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Performing the bio-urban in Bonnie Ora Sherk’s The Farm and Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s Flow City

Woynarski, L. (2020) Performing the bio-urban in Bonnie Ora Sherk’s The Farm and Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s Flow City. Performance Research, 25 (2). pp. 124-131. ISSN 1469-9990

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1080/13528165.2020.1752585


The current dark ecological context has prompted resurgence in debate about the concepts of hope, despair, responsibility and urbanism. Both Bonnie Ora Sherk’s The Farm (San Francisco 1974-1980) and Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ work at the New York Sanitation Department (1976-present), revision human/more-than-human relationships and interactions, conceiving of an urban community as made up a multiple species and people. Their work provides models for radical coexistence, breaking down reductive urban/nature and nature/culture binaries. Recontextualising these formative performance works in light of contemporary developments and an intersectional ecological analysis, I argue they act as key sites for addressing critical issues of urbanisation and ecology. We are living in the urban century as global patterns of urban migration mean that more than half the world’s population now live in cities. Given this growth, cities represent vital landscapes for ecological thought. However, the longstanding ontological distinction between the city and the natural world has led to the growth of cities in ways that do not always support long-term human and non-human life, health and wellbeing. My concept, the bio-urban, invokes the ecological vibrancy of the city and considers humans (and nonhuman species) in urban habitats as active participants of ecology, from an ecomaterialism position. I utilise the bio-urban as a conceptual framework to draw together expanded practices of performance from Sherk and Ukeles, to challenge the false urban/nature dichotomy and replace the clichéd image of eco performance as a reverential walk through a ‘green and pleasant land’. Both artists take an intersectional approach to urban ecology, which nuances and informs the bio-urban. In ‘dark’ times of ecological uncertainty, performance can be a site to challenge destructive thinking, bringing to light invisible relationships, blindspots, imaginative utopias and alternative possibilities for what it means to coexist today.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:90431
Publisher:Taylor & Francis


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