Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)




Iain Kerr

Second Committee Member

Kirsten Jacobson

Third Committee Member

Gene Felice


In this thesis, I’m using deliberate performativities as a way to track how spaces, people, and narratives can open to multiplicity. I’m creating a system for myself that moves away from restrictive narrative and toward a sense of openness and wonder that invites the complexities of the world to push back, suggesting emergent processes of knowing and being.

I’m consciously addressing my various orientations to the world as embodied collective states of making meaning. How we stand, sit, gesture, love- these active body orientations shape our thinking. I’ve developed a strategy of generative failure, forgetting, and getting lost to move through ideas with openness toward multiplicity rather than conclusions. I’m using both traditional modes of performance and more abstracted or displaced ideas of performativity via relational work to reemphasize the emergent process of making, as well as the unique subjective dynamics of each moment and each grouping of people and objects. Performativity is a useful concept here as it describes not only an awareness of faux realities (theater, drag, etc) but also as it encompasses the process of becoming aware of ourselves in everyday life; a moving-while-thinking. Performativity leads to orientation, which is the root of our semiotic understandings of self and world.

To consciously use performativity as a tool is to adapt to a sense that there isn’t a solid center, just an endless braiding of moments, identities, and realities that create a flexible semiotic of meaning. This is a particular sense of performativity that enfolds and speaks through identity politics, especially around issues of gender, sexuality, class, and race, activating them as dynamic forces in a semiotic system in the making. The process of representing bodies as meaningful markers of cultural and social identities is a slippery and well traversed terrain, and I’m using representation performativity here as a way to destabilize the idea of a deep internal truth in identity as prescribed by cultural systems, and instead, as a way of reengaging the sense of making-while-doing, of articulated embodied experience.

In this work, a flexibility of orientation emerges, which allows for a nuanced and compassionate vocabulary for deliberate performance and also for relational experience. There’s a queering (in the sense of sideways muddying) of traditional expectations of movement, relationships, desires, and identities in opening up multiplicity. Queer in the sense of non-linear and anti-capitalist in regards to emotions and understandings of self. As Gordon Hall says, “ orientation toward ourselves and one another in which we make the bare minimum of assumptions about the uses and definition of our own and one another’s bodies.” Empathy is a valuable tactic here because it insinuates a state of receptivity. A body in a state of empathy is a fleshy receiver for whatever is said, felt, heard, touched, imagined. Empathy is the state of readying for transformation.

Ultimately, this thesis is deceptively simple: to articulate a vocabulary of kinesthetic and emotional empathy- for living in a skin that reaches out yearning for information and possibility, not certainty.