Appointed As

Institute for Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


Arizona State University

PhD Field of Study

PhD, Performance Studies, New York University

Dissertation Abstract

"Uncertain & Uncollectible: Jack Smith Performs the 'Hatred of Capitalism"

Uncertain & Uncollectible: Jack Smith Performs the “Hatred of Capitalism” examines the performances of queer artist Jack Smith (1932–1989). Best known as a filmmaker, his work “Flaming Creatures” (1963) has been canonized for its transgressive representations of gender and sexuality, and for the fact that, following censorship of this film, Smith never completed another work of art. Smith was strongly against art’s commodification and specifically against having any of his work collected. Yet I argue that the refusal to put an end to any of his projects is more than a reactionary gesture, but rather a constitutive aspect of an aesthetic of uncertainty the artist developed, a way of theorizing and performing a queer anti-capitalist politics.
My project fills in the historical record on a largely overlooked queer artist of the American avant-garde. Following his death from AIDS-related illness in 1989, Smith’s estate remained in limbo until it was acquired by the Gladstone Gallery in 2008, and my project is the first of its kind to engage these primary records which contain crucial production notes, scripts, and other ephemera for the countless performances Smith staged or planned between 1957 until 1989. Yet in taking up Smith’s performance work, I also confront the paradox that his performances are best known for the way Smith staged an ambivalence about performing—working slowly, obsessing over his sets, rehearsing his lines in front of his audience—such that he never seemed to arrive at the moment of his own advertised event. Building on both classical and contemporary historical materialist theory, I argue that Smith’s uncertainty is not a symptom but rather a way of performing within the stultifying contradictions make art under late capitalism. This argument is followed out across five chapters. Chapters one and two unpack Smith’s abiding critique of capitalist through its queer framework of refusing to become a “sex issue of the cocktail world.” The last three chapters present close readings of specific media in Smith’s archive, attending first to his early color photographs (1957–1962), then his multimedia “theatrical slideshows” (1968–1977), and finally a never completed theatrical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, arguably Western canon’s most infamous uncertain subject.