In 2019, I began experiments with 360 video in relation to “Music for Human Face”, the work I was creating with and for my ex-husband Jeremy Richards. 360 video is filmed by two wide-angle lens cameras put back to back and as close to each other as possible. Between them, they are able to get a 360 degree view of the world or a scene and the two perspectives are ‘stitched’ seamlessly together using software. This decision was primarily because Jeremy had voiced concerns about doing a live performance work about kissing and the intimacy of our relationship, where kissing itself was the material. I outlined this process in the earlier chapter “Collaborative Processes”. Creating a fixed piece of video was less pressure for him, who has little performance experience. It also meant that we could make a completely different piece of art without the constrictions of a live performance in a conventional performance space. 

360 video is best experienced on a Virtual Reality headset and by virtue of its spherical nature and completeness, it creates immersion. Josephine Machon notes that within Gaming theory, immersion and presence are quite interchangeable words: “In digital disciplines ‘immersive’ is used as an adjective to describe those computer displays or systems that generate a three-dimensional image that appears to surround the user. It is also understood more generally as pertaining to digital technology or images that deeply involve one’s sense and/or may create an altered mental state.” (Machon, 2013, p.59). A VR headset would be such a display that appears to surround the user, creating a convincing illusion or altered mental state such that the user feels like they really are inside the new world.

I, like most gay men and queer people, have some trauma from the AIDS crisis. As a young person, it made the prospect of sex and intimacy dangerous, life-threatening and the future lonely. AIDS, its stigma and misinformation was weaponised by society as a whole to justify homophobia. AIDS was also weaponised by the government to exert homophobia notably through Section 28 in the UK in the year 1988 under Margaret Thatcher. It said that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" (Local Government Act, 1988). The accepted motive here was an attempt to curb the spread of the disease.

In practice, this kept young gay people like myself, isolated from others like me and living in disguise during our teenage years. The word ‘gay’ was used as a slur and an adjective for anything bad and, pathetically, I succumbed to adopting this usage throughout my school years. Simply, my body was a site of conflict. Today my perception of what my body looks like cannot be trusted; the way I see my body sometimes bears no relation to reality. My own relations to my authentic intimate tendencies and differences were hidden and shameful whilst those of other kids were public, represented and valorised. The distinction between reality and performance was not always clear to me, even now. My performance was concerned with creating particular effects and masking other weaknesses or embarrassing truths. It is apt to invoke Judith Butler’s writing on Gender here: my efforts to inhabit behaviours and deportment of a not-gay man are performative attributes of gender that “effectively constitute the identity they are said to express or reveal” (Butler, 1990, p.98). I became exhausted from performing alone, for the world and to myself. My last thoughts before falling asleep were of hope; that this would all pass. 

My wish with “Music for Human Face” with Jeremy was to present a lasting queer intimacy that showed us in different places, situations and times and doing a wide range of things, some exciting, some mundane. Too often, romantic meetings between gay characters in films, for example, are fleeting, dangerous, dark, dirty and tragic. Even acclaimed films like “Call Me By Your Name” (2017) and “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) are tragic. Furthermore, we are erased by straight actors in these films. It is simply homophobic for straight people to be paid and even win awards for embodying characteristics and behaviours for which queer people are killed, wholesale. Actors who are “brave” enough to take these roles “benefit from the diversity without actually being a part of it” (Dorado, 2021).

It was an idea of mine to weave our sexual life into this video piece also. This would be shockingly authentic and real unlike the repulsive gay-for-pay performance that takes up space in the mainstream of film, theatre and especially pornography. Gay porn, and porn in general, is a different form and interesting proposition for art-making. Porn is an exciting space already built on fantasy but made even more promising thanks to the gradual decentralisation of the industry. Platforms like “Onlyfans”, created in 2016, and “Justforfans” have dramatically altered the landscape of pornography. They have taken the power away from studios and given agency to sex-workers and porn actors, amateurs and professionals, and radically diversified porn: gay, straight and everything else. On these online platforms, subscribers pay a monthly fee to see content produced by their chosen performer(s), uploaded at the source. Use of OnlyFans exploded during the pandemic, going from 7.5 million subscribers in November 2019 to 85 million at the end of 2020 (Boseley, 2020). Similarly, there was a surge in content creators: “In 2019, OnlyFans reportedly had about 60,000 content creators. According to Mashable, an inside source informed them that this number almost doubled in March 2020. According to Variety, by the end of August 2020, OnlyFans had 700,000 content creators.” ( 

Diversity in porn has manifested not just through the races, sexual practices, body types and genders represented but now it is a more versatile space that can receive new approaches, structures, styles and ideas. Although written in 2013, Shaka McGlotten’s point is relevant: “The vast array of user-gerenated content-Web groups, cam sex, peer-to-peer (p2p) exchange and piracy, blogs, activist of fan sites, or the crowd-sourced content of XTube and its clones - have particularly empowered marginal sexual identities and embodiments to enter into pornographic production and exchange” (McGlotten, 2013, p.107).

“Blackspark” is the name of an anonymous filmmaker who is most noted for his unique, hypersexualised music videos featuring a flexible cast of performers who engage in gay sex or perform alone. A song overpowers all other audio and dialogue if there is any at all, and often the characters, known by monikers such as “Deerborn”, wear masks. They are quite artistic through the use of soft focus, lighting, music and text annotations. He began in 2010 and although he has all but disappeared now, the videos remain online. “Harlem Hookups” is another active gay porn filmmaker with a distinctive style, this time through structure, often featuring several cumshots, and through use of his signature pitch-shifted audio. “Porn reflects transformations in digital media technologies and in how we understand and employ the sexually expressed and expressive body. For her [Katrien Jacobs], new DIY netporn practices open spaces for the progressive and activist construction of alternative or queer sexual subjectivities and images, and they draw the attention of  state interests who survey and censor these new Web publics.” (McGlotten, 2013, p.104). Porn and the web, notably Onlyfans and the like, have created spaces that allow queer people to be suddenly visible within a culture that historically has tried to erase them.

Suffice to say that “Music for Human Face” was not completed and, after a conversation with Jeremy, we chose not to present our sex life in this way. I was disappointed and respectful, even glad that we had been able to consider it at all. Again, the tragedy is that our relationship did end but it was loving and sustained over some years. We had ups and downs and enjoyed the right to marry as well as the right to divorce and that is satisfying. Our relationship was not fleeting, neither dangerous nor dirty. Although the work is incomplete, it is a promising avenue of enquiry owing to the fact that the material and form seamlessly blend. The immersion creates an immediate and strong experience for the viewer. Through this immersion, I hoped that something of our intimacy, something of us would be perceptible.

To give a context for this type of bodily performance by queer bodies, I will use works by Ron Athey and Franko B. Ron Athey is a performance artist and through being diagnosed with HIV in 1986,  and because he made work with blood, Ron became known as someone whose work is about AIDS.  He has performed in clubs and galleries across the world. His work is quite difficult and usually comprises violence, bleeding and leaking. Jennifer Doyle writes on Athey’s six-hour piece “Incorruptible Flesh: Dissociative Sparkle” (2006): “In his work, Athey lies on his back on a metal table made from scaffolding. (It looks like an elevated lawn chair.) His body rests against the fat metal rods of his platform for six hours. Built into the table is a pivoting rod, onto which Athey has attached a Baseball bat, upon which he has impaled himself. He is naked and covered in bronzing lotion and vaseline. Hooks pierce multiple points in his face and are attached to leather strings to pull his skin back, turning his face into a painful (but also comic) mask. His scrotum is filled with fluid - turning his genitals into a watery, pink, feminine mass.” (Doyle, 2013, p.49).

This performance was the ten-year anniversary of the premiere that had been a collaboration with Lawrence Steger who died not long after the 1996 premiere at the Centre for Contemporary Art Glasgow. In 1994, Athey found himself at the centre of an ugly scandal after a selection of his films were shown at Minneapolis/St Paul LGBT Film Festival. Mary Abbe, who wrote for the “Minneapolis Herald Tribune” and had not seen the event, wrote about audience members fleeing a club after being exposed to HIV-infected blood where a performance was happening. Actually, the film showed a performance where “Athey cuts into Darryl Carlton’s back, pats the wounds with paper, and hangs the paper on a clothesline.” (Doyle, 2013, p.62). This story made national headlines and sparked controversy over the $150 of federal funding indirectly used by the Walker Center who was hosting this off-site event. A successful attack against federal funding being used to support politically legible work used Athey’s example cited the “spread” of sexual perversion and audiences put at risk of contact with contaminated blood (Doyle, 2013, p.62).

Franko B is an artist who was known between 1990 and 2007 for bleeding performances. These were live events where the artist would bleed from wounds he had created or from catheters inserted into his arms by medics. One notable performance “I Miss You” (2003) at Tate Modern in London saw Franko B walk up and down a long white canvas covered in just white body paint, dripping blood as he walked. Doyle, who attended, writes: “Franko B walked ceremoniously past his audience and toward a bank of photographers at the base of the aisle. The hall was dead silent, except for the mechanical whirring and clicks made by the cameras. He was lit up on both sides by fluorescent tubes edging the canvas aisle. Blood slowly dripped along the canvas and collected at his feet at each end of the catwalk, where he stood before turning around and beginning his march again.” (Doyle, 2013, p.75). Doyle (2013) comments that to her, Franko B seemed isolated and vulnerable and struggling to complete his march towards the end, causing some discomfort for many in the audience who often had to look away.

Both Athey and Franko B offer themselves and present their queer bodies as vulnerable objects, naked, leaking and wounded. On Athey’s body, Doyle writes: “It was Athey’s body that animated the homophobic rhetoric of the right-wing senator hell-bent on dismantling public funding of the arts. But if his mere body could do that, it was because people ascribed a supernatural power to that body to initiate the collapse of civilization.” (2013, p.62). What Doyle noticed about both Athey and Franko B is the way the audience became almost implicated in the performance by watching a vulnerable, phobic body undergoing violence, despite it being voluntary and even self-inflicted. Athey provided an eye-dropper for the audience to wet his eyes, which were pinned open for the duration of the performance. Doyle remarked on watching Franko B that there was an air of concern and perhaps care from the audience. These works are about the audience’s relation to them, as enablers. They may be about AIDS but there is much greater nuance that is easier to ignore. They speak of the hidden carers who tended to the bodies and needs of those dying from AIDS, a small army of nurses, friends and lovers who watched their dear ones die whilst trying to make it as bearable as possible. Doyle notes that artist David Wojnarowicz, who himself died of AIDS, was also interested in changing the audience’s relation and role to his work suggesting that he wished to turn the viewer into a witness as well as a reader and listener (p.131).

Erika Fischer-Lichte cites Marina Abramović’ performance of “Lips of Thomas” in 1975 as an example of such an artwork that puts the audience “in a deeply disturbing and agonising position that invalidated both the established conventions of theatrical performance and generally of human responses to a given situation” (Fischer-Lichte, 2008, p.12). The audience in this performance watched Abramović ingest copious amounts of honey and red wine before beginning to cut herself and flagellate and then laying on ice whilst being heated from a radiator that hung above. The audience eventually intervened and stopped the artist because they feared for her well-being. They feared the harm that she would do to herself but were frozen by the rules of performance and the fear of ruining her work of art. This dichotomy transformed the audience into actors and this transformation is precisely what Abramović highlighted through this work.

“Re-member Me” (2017) is a theatre work by Dickie Beau, that draws on audio from interviews with actors who have performed as the lead role in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” (1601). The piece gradually comes to focus on the actor Ian Charleson who took over the lead role from Daniel Day-Lewis in the National Theatre production in London in 1989, months before Charleson’s death from AIDS. Fintan Walshe writes on the solo work: “Beau’s production finds form in Charleson’s illness to elaborate a dramaturgy of contagion that insists the past infects the present.” (Walsh, 2020, p.23). Beau never lipsyncs Charleson and also only lipsynced people who were still alive at the time of writing. Beau’s use of lipsync, and lipsync in general, is an act of re-presenting a voice that is not present. The audio, in what Beau calls “a type of playback theatre, which draws on drag and spiritualist traditions to channel lost or forgotten lives, with the aim of serving as ‘a live performing archive of the missing’ (Walsh, 2020, p.25), has obviously been made prior to the performance. For Hans Belting in “Image, Medium, Body: A New Approach to Iconology”, there exists a mechanism through which this re-presencing happens. Using the ancient idea of death masks, which were used to replace a recently deceased person, a concept that has eventually developed into the modern ‘headstone’ at a grave and meant for socialising primarily, he writes: “The triadic constellation in which body, media, and image are interconnected here appears with utmost clarity. The image of the dead, in place of the missing body, the artificial body of the image (the medium), and the looking body of the living interacted in creating [iconic] presence [as against bodily presence.]” (Belting, 2005, p.302).

In my own work “The First Ladies” to use as an example, our image is the sound of Nancy Regan’s voice that comes to mean Nancy herself, our artificial body of the image or the medium is me and my moving lips, and the looking body is the audience as individuals watch me apparently ventriloquised by Nancy. 

Charlson only played the part for a month. Although he looked ill, his body was covered in Karposi’s sarcoma, and his family requested that no photos taken by the National Theatre be made publicly available after his death, most audiences were unaware that Hamlet would be his final role. He died eight weeks after he left the production. This knowledge made Charlson’s performance of Hamlet all the more impactful and Hamlet’s meditations on death especially powerful. Charlson’s Hamlet was essentially dying in front of the audiences’ eyes (Walsh, 2020, p.27). 

There was paranoia too at this time stemming from misinformation about the disease: “In some theatres, particularly those with openly gay performers, fears circulated that AIDS could be acquired via all bodily fluids, including from saliva and sweat passed around in make-up, costumes, wigs and as a result of close bodily contact.” (Walsh, 2020, p.30). Fintan Walsh continues to describe how the authenticity and plain reality of Charleson’s performance was palpable, contagious and rupturing: “Recalling Charleson deliver the line `Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt,’ the voice of actor Suzanne Bertish describes how he collapsed on the floor of the Olivier stage, to which the audience responded with a standing ovation.” (Walsh, 2020, p.28). 

During Shakepeare’s own lifetime, there were numerous devastating outbreaks of the Plague in London, killing tens of thousands, “often forcing the closure of its theatres for prolonged periods of time, including in 1581–2, 1592–3, 1603–4, 1608–9, 1609–10, 1625, 1630, 1636–7 and 1640” (Walsh, 2020, p.30). Walsh suggests that because the word “Contagion” appears several times within “Hamlet”, “it is highly possible that Shakespeare was reckoning with the plague’s real impact as well as its metaphoric force.” (Walsh, 2020, p.30). For audiences at this time, they must have been aware of the very deadly risk of gathering,  body to body, in a theatre but the risk must have been worth taking. Similarly, Walshe describes, in Charleson’s time and as we see with Ron Athey, “at the initial outbreak of the AIDS crisis in Western urban centres, some audiences and performers believed they were putting themselves at risk by attending or making theatre due to confusion and misinformation around the acquisition of HIV/AIDS.” (Walsh, 2020, p.30). Together we see that Theatre and by extension live performance had the capacity to be dangerous and actually life-threatening. This fact is demonstrated by the affective surplus generated by Charleson’s last role and Dickie’s own use of Contagion as a dramaturgical tool.


Since the beginning of human existence, there has almost certainly existed the idea that disease can easily be transmitted from one person to another regardless of whether or not the mechanism was thought to be supernatural or explained by mechanistic medicine and science. Ernest Crawley, writing in 1960, using innumerable examples from different cultures and peoples from all over the planet, demonstrates this and whatsmore, that disease is not the only thing that we can consider as Contagion: “Using the language of contagion, as more convenient, for primitive man does not distinguish between transmission of disease and transmission of all other states and properties, we find that practically every human quality or condition can be transferred to others.”(Crawley, 1960, p.90).

The modern version of this concept is the idea of role models and celebrities or perhaps even royal families - if we can be acknowledged by them, behave like them, emulate them then it is possible that we too could attain their wealth, pleasure and esteem. In the same way, parents might express concern for their child associating with the ‘wrong kids’ at school because they fear their child might adopt something of their behaviour and become one of them. I suggest we think of performance in this way too. The following from Crawley illuminates the ancient idea that by seeing something, it might be allowed to affect us: “The ‘power of the human eye’ is a case of this, and we still fear ‘influence’ by being looked at or by seeing persons and things. We prevent a child from seeing a dead person for sentimental reasons—early man did so for the more practical purpose of avoiding contagion.” (Crawley, 1960, p.90). 

Crawley’s use of the words ‘states’ and ‘properties’ can be understood to mean any attribute or quality, particularly emotion but also ailment and sickness or combination of these. “Transmission of properties can thus be effected by any portion of the organism or by anything that, in the wide view of the savage, belongs to the personality; but, conversely, as each and all of these are instinct with the life and character of the possessor, it follows that any result produced upon any of them, is regarded as done to the whole man.” (Crawley, 1960, p.90).

What the pandemic of 2020-2021 has demonstrated is just how interlinked we are as a species and how necessary contact is to our happiness and the enjoyment of our lives. Being unable to mingle, travel or meet highlights our dependency on just those things. We have been starved of ‘strokes’, that is psychiatrist Eric Berne’s (1964) name for physical contact, for an acknowledgement of another’s presence socially, or any kind of validation that might be exchanged between individuals. Touch and closeness have also become taboo in this time, even shameful, with added weight of the potential to bring down countries and economies should we spread the virus, not to mention potentially cause slow death. For Berne, without such contact or ‘strokes’, our spinal cord risks shrivelling up (Berne, 1964, p.10). Many of us resisted visiting our families, preferring not to risk it. We have learnt to wear masks and habitually disinfect our hands on entering shops or institutions. Marina Levina points out that social distancing has become the global response to the pandemic. She writes: “we are asked to develop body memory for what six feet looks and, more important, feels like”. (Levina, 2020, p.195). With friends, strangers, at home or at the supermarket, we had to learn and implement safe intimacy at a distance. “In the words of Sarah Ahmed, we are asked to affectively orient ourselves toward and away from one another, remain intimate, but at a safe distance. The importance of body memory cannot be understated.” (Levina, 2020, p.195). Anne Carson writes that “as members of human  society,  perhaps the most difficult task we face daily is that of touching one another - whether the touch is physical, moral, emotional, or imaginary.” (Carson, 2020, p.135).

For Crawley, all contacts are contagion; contacts could include sight, proximity or the like. He suggests that even intention “can form the link by actio in distans.” Using this approach, we can understand performance in a wholly different way. We might even sympathise with the misinformed paranoia of the AIDS crisis. Couldn’t a touching performance by Ian Charleson make an audience imagine, for a moment, like something of him had transmitted into them? Something carried on his delivery of the lines, his spit, his love of performing? Crawley (1960) writes: “Lastly, a man’s words—heard, reported or read—can transmit his “influence,” both in our sense and in the primitive material sense of the word; and here we have another curious illustration of the really scientific materialism of early man. A man’s kind words transmit his kind feelings; the civilised man and the uncivilised alike recognise the result in their own consciousness when they hear such words, but in the latter case material transmission has been effected.”

Here a timely way of seeing emotional affect within live performance using the language of Contagion and transmission has presented itself for consideration. This points to a new vulnerability at the site of the audience and even isolates them into individuals and groups with different constitutions and immunities. It brings a refreshed focus to the live performance, making it the site of danger and radical intimacy.

From the psychologist Elaine Hatfield (1993) comes the idea of “Emotional Contagion” that she, with Rapson and Cacioppo, “define as the tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize expressions, vocalisations, postures, and movements with those of another person’s and, consequently, to converge emotionally.” (p.96). That is to say that we “catch” emotions, expression and all sorts of bodily movement from one another unconsciously. They continue to describe possible mechanisms for this including conscious reasoning and imagination. They cite Adam Smith writing in the eighteenth century “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”: “Though our brother is upon the the imagination we place ourselves in his situation, we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him, and thence form some idea of his sensations, and even feel something which, through weaker in degree, is not altogether unlike them.” (Hatfield, Cacioppo & Rapson, 1993, p.97). They reach a fascinating conclusion that suggests whilst our conscious assessments of what others “must be” feeling were based on what the others said, our own emotions are more influenced by the others’ non-verbal cues (Hatfield, Cacioppo & Rapson, 1993, p.99).

Their findings in feedback as a mechanism for the production of emotion is most interesting for the domain of performance. They write that subjective emotional experience is affected by the activation of and feedback from facial, vocal, postural and movement mimicry (Hatfield, Cacioppo & Rapson, 1993, p.97). They cite Darwin in “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals”: “The free expression by outward sign of an emotion intensifies it. On the other hand, the repression, as far as is possible, of all outwards signs softens our emotions. He who gives way to violent gestures will increase rage; he who does not control the signs of fear will experience fear in a greater degree; and he who remains passive when overwhelmed with grief loses his best chance of recovering elasticity of mind.” (Hatfield, Cacioppo & Rapson, 1993, p.98) 

During an experiment in 1992 led by James Laird, one participant said: “When my jaw was clenched and my brows down, I tried not to be angry but it just fit the position. I’m not in an angry mood but I found my thoughts wandering to things that made me angry, which is sort of silly I guess. I knew I was in an experiment and knew I had no reason to feel that way, but I just lost control.”  (Hatfield, Cacioppo & Rapson, 1993, p.98).  Hatfield, Cacioppo and Rapson (1993) mention theatre theorist and director Konstantin Stanislavski who had also noticed that people may relive emotions when they engage in actions and behaviours once associated with them. Stanislavski writes: “Emotional memory stores our past experience; to relive them, actors must execute indispensable, logical physical actions in the given circumstances. There are as many nuances of emotions as there are physical actions.” (p.98) 

Rick Kemp writes from his position as an actor and someone who has combined rich neurological research with his own experience to illuminate the mechanisms within the body that allow for these phenomena to take place and therefore how audiences can catch the emotions portrayed by performers. Kemp begins in “Embodied Acting” by outlining the commonly held Cartesian notion of the separation between the mind and body. He explains this by suggesting, amongst other things, that in order for our bodies to function as a whole, most bodily functions and mechanisms must be hidden from our perception: “Our organs of perception are designed to conceal themselves from consciousness so as not to impede our fluid and instantaneous experience of the material world. For example, we are aware of what we see, but not of our eyes doing the seeing.” (Kemp, 2012, p.16). In just the same way, emotions are experienced as physiological states caused by the brain; the Amygdala, in response to neural information, releases hormones that produce features like increased heart rate, perspiration, or breathing pattern changes. Because we do not sense the Amygdala’s activity, it seems that the experience of emotion is part of a disembodied consciousness rather than the processes of the body. The illusion of separation between body and mind is bizarrely and paradoxically precisely because both are one and the workings of the Amygdala are hidden from our perception (Kemp, 2012, p.16).

Empathy is the name we give to the system by which we experience compassion or sympathy as an emotional response. Kemp (2012) writes that more recently the term has been used to describe a cognitive mechanism involved in unconsciously mirroring the actions and emotions of others. Robert Gordon was first to propose that we simulate the experiences of others so that we might better understand their behaviour and be able to predict their decision-making; he called this “Simulation Theory” (Kemp, 2012, p.140). 

Gordon’s theory has been strengthened by the discovery of Mirror Neurons mentioned earlier which “are neurons that fire in the premotor cortex when one executes a goal-directed action, and also when one observes a similar action executed by someone else.” (Kemp, 2012, p.141). Kemp continues to say that whilst we often reason at a conscious level about the actions and emotions of others, the mirror neuron system responses are unmediated, they are automatic, thusly to an extent “we are actually experiencing the actions and emotions of others as we watch them.” (Kemp, 2012, p.141). As mentioned, neither Stanislavski nor Michael Chekhov were oblivious to the means by which they could use an actor’s body to prompt the actor’s imagination and emotion. In Stanislavski’s studio, the young Chekhov, “asked by the teacher to enact a true-life dramatic situation as an exercise in Affective Memory, Chekhov recreated his wistful presence at his father’s funeral. Overwhelmed by its fine detail and sense of truth, Stanislavski embraced Chekhov, thinking that this was yet another proof of the power of real affective memory for the actor. Unfortunately, Stanislavski later discovered that Chekhov’s ailing father was, in fact, still alive...Chekhov was dropped from the class owing to an ‘overheated imagination’”. (Kemp, 2012, p.10). Both developed theories of acting, separately, which consider physical actions to be wholly significant in the production of a good performance and preparation for the role. To understand this we must understand proprioception. It is a cognitive feature that enables us to run without thinking much and even move in the dark. It is the feedback of information from tissue, joints, muscles etc. that includes detail about pressure, stretching, speed and rate of change (Kemp, 2012). This information travels through the nervous system along pathways that synapse at various levels and tell us how we are moving, both consciously and subconsciously. As with James Laird’s frowning man example, Kemp highlights the feedback loop through asking the reader to undertake an exercise. He asks that the reader be still in a room and try the following exercises.

Search: constantly move the eyes around the room for thirty seconds, keep the head still and keep movement random. Students usually report disorientation and nausea.

Select: repeat the search exercise but intersperse it with moment of stillness focussed on one object. When search is not related to the external environment, it feels as though one is searching one’s own thoughts, that each select is a moment where one thinks one has found information.

Shift: move the eyes directly from one selected point to another without searching for thirty seconds. Vary height and placement and tempo. (Here Kemp asks: Did it feel like you were weighing different options of action?)

Sustain: do search, select, shift then sustain on one point until you need to blink then repeat. Students often report a sense of determination or focus. (Kemp asks: did you notice your facial expression altering during the sustain? If so, this demonstrates the way in which neurological pathways operate reflexively, and how the conscious control of one feature can affect others.)

Shut: the closing of the eyelids can be a blink or sustained for several seconds - try blinking rapidly during searching. Then try the sustain sequence and introduce shut during the sustain. Students report the feeling “I can’t believe my eyes.” (Kemp, 2012, p.31)

This is one example given by Rick Kemp to demonstrate the “reflexive relationship between muscular activity and the experience of emotion” (Kemp, 2012, p.132). This is an approach that numerous theatre makers like Chekhov, Lecoq and Grotowski intuitively knew, a principle that was present in their practice before neurological research could corroborate it. Kemp (2012) writes: “Not only is character expressed by actions, but also actions create characters by altering an actor’s sense of self.” (p.132)

Max Herrmann, another theorist of theatre, writing in 1930 corroborates this too, describing such empathy as a “creative activity” on the part of the audience (Fischer-Lichte, 2008, p.35). He writes that such a creative activity resulted from a “secret empathy, a shadowy reconstruction of the actors’ performance, which is experienced not so much visually as through physical sensations. It is a secret urge to perform the same actions, to reproduce the same tone of voice in the throat.” (Herrmann, 1930, p.153).

All this is to say that there is a direct line of emotional contagion from actor or performer to audience and there is a system in place that makes it possible. Kemp points out very clearly that: “Imaginative responses to fiction, then, are to some extent the actual experience of what fictional characters do.” (Kemp, 2012, p.142). This accounts for why an audience watching a good actor can at once know that what they are witnessing is fiction yet also be totally moved emotionally by something the actor does. It accounts for my own experience of tasting iron and feeling faint when watching an extreme bodily performer like Franko B or Martin O’Brien for example, the latter makes performance work that explores endurance and injury amidst living with Cystic Fibrosis. It would also follow then to view blood, emotion, or bodily fluid in performance as similar. We see homophobia manifest in the differences in reception however. Athey’s image was dragged through federal court, feared and scrutinised whilst “Brokeback Mountain”, albeit ten years later, won a myriad of awards for presenting straight men portraying gay men. 

It is important then to note that just because we feel an emotion, it does not mean that it was always our own. In fact Doyle (2013) points out that emotions are not the property of people nor are they objects. Ahmed (2014) argues that when we think of emotions in this way, as just appearing in our consciousnesses, their production process hidden by our bodies, we risk fetishizing feelings and erasing the history of their production. 

As we all know, the Covid-19 pandemic stopped everything. It spotlighted the vulnerable and pulled us apart but perhaps galvanised us in working towards a goal. There was an uncanny resonance that Covid has with AIDS and this was felt by many of the queer people whom I know. The tragedy of AIDS is affirmed and perpetuated in the face of the numerous Covid vaccines. Why, after more than thirty years, is there still no vaccine or cure for AIDS, but several vaccines for Coronavirus were created in under a year? Marina Levina critiques the State of Texas’ Public Health campaign launched in 2020 to curb the spread of Coronavirus. Between the words ‘Stay Home’ is an outline of a house with an animated white family inside smiling composed of a man, woman and three young children of different ages. This family structure then, safe within its house, represents the safe kind of intimacy, the accepted family unit, linking whiteness, safety and normativity together. It should also be noted that not everyone has the means to be two metres apart from one another. Later on in the animation, there is an illustration of the virus spreading and seemingly to focus on an ethnically ambiguous man as the main spreader: “The encounters that spread the virus also occur within the heteronormative whiteness and nonthreatening ethnic ambiguity. It is as if the campaign cannot imagine social interactions that do not rely on preestablished heterosexual relationships and unproblematic whiteness.” (Levina, 2020, p.198). 

Levina quotes queer theorist Tim Dean’s notion of “Unlimited Intimacy” that he uses in relation to bareback sex, that is, unprotected anal sex between men. Bareback sex and the risk of, and actual transmission of HIV have been used within the community to attain a greater intimacy and even ‘kinship’. Dean argues that this subculture with ideas about intimacy and kinship and the link with barebacking emerged during a time in gay politics when marriage was the focus, that these ideas were embraced to some extent as a subversive response to, what is arguably, a heteronormative import of kinship (Levina, 2020, p.196). Levina (2020) points out that for Black gay men, and I would assume all gay men of colour, barebacking, although dangerous, is what they want within their context of surveillance, social disqualification and exclusion that they experience daily. She quotes Marlon B. Bailey (2016): “Raw sex and catching nut is a way to deal with or alleviate the alienation and feelings of worthlessness and ultimately to create a livable life. . . . Clearly, a definition of sexual health has to consist of more than reducing the risk of STD /STI infections.” 

The ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests that swept across the USA and beyond demonstrate such a dangerous intimacy. In the act of protesting together, by gathering in enormous crowds, the participants and movement as a whole declared that police brutality and white supremacy are a greater risk to their lives than Covid ever could be. 

Now, works like those in Jeppe Ernst’ “Koral” series, Offertorium: Behandling C” and “Præludium (Aftensange)” which ask the performers to touch and stroke each other or keep time through holding hands appear in this new and radical kind of intimacy. Finally, these works are dangerous! Performance is refreshed, again something to die for and maybe it always was so. When we see the performers touch each other, feel their way with closed eyes, watch their own hands, they touch us too via pathways we call empathy. This allows for us to simulate the experience for ourselves. This investigation goes some way in answering Jennifer Doyle’s line of questioning in the ‘Intimacy’ chapter. It also says something about the draw of performance in the first place and its significance in human history.

Contagion offers a relevant way of viewing live performance that encompasses cultural values, critiques them and provides a sensitive method for understanding what is happening in performance between us, that is between performer and spectator. From the perspective of contagion we can reformulate the relation of the audience to performance and to the work to one of something like mutual care, post-covid. 

These findings shape my feelings about those projects that were in-person, live works in front of an audience, from the previous chapter. This chapter was written during the pandemic. In the following chapter I present projects that took place mostly online during the pandemic without a live, in-person audience.