Unlimited action

The performance of extremity in the 1970s

By Dominic Johnson

Unlimited action


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-3551-3
  • Pages: 232
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £18.99
  • Published Date: December 2018
  • BIC Category: Art History, Theatre Studies, Literature, Theatre studies, ART / History / Contemporary (1945-), PERFORMING ARTS / Theater / General, ART / Performance, C 1970 To C 1980, The arts / History of art & design styles: from c 1900 -, The arts / Performance art, The arts / Theatre studies
  • Series: Theatre: Theory - Practice - Performance


Unlimited action concerns the limits imposed upon art and life, and the means by which artists have exposed, refused, or otherwise reshaped the horizon of aesthetics and of the practice of art, by way of performance art. It examines the 'performance of extremity' as practices at the limits of the histories of performance and art, in performance art's most fertile and prescient decade, the 1970s. Dominic Johnson recounts and analyses game-changing performance events by six artists: Kerry Trengove, Ulay, Genesis P-Orridge, Anne Bean, the Kipper Kids, and Stephen Cripps. Through close encounters with these six artists and their works, and a broader contextual milieu of artists and works, Johnson articulates a counter-history of actions in a new narrative of performance art in the 1970s, to rethink and rediscover the history of contemporary art and performance.


'A deeply fascinating, wide ranging and hard-thinking book about material often seen as "difficult" or "extreme". If I wanted one single guide who could reliably lead me through material which is so often misrepresented, I'd turn to Dominic Johnson, who surely is one of the most astute, knowledgeable and hard-thinking commentators on contemporary performance practices.'
Simon Shepherd, Professor Emeritus of Theatre, CSSD, The University of London

'With Unlimited action: The performance of extremity in the 1970s Dominic Johnson brings his incisive mind to 1970s performances that point to or beyond art's (and the body's) limits. The book is invaluable in expanding our understanding of the work of key artists, including Ulay and Anne Bean, but also in addressing how extreme performances echo and amplify the volatile political texture of US and UK societies in a key decade for the expansion of contemporary art beyond the object.'
Amelia Jones, Robert A. Day Professor, Roski School of Art and Design, University of Southern California

'Dominic Johnson's work engages performance art of the 1970s that sought to defy conventional notions of life and art. The case studies within each chapter form a sort of history. Not a linear narrative, but rather, a constellation of extremities that revel in their distance from the institutional frameworks that contextualize each performance.'
The Drama Review


Introduction: Performance - action - extremity
1 The preferred ordeal
2 A criminal touch
3 The dirtying intention
4 Impossible things
5 The art of sabotage
Conclusion: Reckless people


Dominic Johnson is a Reader in Performance and Visual Culture in the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary University of London

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