« Art Critics' Reading List


Trained as a curator and an art historian, Claire Tancons practices curating as an expanded creative field and experiments with the political aesthetics of walking, marching, second lining, masquerading and parading in participatory processional performances. She has curated for a variety of established and emerging international biennials, including as the associate curator for Prospect.1 New Orleans, a curator for the 7th Gwangju Biennale (2008), a guest curator for CAPE 09 (Cape Town) and a curator for the 7th Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art (2013), among others. She was most recently a curator for “EN MAS’: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean” (Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans 2014-15, and Independent Curators International, 2015-17) and a guest curator for “Up Hill Down Hall: An Indoor Carnival” (BMW Tate Live, Tate Modern, 2014). She is currently the artistic director of the opening ceremony of Faena Forum Miami Beach, slated for spring 2016.

Jonathan Crary. Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001.

I was tipped off by Peter Stallybrass and Allon White in The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (1986) to think that this book on perception at the dawn of the modern era in Europe referenced Carnival. It does, especially Chapter III: Illuminations of Disenchantment. In this chapter, Crary, the foremost historian of Western Modernity and its aftermath, highlights the dual nature of George Seurat’s Parade de Cirque: it is modern on account of the pointillist technique yet refers to a pre-modern European entertainment, Carnival, hinted at in the reference to the parade, and a contemporary popular pastime, the circus. The contemporaneity between Seurat’s painting and Melton Prior’s lithograph of a carnival parade in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, also from 1888 has been instrumental in helping me shape my discourse around Carnival in the Americas as a modern cultural practice and contemporary art form. This is, for instance, relayed in my most recent exhibition “EN MAS’: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean.”

Susan Buck-Morss. Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History. Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, 2009.

To me, Susan Buck-Morss’ Hegel and Haiti essay is a companion piece to Jonathan Crary’s “Illuminations of Disenchantment” chapter in Suspension of Perception. How so? I starts on the book’s cover. Buck-Morss’ daring juxtaposition of Jacques-Louis David’s The Tennis Court Oath at Versailles (n.d. circa 1791) and Ulrick Jean-Pierre’s Bois Caiman 1 (Revolution of Saint Domingue, Haiti, August 14, 1791) i.e. of contemporary revolutionary events in France and former Saint-Domingue, present-day Haiti, inspired my own juxtaposition between Seurat’s Parisian Parade de Cirque and Melton Prior’s Trinidadian carnival parade mentioned above. Buck-Morss’ aim is to demonstrate that late-18th-century Saint-Domingue more so than France lived up to the revolutionary ideals of equality for all by including the former enslaved population of African descent into the political body. Another one of her aims is to confirm long-held suspicions about Hegel’s indubitable knowledge, through masonic circles, of the Haitian Revolution and of its concealed use in shaping his famous theory of the master and slave. I root my own scholarly and curatorial work in the general framework of this philosophy of history, which conceives of a plurifocal modernity.

Joseph Roach. Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

This book is a treasure trove for anyone who is interested in the performative dimension of African diasporic aesthetics, lives in New Orleans as I do and can appreciate the cultural phenomena described by Roach on a daily basis. Roach’s book is one of the first and most eloquent expansions of Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic (1993) into the field of performance studies. In the book, one follows the tragic and euphoric representation of Self and Other along the circum-Atlantic rim, the Iroquois delegation in 18th-century London to contemporary Mardi Gras Indians performances in New Orleans. I have been a close reader of the introduction in which Roach inscribes the book within a Foucaultian genealogist framework, which I use in my scholarly work. Anyone with a knowledge of my interest in and practice of processional performance can easily understand why. Roach’s magnum opus provides me with a genealogical framework to root that interest and practice in the Black Atlantic and in African diasporic aesthetics.