educators, and parents”(574–75). Here again, it is the juxtaposition of
spoken and written textuality with audiovisuality that aﬀords new modes of articulation,
in which more or less vulnerable individuals and communities can speak not only for but
also through, around, about, and from themselves.
There is a vast archive of ﬁlm and television media across which such aesthetic and pol-
itical interventions can be analyzed. Katariina Kyrölä argues, for example, that the music
videos of Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé should be approached “not only as provocations for
thought, or objects to which theories can be applied, but as thought and theory them-
selves”(Kyrölä). Recent long-form audiovisual music video works like Beyoncé’s“visual
album”Lemonade and Janelle Monáe’s“emotion picture”Dirty Computer would seem
to further this claim. Their audiovisual dramaturgies build on a longer history and
context of narrative hip-hop and Afro-futurist sound (Eshun), which ﬁnds a new insti-
tutional leverage point in Carson’s PhD dissertation album. In approaching these
works, we are strongly compelled to hear Tinsley’s instruction, “Read this book like a
song,”alongside another: Hear this song like a book. And with such works in mind, we
might even be tempted to suppose that a queer prophetic mode of articulation is
already ubiquitous, structuring the public sphere and spaces of appearance in ways that
academia is only beginning to comprehend. Yet the limitations of commercial media pro-
duction, to which Muñoz points, remain entrenched. I return then ﬁnally to the queer pro-
phetic, as a mode of articulation that has not yet fully arrived.
4. Queer prophecy
“The prophetic,”writes Mark Ellis, “is an action. It is also a performance”(Ellis 16–17).
The fragmentation and recomposition of embodiment in works that combine textual and
audiovisual elements cannot be grasped within received understandings either of
research or of artmaking. I therefore propose that what we are witnessing in the imbri-
cation of audiovisuality and textuality is the potential for another mode of articulation, in
which fundamental principles of authorship, identity, and knowledge may be reconﬁ-
gured and reinvented. I call this mode prophetic because of how it pushes at the
limits of intelligibility, appearing in forms that might at ﬁrst seem to be merely additive
combinations, but which on deeper inspection reveal substances and possibilities that
have never previously existed. To call this “transmedia”would be to refer only to the
integration of technological platforms and not to the ethical and political potentials
that may appear through that integration (unless we intend a slippage to “trans/
media”). Perhaps multimedia and transmedia are what happens when the prophetic
potentialities of these technologies are contained within systems of alienated production
and oriented toward the experience of a “user”or “consumer.”In contrast, I call prophe-
tic the power of imbricated textuality and audiovisuality to work in the service of
18 B. SPATZ
embodiment, through roles and functions like “artistic researcher”or “scholar-prac-
titioner,”which attempt to avoid consolidating the individual as critic, as artist, or as
consumer. And this is perhaps also why I have not explicitly referenced audiovisuality
in the title of this article (as one reviewer suggested): I want to resist the instrumental
uptake of audiovisuality without its attendant queerness. I want to mark the thrill of
the audiovisual, as a medium of artistic research, with a warning, recalling and recenter-
ing its relation to embodiment: My proposal here refers not simply to the audiovisual
medium but to its speciﬁc capacities for queer prophecy.
My concept of prophecy draws on Ellis’s idea of the prophetic as a “call for justice,”a
disturbance of the peace, and “never a theoretical construct,”which demands a reckoning
with history and cuts through illusions of empire and progress (114–19). It also draws on
Cornel West’s invocation of “the Jewish and Christian tradition of prophets who brought
urgent and compassionate critique to bear on the evils of their day,”a sense of the prophe-
tic that “neither requires a religious foundation nor entails a religious perspective”(171).
The prophetic in this sense is always political, but it can never be merely a statement of
existing political will, any more than it can be a voice for established religion. The prophe-
tic cuts into the space of appearance using partly-intelligible forms that performatively
reinvent what is possible there.
For thinkers who understand political appearance as a
kind of speech act, these forms might involve new verbal identiﬁcations and narratives
of the self, including new identities “as”which to speak. A queer prophetic, on the
other hand, is more likely to articulate itself through multimedial and transmedial
forms, where textual claims and identiﬁcations are simultaneously illustrated and con-
tested by forms of audiovisual appearance. LeVan anticipates such a complex relation
between elements, when he describes a multimedia performance in which “words
encroach upon the visual space like pharmakon, at once remedy and poison”(214).
Writing about and from the “position of scholar-artist,”Dorinne Kondo invokes the
potential combination of “dramaturgical critique”and “reparative creativity”in new
forms of work (Kondo 233, 132). I would further link this prophetic potentiality to
what theorists of performance, literature, and cinema have recently evoked through
expanded critical concepts of “speculation”(Rifkin), “fabulation”(Nyong’o), and “shim-
I suggested above that the queer prophetic potential of artistic research cannot be rea-
lized unless it undertakes a fundamental grappling with the whiteness and heteropatriar-
chy of the institutions that support and fund it, as well as with its own constitution. This is
simultaneously a political and an epistemological requirement, insofar as feminist and
queer of color and Black and Indigenous theories and techniques of audiovisuality are
often far advanced, both formally and ethically, beyond those that circulate within the dis-
ciplines of institutionally unmarked (white) artmaking. The diﬀerence between textual
appearances and audiovisual appearances has major implications for what counts as
knowledge, as well as who can be recognized as an expert, and this has everything to
do with the structure and future of academic institutions. There are connections still be
to be recognized between logocentrism, whiteness, and the projects of extractive and colo-
nial disembodiment that have brought our world(s) to the brink of ecological collapse.
There are strategies to unmake the structures of academia that radically decenter the
textual, without losing its critical powers, in solidarity with broader decolonizing move-
ments. The way in which these connections and strategies develop likely depends both
TEXT AND PERFORMANCE QUARTERLY 19
on the social and political reshaping of academic institutions and on the generation of con-
crete new forms. Artistic research can contribute directly at least to the latter, by working
to queer institutional bodies and at the same time to open doors (rather than traps)
through which excluded individuals and communities might pass. Again, I return to a
practical question: What forms might these transformations take?
Historically, within performance studies, two dominant modes of appearance and
articulation have been assumed: the mode of textual discourse and the mode of what
we have called “performance.”If the queer prophetic today is neither of these, then we
may need not only to invent new forms for it, but also to question the substance and
relation of those dominant modes. In a queer prophetic mode, we do not speak directly
from our body to a public. We do not literally, physically appear. Yet neither do we articu-
late a purely textual self, a verbal self, a self deﬁned by those aspects of speech that can be
captured in words. No, this is a third relation to embodiment, a queer one: I am there, but I
am not there. My audiovisual body is my body, but it is not my body. I know it is not my
“real”body because I can cut it, splice it, delete it, distort it, and I do not feel pain. I can
make unlimited copies of this body. If it is part of me, it is on the edges of my embodiment,
like hair or nails, but even more detachable. If you privately delete a copy of my audiovi-
sual body, I will not even notice. Once those copies go out, they are no longer part of me.
Yet these bodies do not operate like textual bodies, either. It is not as easy to quote my
audiovisual body out of context. You can steal it, but you cannot (yet) make it do whatever
you want. Its mode of being is diﬀerent. The whole semiotic point about the arbitrary
relation between signiﬁer and signiﬁed pertains –and, in fact, deﬁnes –language. What
are the semiotics of representation when the body appears in multiple forms, both tex-
tually and audiovisually?
I am talking here about the audiovisual body, but a completely reinvented one: Not the
body as it appears in ﬁlm and television, but as it might appear in new forms of work built
on diﬀerent relations of production and criticality. My own investigation of the embodi-
ment-textuality-audiovisuality triad coincided with a project, mentioned above, which set
out to investigate Jewishness and ended up foregrounding whiteness also. At the same
time, I ﬁnally abandoned the lifelong burden of speaking “as”a man and allowed
myself to identify as nonbinary in the ﬁeld of gender. We could then add a further
point to the comparison I made above, between two video works: In “Sequence of Four
Exercise-Actions,”my need to explain and legitimate the transmission of embodied tech-
nique arose from a body that was still calling itself a man. By the time of “Diaspora,”the
disaggregation of epistemic powers and the surrender to a complex experimental milieu, as
well as my desire to reframe certain messy audiovisual traces under the sign of kinship and
diaspora, existed alongside new relationships to my own gender and racial identities.
These transitions are not identical or equivalent –nor are they yet ﬁnished –but
neither are they entirely separate. Did the experience of sitting down to edit and
compose my audiovisual body allow me to recognize my visible and invisible identities
in another way? On the contrary, I think it was my shifting understanding of embodiment
and identity that eventually gave me the idea to pick up the video camera –long rejected
by many body-focused theatre-makers as a pedestrian tool of intrinsically incomplete
documentation –and wield it in a diﬀerent way.
Acknowledging this connection makes me think of “punk theologian”Michael
Dudeck, whose “queer reading of religion”has led them to invent a new religion out
20 B. SPATZ
of fragments of sacred, popular, and queer sources. Observing that “virtually every
depiction of Jesus being cruciﬁed can be understood as an ancestor of performance
documentation”(“The Religion Virus”13), Dudeck’s“new, queer performative icono-
graphies”draw as much on science ﬁction and modern cults as on their own Jewish
upbringing (18, 12–16). While not identifying as trans, Dudeck’s performances invoke
forms of multispecies or alien drag, as when they perform “painted white, wearing head-
dresses and multiple prosthetic breasts”or chanting in an invented language (23). Like
me, Dudeck gravitates towards the “illuminated manuscript as a possible hybrid that
could contain both image and word,”integrating “priestly reﬂection and prophetic
frenzy”within a single work (22). I also think of Tobaron Waxman, a “visual artist
who sings”and someone who rearticulates both gender and religion through a range
of media including photography, video, installation, and performance. Waxman is a
trained cantor, or Jewish liturgical singer, whose work as a “gender diasporist”integrates
trans and Jewish identiﬁcations in nuanced ways. Responding to the trap of visibility,
Waxman notes: The “expectation that I should make a picture of my body is, I feel, lim-
iting in a potentially transphobic way.”Yet since 2012, a series of “new performance
projects involve bringing my own body back into the work”(Johnson 614, 618). It
seems right to acknowledge that, to a degree, we each speak “as”a white Jewish man.
Yet so much is left out by those words, including much that comes through, not in a
naïve authenticity of the audiovisual, but in the complex engagements and interpenetra-
tions of audiovisualities and textualities.
What is clear in the range of examples I have considered is that negotiations of gender,
sexuality, race, and other embodied and more or less visible identities play out in speciﬁc
ways as aﬀordances of the audiovisual body, contesting a space of appearance that is no
longer only or even primarily textual. While in no sense equivalent to lived embodiment,
the audiovisual body brings appearance, exposure, singularity, and vulnerability into dis-
course in ways that are not yet fully understood and which, because they will never be
directly translatable into logocentric forms of thought, may with some justiﬁcation be
called both queer and prophetic. Inventing the queer prophetic is a matter of how the
body appears in the work, where “the work”refers to whichever fragments of performance
and document make it into the space of appearance. The term “audiovisual body”is
intended to capture the paradox of these new forms, which are in a sense merely signs,
circulating independently of living bodies just like written documents, and yet also unmis-
takably bodies –as we recognize whenever we see and hear “ourselves”onscreen. Without
reducing either artistic research or the queer prophetic to a utopian fantasy, I want to
propose that, in diﬀerent ways, both of these concepts can help us to imagine a world
in which the diﬀerential vulnerability of bodies is not only declared and analyzed but
also demonstrated and contested, in forms that circulate across the boundaries of artistic,
academic, and activist ﬁelds of action.
Dare we imagine an institution that recognizes the appearance of queer prophecy in the
public sphere as an epistemic act, an act of knowledge and expertise, which requires the
support not of one-time grants or fundraising drives but of ongoing ecologies of teaching
and research? Dare we imagine the dismantling of whiteness, the decolonization of history,
and the rendering of justice as the founding principles of a research culture in which
audiovisual bodies are treated not as signs to be manipulated but as points of entanglement
through which ethical and political responsibilities accrue? It seems to me that such
TEXT AND PERFORMANCE QUARTERLY 21
imaginings suggest nothing less than a diﬀerent concept of embodiment, that is, a diﬀerent
concept of life. If the mind/body split is indeed an artifact of the technology of writing,
then “thought,”“knowledge,”and “reason”are debased whenever they are used as syno-
nyms for that which can be written. The onto-epistemological signiﬁcance of audiovisual-
ity is therefore not only to displace “mind”from its position of dominance over “body,”
but also to aﬀord entirely diﬀerent ways of making embodiment public. I do not believe
we can yet imagine the range of documents, let alone the institutions, that such alternative
ways of thinking might generate. For now, the best terms I can ﬁnd to name them are those
that combine the archaic and the novel, the lived and the appearing: artistic research and
the queer prophetic.
1. The term “cut”here is adapted from Karen Barad. For my theory of experimental and labor-
atorial research as deﬁned by “two cuts,”see Spatz, Making a Laboratory.
2. For a detailed analysis of the Journal of Artistic Research, including its origins, institutional
strategies, epistemological framework, assessment criteria, and unique web-based form, see
Chapter 11 in Borgdorﬀ(2012).
3. As of February 2021, JER has published 14 peer-reviewed video articles, including 3 compo-
site articles, each comprising 5 separate video essays, as part of a special issue (3.2) on embo-
diment and social distancing. JER is published by Open Library of Humanities and has an
interdisciplinary editorial advisory board.
4. Prior to 2015, I used video only in the mode of performance documentation, even if I some-
times found that a video “trailer”for a performance better captured its intentions than the
live event. In 2014, I took up my ﬁrst full-time academic position, moving from the U.S.
to the U.K. and encountering for the ﬁrst time a context in which the question of how to
publish “practice as research”scholarship was seriously debated.
5. “Sequence of Four Exercise-Actions”and most of the other videos discussed below are avail-
able from the Urban Research Theater website <http://urbanresearchtheater.com/>, as well
as in other contexts as cited. On the physical training shown in this video, see also Spatz,
6. For a detailed analysis of the method see Spatz, Making a Laboratory. The following point-
by-point comparison is adapted from an earlier short text that compared a three-minute
video called “dynamic rhythms”with a one-minute video called “laboratory”; see <http://
7. For a simple explanation and breakdown of the idea and implementation of illuminated
video, see “ancestors: an illuminated video,”in International Journal of Performance Arts
and Digital Media (forthcoming).
8. An anonymous peer reviewer found my claim that the “audiovisual body is not embodiment
itself”to be “contentious.”In the context of this article, it should be clear that equating the
audiovisual body with the living body would require also equating the written or textual body
with both of those, so that the tripartite relationship I am analyzing –between embodiment,
textuality, and audiovisuality –would simply collapse.
9. A similar point has been argued through many iterations of discussion around the ﬁlm Paris
is Burning (Butler, Bodies That Matter; Bailey; Moore). Ultimately, we can ignore neither the
real power of the appearance of individuals like Venus Xtravanganza, nor the economic and
editorial control over those appearances by ﬁlmmaker Jennie Livingston. At stake here are
the core power relations structuring audiovisual appearance.
10. Karen Gonzalez Rice has studied the link between prophecy and performance art, arguing
that “strategies of endurance art in the United States participate in deep traditions of Amer-
ican prophetic religious discourse”(Rice 5).
22 B. SPATZ
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author.
This work was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council [grant number AH/
Ben Spatz http://orcid.org/0000-0002-1466-6634
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