Agent for change : catalyzing the subject in Adrian Piper’s Catalysis VII

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Madera, Arin Frances

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The subject of this thesis is American artist and philosopher Adrian Piper’s 1971 performance Catalysis VII, one of eight performances in her Catalysis series conducted between 1970 to 1971 in various public and semipublic spaces in New York City. In Catalysis VII, Piper made plastic and nonfunctional alterations to her body and presence. She walked through the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Before Cortés exhibition, chewing and blowing an unusually large amount of bubble gum and allowing it to adhere to her face and clothes. She traversed the city carrying a purse filled with ketchup and keys, a wallet, a comb, and other items, occasionally opening and digging through the bag. On public transportation, she rummaged through the purse for change and fetched a mirror to check her face. Inside a women’s restroom at Macy’s department store, she combed ketchup through her hair. Finally, she coated her hands with rubber cement and browsed a newspaper stand. In this thesis, I explore Piper’s use of the medium of performance and the ways in which she engaged her physical presence in meaning-making in her art. Through an analysis of the series and other works by Piper, I examine how Catalysis VII potentially functioned as an agent for change for the external subject, or the people in her shared social space, and the internal subject, or Piper herself.



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