Animate Entities: Objects in Performance

The Museum of Everyday Life - photo by Gabe Levine

This research project looks at the lives of objects in performance in a variety of contemporary contexts. I examine homemade, non-official museums that display and transform everyday, vernacular objects. In thinking about these collections, I am especially interested in the play between exhibition and performance, and the way that they animate the affective lives of those who encounter them. The research is in part a collaboration with the Vermont-based Museum of Everyday Life and its curator, Clare Dolan. A first article from this project, “The Museum of Everyday Life: Objects and Affects of Glorious Obscurity,” was published in the Journal of Curatorial Studies in their Fall 2015 special issue, “Curating and the Affective Turn.”

Another component of this project was a performing arts event, Animate Entities: Objects in Performance, held at the University of Toronto on March 18-19, 2016, sponsored by the Jackman Humanities Institute and the Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies. This two-day festival brought together a group of artists, scholars, curators, poets, and puppeteers, who place the performative lives of objects at the centre of their work.

I am now beginning an examination of parade- and procession-based performance projects, titled Moving Splendour: The Aesthetics and Politics of Contemporary Processional Art. My catalogue essay "On Splendour: Elements of a Procession (for Marlon Griffith)" was recently published in Marlon Griffith: Symbols of Endurance (2017), and received an honourable mention in curatorial writing from the Ontario Association of Art Galleries. “Before the Flood: Moving with the Tide By Side procession in Miami Beach” (2018) was published in liminalities: a journal of performance studies, in a special issue on the video essay.

Practice: Repetition, Rehearsal, Collective Action

Practice cover

This project investigates one of the slipperiest terms in contemporary thought and art-making: practice. Its various inflections – from practice as daily repetition, to practice as collective transformation – echo through conversations in art and theory, and have a special meaning for practitioners in the performing arts. Along with Marcus Boon, I edited Practice, a volume in the Whitechapel Gallery/MIT Press series Documents of Contemporary Art (published in February 2018). We are currently launching the book with events in London, Berlin, and Toronto, with further events and publications to come. 

“Boon and Levine have assembled an engaging collection of short essays, manifestos, interviews, impressions and expressions, which together explore the rich density of “practice”. It is about art, and will fascinate anyone who experiences politics, philosophy and everyday life as forms of artistry — as artistic “practices” that repeat, hustle, experiment with, fly free from, and play with established subjectivities, cruelties, virtues. A bracing and marvellous book.” — Jane Bennett, Professor of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University

“To move from competency to fluency to freedom takes some practice, but just what that entails — as this volume makes clear — is more than technique. Personal desires comingle with social questions, so that whether working solo or in coalitions of the like-minded, having a practice is always a dynamic process of situating oneself in the world. And as writers from across a wide spectrum offer here, when embodied consciousness and impassioned commitment take hold, practice as a way of working becomes a way of being." —Mary Jane Jacob, Director, Institute of Curatorial Research and Practice, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

“Political, philosophical, poetic, aesthetic and critical, Practice will be of great use to anyone working with and thinking about this most dominant (but obscure) of terms. The texts collected here are fresh and provocative. From magic to high art theory, structuralism to anarchism, Boon and Levine have collected the most vital words on the “practical turn” in art, and many other ways of thinking about practice besides.” — Nina Power, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Roehampton

Art and Tradition in a Time of Uprisings

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra, Purim 2012 - Photo by John Bell

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra, Purim 2012 - Photo by John Bell

This book project, which grows out of my dissertation research, investigates the reclamation of cultural practices that supposedly belong to the collective past. Focusing on performance in present-day settler-colonial North America, the book offers alternatives to the dominant modes of appropriating “tradition” as heritage or property. Its central chapters put into constellation three projects: a queer, festive and politicized reclamation of Jewish ritual; an Indigenous remixing of several musical traditions; and a food movement that revives traditional techniques of fermentation. In their various ways, these experiments grapple with tradition across profound gaps in historical and cultural continuity. In so doing, they work through complex histories of colonization, shame, discontinuity and damage, while moving toward spaces of shared capacity and collective action.

The book is under contract for publication by MIT Press in spring 2020. In the meantime, an early version of one chapter (“Remixing Return: A Tribe Called Red’s Electric Pow Wow Bounce”) was published “The Work of Return,” a special issue of TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies (2016).