Actional Poetics – ASH SHE HE (Book)

The Performance Actuations of Alastair MacLennan, 1971–2020

Authoritative study of the Scottish born artist Alastair MacLennan who has achieved worldwide renown as a performance artist. Includes comprehensive visual documentation of his performative practice drawn extensively from his archival resources, with essays from leading national and international scholars in the field. 350 colour illustrations.


New Books Network (New Books in Art) interview with Sandra Johnston, Brian Patterson and Alastair MacLennan


A retrospective monograph of Alistair MacLennan’s performance art practice, its influence on the Belfast art scene, and its relationships with wider art histories. This new book is the most comprehensive and complete legacy monograph about Alastair MacLennan’s extensive performance practice

Alastair MacLennan is emeritus professor of fine art, School of Art and Design, Ulster University in Belfast. He is one of Britain’s major practitioners in live art, and travels extensively in Eastern and Western Europe, also America and Canada, presenting ‘Actuations’ (his term for performance/installations).  MacLennan is a founding member of Belfast's Art and Research Exchange, of Belfast's Bbeyond performance collective and is a member of the performance art entity Black Market International. He has represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale (1997) and is an honorary associate of the National Review of Live Art, Glasgow, Scotland.

There is a wide variety of approach in the essays, ranging from descriptive to interpretive. Some set the work in historical context and others provide pertinent biography. This variety is appropriate – and perhaps even necessary – in looking at the work of a living artist whose work is particularly complex. The selection of essays presents a complex body of work in an understandable way, with each writer allowed to address the art in their own terms. Placing the work in historical context is important but presenting MacLennan as an influential teacher is also important.

Includes a significant contribution from Adrian Heathfield (professor of performance and visual culture at Roehampton, UK) who has written an extended essay on MacLennan’s oeuvre, focusing on its use of materials and its creation of sculptural environments. Discussing the artist’s deployment of slow-time action and contemplative space, Heathfield sees MacLennan’s work as activating sustained contact with the elemental and locates MacLennan’s work as a significant intervention in performance art history globally and discusses the politics of its engagement with local history, violence, social conflict and memory.

The primary readership will be academics, researchers and scholars working in performance art and contemporary art in general. Also valuable to students in performance art, visual arts and related practices.

Of relevance to academics and artists in the interrelated fields of performance art, art and philosophy, critical theory, conflict studies and Zen philosophy.

Dr Chérie Driver is a lecturer in art theory at Ulster University. Driver has worked as a painter, arts administrator and as a researcher on a number of collaborative research projects in the area of ‘art and its locations’ and specializing in art in contested spaces and art and documentation.

Dr Sandra Johnston is a visual artist from Northern Ireland active internationally since 1992, working predominantly in the areas of site-responsive performance and installation. Johnston’s actions have often involved exploring the aftermath of trauma, through developing acts of commemoration that exist as forms of testimony and empathetic encounter.

Dr Paula Blair is a researcher, writer and podcaster who experiments with performative written and spoken documentation of live performance art.

List of Illustrations

Introduction: Actional Poetics – ASH SHE HE: The Performance Actuations of Alastair MacLennan, 1971–2018

Sandra Johnston and Paula Blair

Alastair MacLennan: Troubled time

Nick Stewart

‘Maybe you don’t need the paintbrush…?’ In conversation

Declan McGonagle and Alastair MacLennan

Elemental qualities in the work of Alastair MacLennan

Denys Blacker

Sensible transcendence

Chérie Driver

Alastair MacLennan: A life seen as a form of pedagogy

Brian Connolly

‘Sometimes you need help from other people’s ghosts’: Alastair MacLennan’s multi-disciplinary and ‘instituting’ practice as civil action

Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes

Alastair MacLennan: Universal nomad

Nigel Rolfe

Actuations: Alastair MacLennan’s influence on Bbeyond

Brian Patterson

Tender dwelling in the strewn

Adrian Heathfield

What shall we ask for? Considering the transformative moment in Alastair MacLennan’s Actuations

Sandra Johnston

Death, transience and duration – Alastair MacLennan

Helge Meyer

Proximity and perpetrators: Reflecting on implications of registering perpetrators in the performance art of Alastair MacLennan

Dominic Thorpe

Triple-AAA: Alastair MacLennan, Adrian Hall & André Stitt

Spectral Arc, Vanishing Point and Memoranda: Hauntology and atemporality in performances 2011–13

André Stitt

Precarious aftermaths

Paula Blair


Notes on Contributors 

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