Dead history, live art: encountering the past with Stuart Brisley

Recently, there has been a remarkable convergence between performance art and history, with the ‘historical turn’ in performance art mirrored by a ‘performative turn’ within history. This raises the question: can performance itself be considered historical knowledge? This article pursues this question through the work of Stuart Brisley, the English multi-media artist well-known for his durational works from the late 1960s, some of which were also feats of physical endurance. Brisley’s oeuvre engages with a number of historical conflicts. It also radically questions the authenticity of the live event and its primacy in our understanding of both performance art and history. Drawing on unpublished testimony, this article considers the uses of history in Brisley’s work, focusing on the French Revolution. In particular, it assesses Brisley’s use of the 10-day week of the French revolutionary calendar as a durational framework for a series of works from the early 1970s to the present.