I COMPLETED THE MANUSCRIPT OF IN OTHER LOS ANGELESES IN FIFTEEN MONTHS— with teaching duties, regular heartaches, and many anxious voids in between. But I've been preparing to write a book like this since 1995, when I cotaught a graduate course on performance art with Ruth Weisberg, painter, professor, and dean of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California. The course, the first of its kind at USC, was an interdisciplinary collaboration between the School of Theatre and the School of Fine Arts. I thank Ruth for a fruitful journey together. My initiation into performance art had come four years earlier, in 1991, from watching Karen Finley perform We Keep Our Victims Ready in the Yale University Theater. The opportunity to teach such a fascinating and daunting subject before I recovered from my initial elation catapulted my research into a life-changing direction.
About a quarter of In Other Los Angeleses was formed in an earlier project, somewhat awkwardly entitled Otherness Naturalized: Multicultural Perfor mance Art in Los Angeles. I am indebted to the Southern California Studies Center (SC2) at USC, which granted me a Junior Faculty Research Award (1996–97) to pursue the project. The monograph answered SC2's call to turn USC into an international center of research known as the L.A. School, focusing on the city's specific urban environment as a laboratory to examine the political, economic, sociological, ecological, educational, and cultural issues confronting the contemporary United States. I thank SC2 Director Michael Dear for his support and for introducing me to my editor Stan Holwitz at the University of California Press. I also acknowledge another grant
USC has been a good host to many of my intellectual and artistic ventures. I thank my School of Theatre colleagues, who have welcomed my presence in their midst, especially Dean Robert Scales, who has consistently supported my work; Rod Menzies, who reminded me of the grammatical imperative to pluralize “Los Angeles” in my title; and Endesha Ida Mae Holland and Velina Hasu Houston, my “sisters-in-arms.” My thanks also go to Suzanne Grossmann Scales, for her friendship and her comments on my writing; to Vincent Cheng and David Román, both from the English Department, for reading and critiquing my writings on performance art; and to Gloria Orenstein, from the Gender Studies program and Comparative Literature Department, for her marvelous stories and her words of consolation. I acknowledge my special appreciation for David James, from the School of Cinema-TV. I met David during his guest lectureship in Taiwan University just before I came to USC, and he has remained a resourceful friend and a mentor. Through David'srecommendation, I found my research assistant Karen Voss, a Ph.D. candidate in film studies, who has been ingenious and tireless in helping me acquire most of the illustrations for the book.
My passion for words and my sensibilities in art owe much to my training in two academic institutions: the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at National Taiwan University and the School of Drama at Yale University. I thank all my professors at these two schools, especially the novelist Wen-hsin Wang, Chun-yün Chen, the wonder woman, Leon Katz, the Michelangelo of all lecturers, and the critic Richard Gilman. They taught me the difficult pleasure of writing.
My work on performance art is inseparable from my experience as an immigrant who came to study theater arts in this country. For one whose native language is other than English, I could not do what I do today without a line of wonderful people who pulled me out of my periodic blindness and dared to allow me into the light. I am grateful to Joyce Josephy, the administrative assistant who was a surrogate mom during my years at Yale, as well as to my fellow students Susan Jonas, who raved about my “fine mind” before anyone else did at Yale, and Nadine Honigberg, who read through my dissertation on Antonin Artaud during my desperate hours of isolation. The spirit of Artaud hovers over my book.
I must also acknowledge the generous grants from New York's Asian Cultural Council, which supported the doctoral work that set the foundation for my performance research. I am happy to express my gratitude to David De Rose, who offered me my first teaching experience as a teaching fellow at
I have great appreciation for all the editors who have shepherded my work to the world. As the performance review editor of Theatre Journal, Susan Mason of Cal State L.A. urged me to write on Laurie Anderson in 1995, which helped launch my career as a performance art writer. Ted Shank of Theatre-Forum commissioned me to write an article on Sacred Naked Nature Girls, which led to a constellation of three different pieces on this group, including Chapter 6 of this book. I also thank TDR: The Journal of Performance Studies, Text and Performance Quarterly, and Routledge for permission to reprint portions of my writings previously published with them.
At the University of California Press, I have been privileged to work with Stan Holwitz, whose enthusiasm and unfailing encouragement made the bookwriting process a delightful conceptual hike. I am grateful to Sue Heinemann of the Press, who read some of my drafts long before I submitted my final manuscript. I also owe much to the generous assessment of my manuscript by Marguerite Waller, a presenter for UC Press. These editors' kindness and critical insights have blessed my book.
My entrance into performance art coincided with the raising of my feminist consciousness and a heightened awareness of my marginalized cultural status. I've noted my intellectual debts throughout the book, but I wish to acknowledge my inspiring personal encounters with four brilliant women: Amelia Jones, Kristine Stiles, Carolee Schneemann, and Peggy Phelan. Their writings and art have had a profound influence on my performance art explorations. I am especially grateful to Amelia for her astute critique of my manuscript; her intellectual fellowship made the book revision process serious fun.
My deep regards and appreciation go to all the artists whose performances, imagination, and dedication have graced my book. I thank them for their generosity in sharing their time, thoughts, memories, and archives with me. They have enriched my habitation in L.A. with gifts of art. Their particular contributions to my book are marked in individual chapters. Here a special note of love is due to my dear friend artist Toti Mercadante O'Brien, who has read my entire manuscript and touched it with her thought-provoking dialogue.
The fullest of my heart I reserve for my family. I thank my parents, Shu-King Cheng and Yu-Jen Su, who have loved, nourished, disciplined, consoled, and reassured me, allowing me to pursue what I want to do most in my life— writing—even though my writing has kept me from their company. I thank my extraordinary younger sister, Nailing Judy Cheng, for a beautiful child-hood growing up arm in arm together. I am indebted to her for taking care of our parents all these years and for helping me in every possible way, including
My book simply could not be without a trinity of guardian angels who have kept me alive, urged me to overcome demons of sterility and self-doubts, and embraced me with their love, confidence, and tender words so that I could move forward. I thank Moira Roth for her miraculous e-mail messages and her champagne phone calls. I pushed myself to finish each chapter in order to write an electronic progress report—with the subject word “Done”—to Moira. I thank my healer Araina, whose wisdom and visions saved me from my pre-book depressions and watched over my navigation through a most trying time. I acknowledge Araina—and the Author of her power—for making me appreciate my being. How shall I name the one who is always there with me, meddling with everystream in my consciousness, nudging me westward, and making me his home? The one without whom this book would have given me no joy and the day no light? Nonchi Wang, my most devoted critic and architect from amphibian Arc, our joint design studio, once described me as his “second mind and third eye.” I cannot conceive of a better phrase to describe his partnership in my life and work. Hethinks my thoughts and I write his words. Together we make the L.A. that made us.