Pleading in the Blood (Book)

The Art and Performances of Ron Athey

Edited by Dominic Johnson

Ron Athey is an iconic figure in the development of contemporary art and performance, frequently questioning the limits of artistic practice. Pleading in the Blood explores how Athey’s visceral practice foresaw and precipitated the central place afforded sexuality, identity and the body in art and critical theory in the late twentieth century.

Series: Intellect Live


Ron Athey is an iconic figure in contemporary art and performance. In his frequently bloody portrayals of life, death, crisis and fortitude in the time of AIDS, Athey calls into question the limits of artistic practice. These limits enable Athey to explore key themes including gender, sexuality, radical sex, queer activism, post-punk and industrial culture, tattooing and body modification, ritual and religion. This landmark publication includes Athey’s own writings, commissioned essays by maverick artists and leading academics and full-colour images of Athey’s art and performances since the early 1980s. The diverse range of artistic and critical contributors to the book reflects Athey’s creative and cultural impact, among them musician Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons who contributed a foreword.

Dominic Johnson is a senior lecturer in the Department of Drama at Queen Mary University of London and the editor of Pleading in the Blood: The Art and Performances of Ron Athey and It's All Allowed: The Performances of Adrian Howells. 

Foreword – Antony Hegarty

Introduction: Towards a Moral and Just Psychopathology – Dominic Johnson

Gifts of the Spirit – Ron Athey

'There are Many Ways to say Hallelujah!' – Catherine (Saalfield) Gund

'Does a Bloody Towel Represent the Ideals of the American People?': Ron Athey and the Culture Wars – Dominic Johnson

Bombs Away in Front-Line Suburbia – Homi K. Bhabha

Deliverance: The 'Torture Trilogy' in Retrospect – Ron Athey

The Irreplaceable Bodies: Resistance Through Ferocious Fragility – Julie Tolentino

Athey-ism, Collaboration and Hustler White – Bruce LaBruce

Sex with Ron – Jennifer Doyle

The Man and His Tattoos (By the Man Who Did Them) – Alex Binnie

The Milk Factory on Winchester – Matthew Goulish

Flash: On Photographing Ron Athey – Catherine Opie

How Ron Athey Makes Me Feel: The Political Potential of Upsetting Art – Amelia Jones

Raised in the Lord: Revelations at the Knee of Miss Velma – Ron Athey

Joyce: The Violent Disbelief of Ron Athey – Lydia Lunch

Judas Cradle: Invasive Resonance – Juliana Snapper

Illicit Transit – Adrian Heathfield

By Word of Mouth: Ron Athey's Self-Obliteration – Tim Etchells

The New Barbarians: A Declaration of Poetic Disobedience from The New Border – Guillermo Gomez-Peña


“Pleading in the Blood offers a remarkable and enduring contribution to literatures on performance and contemporary art... The potency of myth in Ron Athey’s work is the problem tackled by this formidable new book.”

Contemporary Theatre Review

'The seventeen extensive essays from underworld luminaries of art and music attempt to nail Athey’s ethos and individual practice ... This book being undeniably a celebration of Athey’s life.' 

Trebuchet, Drum Major Russell MacEwan

'The performance artist is given space to tell his own childhood which is fitting as both now literary image and visual image are under Athey’s control. The whole book appears a lesson in discipline. It seeks to dispel myth.'

Lambda Literary, Richard Maguire

'A beautifully illustrated catalogue raisonné in which Athey’s extensive oeuvre is analyzed, placing him alongside Jean Genet, Antonin Artaud and Yukio Mishima, as well as contemporary art-world figures Chris Burden and Bob Flanagan.' 

John Killacky, American Theatre

'This collection is, remarkably, the first such set of essays devoted to Athey’s work, studded with, even more remarkably, photographs from across a career characterized by a resistance of the production of images and traces generally associated with the business of performance art.'

Rain Taxi, Spencer Dew

'Without a doubt, the standard for any future writings on Athey will be the challenging, poly-vocal, and powerful testament offered by 'Pleading in the Blood'.'

Contemporary Theatre Review, David J. Getsy

'What I admire most about 'Pleading in the Blood', and Athey’s work in general, is its deep embrace of the paradoxical, the “impulse to experience the miraculous” through the enactment of “visual atrocity” deriving from the alchemical—the artist’s ability to turn the epic failure of a family prophesy into its own form of revelation.'

Jane Ursula Harris, Cultural Politics
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