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Risk Work

Making Art and Guerrilla Tactics in Punitive America, 1967–1987

Risk Work

Making Art and Guerrilla Tactics in Punitive America, 1967–1987

How artists in the US starting in the 1960s came to use guerrilla tactics in performance and conceptual art, maneuvering policing, racism, and surveillance.
As US news covered anticolonialist resistance abroad and urban rebellions at home, and as politicians mobilized the perceived threat of “guerrilla warfare” to justify increased police presence nationwide, artists across the country began adopting guerrilla tactics in performance and conceptual art. Risk Work tells the story of how artists’ experimentation with physical and psychological interference from the late 1960s through the late 1980s reveals the complex and enduring relationship between contemporary art, state power, and policing.
Focusing on instances of arrest or potential arrest in art by Chris Burden, Adrian Piper, Jean Toche, Tehching Hsieh, Pope.L, the Guerrilla Girls, Asco, and PESTS, Faye Raquel Gleisser analyzes the gendered, sexualized, and racial politics of risk-taking that are overlooked in prevailing, white-centered narratives of American art. Drawing on art history and sociology as well as performance, prison, and Black studies, Gleisser argues that artists’ anticipation of state-sanctioned violence invokes the concept of “punitive literacy,” a collectively formed understanding of how to protect oneself and others in a carceral society.

264 pages | 12 color plates, 39 halftones | 7 x 8 1/2

Art: American Art, Art--General Studies

Black Studies


“Risk Work is a masterful rethinking of US contemporary art since the 1960s, revealing how ‘guerrilla tactics’ constituted an interface between conceptual and performance-based art and the state’s intensified expansion of racialized policing. Gleisser offers a complex and theoretically rigorous model for historical research wherein state documents speak of the arts, just as the history of state-sanctioned violence can be found in artists’ archival papers.”

Chon Noriega, Distinguished Professor, UCLA

Table of Contents

Introduction. Punitive Literacy and Risk Work
1 Hit-and-Run Aesthetics: Asco, Chris Burden, and Relational Geographies of Risk, 1971–1976
2  Deputized Discernment: Adrian Piper, Jean Toche, and the Politics of Antiloitering Laws, 1974–1978
3  Rethinking Endurance: Pope.L, Tehching Hsieh, and Surviving Safety, 1978–1983
4  “¿Why Won’t You See Us?”: The Guerrilla Girls, PESTS, and the Limits of Anonymity, 1985–1987
Epilogue. At the Edges of Guerrilla

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