To be perfectly honest I’d never heard of a performance memoir before I read Experiments in Joy, the second book by author and artist Gabrielle Civil. I was only nudged to pick up this book after booking Civil as a guest on The Stacks. In the case of Experiments in Joy, a performance memoir is a mix of letters, conversations, performance notes, photos, stage directions, criticism, and poetry to tell a fractured story of Civil’s life as an artist. It covers a handful of her performance pieces and gives them a fuller context than simply seeing the piece live.
I’ve never read anything like this book, and as a reader I oscillated between enjoying Civil’s process and being annoyed at having to read descriptions of things I would much rather be watching. The how of these pieces coming together was much more interesting to me than the actual what (think excerpts of scripts) that was sprinkled through out.
Civil is very honest and open with her audience, allowing us to read intimate letters from past collaborators and lovers. She shares insecurities in her own work and confronts her process head on. She also shares her joy and anxieties, her successes and reflections.You get to know her, and like her, through her process. This isn’t the kind of memoir where you hear about Civil’s childhood (at least not too much). It is more a memoir of the work itself as opposed to the person, though those things become inextricably linked when dealing with performance art.
Like in a collection of poems, some sections resonated with me and sparked interest, others were mere blips on my radar as I read toward the end of the book. I think that is ok. It doesn’t all have to land, and the sections can be read alone or in the context of the entire book.
If you’re an artist or someone who likes to grapple with the art of creation this book might spark something in you. If you’ve heard Gabrielle on The Stacks, you might likewise be intrigued to read this book. Hearing her speak about this book, and her first book Swallow the Fish, made me understand her work and the genre of Performance Memoir a lot better.
- Paperback: 276
- Publisher: Civil Coping Mechanisms (February 15, 2019)
- 3/5 stars
- Buy Experiments in Joy Amazon or IndieBound
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