performing (as) waste, sticky care in feminist materialist performance and curation

  • Bettina Elisabeth Knaup

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This doctoral thesis is based in my curatorial practice and engages with feminist and queer artists who are inspired by and explore discarded matter, materials and bodies. Engaging with waste and death, dwelling in landfills, morgues, kitchen and wastelands, these artists create connections to that which is not meant to be seen, felt, touched, smelled or be attended to, questioning the dualism between vital life and dead, inanimate (waste) matter.
Challenging Western waste habits built on distance, disposability and denial these artists experiment with waste intimacies and different forms of knowing and relating. Considering performance art as well as curatorial practice as a field for embodied knowledge production, this study explores the following questions: What performative modes of knowing in relation to matter do these artists develop and experiment with? What does it take to respond to these practices curatorially, to curate in a complex web of more than human relationalities and to consider waste in curating? How can performance and curation engender and enable “ongoingness” (Haraway) or a “methodology of continuing” (Ukeles), while facing indeterminacy, uncontrollability, vulnerability and destruction?
While following a path towards performative and curatorial waste intimacy inspired by these artists, I have been turning to scholars and writers from very different fields such as feminist materialist ecological philosophy, science and technology studies, discard studies, performance studies and curatorial studies. What the gathering of these artists and the related readings suggest, is that matter’s vitality cannot be captured by a focus on (biological) life alone, but also transcends the assumed boundaries between life and non-life. It also brings to the fore a focus on specific sticky waste matters - sticky no-thingness - rather than abstract flowing materiality. While these sticky waste matters might be ‘alive’, such liveness entails not only “kicking” (Barad), “dancing” (Haraway) or “acting” (Folkers, Bennett), but also, I argue, remaining, sedimenting, accumulating, lingering, waiting, decomposing or deteriorating. A more diversified imaginary of material liveness and of the event emerges here, which extends beyond life and non-life boundaries.
The artists and works are inhabiting, questioning or experimenting with such boundary layers between life and non-life. Their work resonates with scholars who have fundamentally troubled the imaginary of such boundaries ranging from the skin or membrane which delineates a bounded body or organism (Braidotti, Barad, Povinelli), to the ground imagined as the boundary between the world of the living – bios – and the world of inanimate matter – geos (Stengers, Latour, Danowski & Viveiros de Castro, Haraway, Ingold). Following the leaking, sticky waste matters that cannot be contained nor externalised or eliminated, matters that are hard to grasp and to know, I argue that the artists explore modes of call and response that involve excessive, “tentacular” (Haraway), more than human touch and care. Their work resonates with authors reflecting on matters of care, proposing a-subjective, haptic, durational and sticky modes of knowing with care (Puig de la Bellacasa, Haraway). Artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook for instance has created long durational performances in the presence of the dead, questioning the ‘epidermal fiction’ of contained bodies and instead experimenting with ‘becoming decomposition’. Mierle Laderman Ukeles has been engaging with the ground, questioning the fiction of the wasteland or waste-sink as groundless outer space and instead has experimented for decades with modes of inhabiting such wasteland in proximity. Sarah Vanhee has experimented with durational forms of ‘suspending discarding’ and ‘excessive handling’ on stage and in the studio. My research is based in and proceeds through a curatorial approach. I have been developing three curatorial methodological concepts: curating as middling-muddling, curating as sticky care and curating no-thingness. This has implied giving up curating as overviewing, surveying, ordering or categorising, and instead suggests to attend to lateral, peripheral, transitional relations. This curatorial modality resists detecting and delineating but rather attends to leaking, muddy, sticky form at the threshold of its continuous unforming. While it is based in movement, it does not imply to cross far distances, but rather alludes to sinking into, to inhabiting, giving in to the strands, streams, tendencies or forces accumulated in this particular muddle. What has emerged is not formlessness, but a non-cohering open form. Following the many unrealised proposals and potentials of some of these artists, considering their durational ‘method of continuing’, their urgencies against the forces of impossibilisation, I have proceeded in the idiom of mpossible curatorial proposals. These proposals are written as if they were possible, imagining and preparing collective materialisations.
Date of Award19 Nov 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
  • University of Roehampton Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship
SupervisorAdrian Heathfield (Director of Studies) & Giulia Palladini (Co-Supervisor)


  • Feminist performance
  • art and waste
  • feminist curating
  • care

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