The Performing Observer (Book)

Essays on Contemporary Art, Performance and Photography

Collection of short, critical writings on contemporary art, performance, and photography written over the course of two decades. These include essays and interviews, profiles and reviews. They were originally published in a variety of settings, including art magazines and exhibition catalogues, online journals and websites. 49 b&w illus.


The Performing Observer is a collection of short, critical writings on contemporary art, performance, and photography written over the course of the past two decades. These texts were originally published in a variety of settings, including art magazines and exhibition catalogues, online journals and websites.

A wide range of global practitioners are analysed, from emerging to established artists. As the title suggests, Patrick feels that he is simultaneously performing a role while observing and writing about the field. The intention is to present a well-informed but jargon free survey of many significant developments in contemporary art and culture. Among the artists discussed are: Francis Alÿs, Laurie Anderson, Chris Burden, William Eggleston, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol.

The book examines an important series of interconnected contemporary art practices. Layering writings on performance-based work, material forms and photography, it positions performance within a larger context. The artists selected are genuinely international with a strong focus on the southern hemisphere, and are grouped together in sections Patrick calls Performance, Photography, Publicness, Video, Books and Exhibitions.

It aims to make sense of a specific modality of art making with an interesting - and to a degree unspoken - interest in art writing itself. Both elements are compelling separately but especially so together.

Accessibly written and especially approachable for a range of interested readers. It offers scholarly and critical depth while retaining a writing style that will appeal beyond a strictly scholarly audience. It will appeal to readers closely involved in contemporary art theory and practice, whether students, artists, academics or simply curious to know more.

Martin Patrick is an art critic, historian, and writer, and a contributor to a wide range of international publications. He writes on interdisciplinary practices, performance, and experimental uses of media in contemporary art.

List of Figures
Original Sources of Publication
Preface: The Performing Observer

1. Chris Burden, Iggy Pop, and the Aesthetics of Early 1970s Performance Art (2004)
2. Laurie Anderson’s Adventures in George W. Bush’s America (2005)
3. David Cross’s Confounding Hybridity (2018)
4. Richard Maloy: Try and Try Again (2010)
5. Victoria Singh: The Waiting Room (2014)
6. Interview with Artist Catherine Bagnall (2015) 
7. ‘My Life Is One Big Experiment’: A Conversation with Laurie Anderson (2020)

8. Francis Alÿs and Photography: Snapshots from an Indefinite Vacation (2007)
9. William Eggleston on Film (2006)
10. ‘Vaguely Stealthy Creatures’: Max Kozloff on the Poetics of Street Photography (2002)
11. Vantage Points and Vanishing Spaces: Ann Shelton (2008)
12. Imagined Landscapes and Subterranean Simulacra (2011)
13. Gregory Crewdson: In a Lonely Place (2013)
14. On Taryn Simon’s 2007 series An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2010)
15. On the Recent Photographs of Simon Mark (2010)
16. Talking Around (and Around) Yvonne Todd (2012)
17. Cindy Sherman: Morphing Changeling (2016)

18. Encounter (2009)
19. On False Leads, Readymades and Seascapes (2008)
20. Hope Is Not About What We Expect (2011)
21. Echoes, Signs, Disruptions (2015)
22. Billy Apple: Mercurial Consistency (2015)
23. Reorientations (2018)

24. Shannon Te Ao: A torch and a light (cover) (2015) 
25. Watching Sean Grattan’s HADHAD (2015)
26. On Mike Heynes: Video Art, Animation and Activist Critique (2016)
27. Pat Badani: [in time time] (2008) 
28. Bogdan Perzyński: Selected Photographic Documents and Video Works (2011)

29. Clement Greenberg: Late Writings ed. Robert C. Morgan, University of Minnesota Press, 2003
30. The Experimental Group: Ilya Kabakov, Moscow Conceptualism, Soviet Avant-Gardes, Matthew Jesse Jackson, University of Chicago Press, 2010
31. Parallel Presents: The Art of Pierre Huyghe, Amelia Barikin, MIT Press, 2012
32. Performing Contagious Bodies: Ritual Participation in Contemporary Art, Christopher Braddock, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012
33. It’s the Political Economy, Stupid: The Global Financial Crisis in Art and Theory, eds. Gregory Sholette and Oliver Ressler, Pluto Press, 2013
34. Zizz! The Life and Art of Len Lye, in His Own Words, with Roger Horrocks, Awa Press, 2015

35. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (2003)
36. Robyn Kahukiwa (2012)
37. Sad Songs (2005) 
38. Shona Macdonald: Simmer Dim (2010) 
39. Craig Easton: Collapse (2009)
40. 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012)
41. Simon Starling: In Speculum (2014)
42. Chris Heaphy’s Kaleidoscopic Eye (2012) 
43. Niki Hastings-McFall: In Flyte (2013) 
44. Simon Morris: Black Water Colour Painting (2015) 
45. Dan Graham: Beyond (2009)
46. Richard Long: Heaven and Earth (2009)
47. Split Level View Finder: Theo Schoon and New Zealand Art (2019) 
48. Elisabeth Pointon’s Pop Problematics (or the Customer Might Just Be Wrong) (2020)
49. Warhol: Immortal (2013)
50. Is It the Beginning of a New Age? (2016)


'Drawing from his encyclopedic grasp of the visual arts and popular culture, Martin Patrick conjures up previously unexplored associations between art, rock music and film in these cogent essays on contemporary art. Whether characterizing visionary photographer William Eggleston as “unequal parts of William Faulkner, Jerry Lee Lewis and Hunter S. Thompson” or handily comparing conceptualist Chris Burden’s extreme performances to those of Iggy Pop, Patrick’s critical examinations of artworks and artwords are jargon-free, brimming with witty musings, elastic but never overstretched.'

Barry Blinderman, writer, educator, lecturer and musician

'Martin Patrick is the humane professor I want to stare down the end of twentieth century art days with. With him, I’m ready to face Anne Noble’s “Ice Blink” and the environmental and political corrosion now everywhere on the horizon. In The Performing Observer, Patrick captures art’s odd adjacencies and taxonomies, from Iggy Pop stage diving and writhing to a retrospective of senior Aotearoa painter, Robyn Kahukiwa. Amongst it all, a self-portrait of Patrick emerges: a kindly ophiophilist standing in a snake pit, without the antidote. Incisive and alive.'

Megan Dunn, author of Tinderbox and Things I Learned at Art School

'Retaining an approachable writing style that will appeal to an arts orientated reader whilst offering scholarly and critical depth is a hallmark of The Performing Observer. Engaging with a unique selection of artists, Patrick discusses performance, photography and material forms, speaking indirectly on how to develop and maintain a writing practice in the contemporary arts.'

David Cross, Deakin University, Australia
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