The Heckler’s Promise

Mel Jordan, Lee Campbell


From gluing audience members to their seats and purposefully selling the same ticket to more than one person, artists associated with the Historical Avant-Garde often sought to provoke and antagonise by employing disruption via interruptive processes. This paper responds to Claire Bishop’s call for more agonism (Bishop, 2004) by inserting the heckler as both method and object into art performance. It is a hybrid of practice and theory, statement and response, test and experiment; it is a combination of all these things because you can’t really envisage a heckler without taking him out for the night putting him in the world and observing the exchanges that take place. We think that practicing heckling has got to be worth the aggravation. 

This paper seeks to do two things: first to explore the heckler as a ‘device’ for reassessing the potential of interruption in democratic exchange, in particular in relation to contemporary theories of art and participation and second to try it out; to put the heckler at the centre of an artwork. In short, we propose a rethinking of the heckler.  Part 1: Heckle, Hiss, Howl and Holler asks if there is something worth considering in the process of heckling for democratic exchange and, Part 2: Contract, Collaboration, Countdown and Confrontation strikes out to see what happens when you present an artwork that trials a performance about heckling via the act of heckling.  The inhospitable performance Contract with a Heckler demonstrates a complex knitting of theory and practice whereby argument is supported by the undertaking of action (by the necessity of experiencing interruption in practice) and reveals working with interruption on a theoretical, practical and emotional level can be exciting, provocative and dangerous. Exploring contractual agency through hostipitality (Derrida, 2000) wherein a host may be as hostile as she is hospitable, this performance reimagines the event of performance as an event of (in)hospitality by embodying an ambivalent conviviality and employing heckling to disrupt convivial participation (Bourriaud, 1998).


heckling; interruption; participation; transgression; performance-as-research

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