Performing Image

Performing Image

By Isobel Harbison

An examination of how artists have combined performance and moving image for decades, anticipating our changing relation to images in the internet era.





An examination of how artists have combined performance and moving image for decades, anticipating our changing relation to images in the internet era.

In Performing Image, Isobel Harbison examines how artists have combined performance and moving image in their work since the 1960s, and how this work anticipates our changing relations to images since the advent of smart phones and the spread of online prosumerism. Over this period, artists have used a variety of DIY modes of self-imaging and circulation—from home video to social media—suggesting how and why Western subjects might seek alternative platforms for self-expression and self-representation. In the course of her argument, Harbison offers close analyses of works by such artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Yvonne Rainer, Mark Leckey, Wu Tsang, and Martine Syms.

Harbison argues that while we produce images, images also produce us—those that we take and share, those that we see and assimilate through mass media and social media, those that we encounter in museums and galleries. Although all the artists she examines express their relation to images uniquely, they also offer a vantage point on today's productive-consumptive image circuits in which billions of us are caught. This unregulated, all-encompassing image performativity, Harbison writes, puts us to work, for free, in the service of global corporate expansion. Harbison offers a three-part interpretive framework for understanding this new proximity to images as it is negotiated by these artworks, a detailed outline of a set of connected practices—and a declaration of the value of art in an economy of attention and a crisis of representation.


$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262039215 256 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 23 b&w photos


  • Required reading for anyone interested in the intersection of performance art and moving images.

  • Performing Image will prove to be a valuable addition to the performance studies bookshelf.

    The Drama Review


  • “Harbison's timely and incisive book probes our spectral projections of the digital image as an extension of the self: as identity, and labor. She deftly charts our seduction by, and service to, the power of the image, and analyzes the approaches of a number of key contemporary artists who have anticipated and reimagined the 'Janus face' of media consumption tied to our role as producers. Harbison asks essential questions about how artists intervene in these addictive circuits which are altering our social bonds, and how they imagine new ways in which we might shape our futures in such a territory. Her book provides a very current, and original take on this territory, and her deep engagement with contemporary art practice is brought to bear upon our ordinary, daily practices.”

    Catherine Wood

    Senior Curator, International Art (Performance) at the Tate Modern

  • “As we attempt to make sense of the increasingly dizzying speed and volume of images, Isobel Harbison's volume provides a usefully speculative history for where we find ourselves today. Highlighting the ways artists have worked with and against representation by playing in spaces between live and captured performance, hers is not the usual dire prognosis of all-encompassing spectacle and consumerism. Instead, while acknowledging the intensities and appetites of high capitalist culture, she insists on art's place in producing values that are strictly defined by neither.”

    Johanna Burton

    Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Engagement at the New Museum in New York City