I envision my body as a meeting point, a node, where external lines of force and social determination thicken into meat and circulate as movement back into the world. So much that constitutes me I did not choose, but, now constituted, I feel myself in a place of agency. SUSAN STRYKER
Vital signs are important indications of the status of the body’s life-sustaining functions. Vital Signs is also a series of live performances and artist talks spread over the academic year at Stanford University. Focusing on elements of perfromativity, each quarter will pair artists from different generations. Assessing urgency, these artists will offer a broad approach for triaging the social body. With the use of different formal and conceptual strategies, measurements can be taken and assessments made, giving us clues to diseases and possible progress toward recovery. The series aims to highlight and showcase underrepresented performance forms such as experimental performance art, durational art, and body art, among others, by artists from underrepresented communities.

about the curator

Cassils has been listed by the Huffington Post as “one of ten transgender artists who are changing the landscape of contemporary art” and has achieved international recognition for a rigorous engagement with the body as a form of social sculpture. Featuring a series of bodies transformed by strict physical training regimes, Cassils’ artworks offer shared experiences for contemplating histories of violence, representation, struggle, and survival, often juxtaposing the immediacy, urgency, and ephemerality of live performance against constructed acts for the camera in order to challenge the “documentarian truth factor” of images. Cassils is an award-winning artist who has been featured in solo exhibitions around the world as well as in publications such as The New York Times, Wired, The Guardian, and TDR, and among others. They are the recipient of a Guggenhime Fellowship (2017), a COLA Fellowship (2017) and a Creative Capital Award (2015).


The first decade and a half of the 21st century have been transformative for performance art. On the one hand, it brought an unprecedented cultural acceptance of this art form, which is now featured in most prestigious museums and art festivals; on the other, the most recent generation of performance artists is showing a great awareness of the historicity and complexity of this form. This class aims to recognize and investigate these and other prominent features of performance art produced since the turn of the millennium. Performances featured in Vital Signs will serve as primary case studies. The class will meet each quarter for three weeks: before, during, and after the artists' visit. Students will thus have an opportunity to prepare for the visit, engage with the visiting artists, and reflect on their work. View course on ExploreCourses.


Vital Signs events are free and open to the public.


Vital Signs is sponsored in part by The Anderson Collection; the Department of Art & Art History; the Vice Provost's Diversity Innovation Fund Grant; the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education; and the Stanford Arts Institute.


Harry Gamboa Jr. + Xandra Ibarra

OCTOBER 19 + 20, 2017


Since 1972, Harry Gamboa Jr. has been working in various media/forms to document and interpret the contemporary urban Chicano experience. He was a co-founder of the East L.A. conceptual-performance art group 'Asco' (Spanish for 'nausea'), 1972-1987, and is currently teaching in the Photography and Media program at CalArts. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at Museum of Contemporary Art (2011, 2010); Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland (2009); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2011, 2008, 2001); Museum of Latin American Art (2011); Orange County Museum of Art (2011), Fowler Museum (2011); Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico City (2008); El Museo del Barrio, New York (2008); The Huntington Library, San Marino (2008); Museo José Luis Cuevas, Mexico City (2006); Centre Pompidou, Paris (2006); Museo Nacional de la Estampa, Mexico City (2005); International Center of Photography, New York (2003); MIT List Visual Arts Center (2000); Queens Museum of Art (1999); Smithsonian Institution (1997); Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen (1996); 1995 Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art; Museum of Modern Art, New York (1994); Getty Research Institute (1994); LAX/CSU Los Angeles (1994); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1979); Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City (1978). Harry Gamboa Jr. has been awarded several individual artist fellowships including the Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship/CSU Los Angeles in 2004 and the J. Paul Getty Trust Fund for the Visual Arts in 1990. He is the author of Aztlángst (2011), Fallen (2010); Rider (2009); Urban Exile: Collected Writings of Harry Gamboa Jr. (1998), and has been featured internationally in publications including Afterall, Art in America, Artnews, Artforum (Front Cover, October 2011), Modern Painters, ArtReview, BBC Mundo, Flash Art, Frieze, Poliester, and The New York Times. A permanent collection of his media works/papers has been established and archived at Stanford University (Special Collections: Mexican American Manuscript Collections, Harry Gamboa Jr. Papers, 1968-1995).
Image ©2014, Barbara Carrasco


Xandra Ibarra is an Oakland-based performance artist from the US/Mexico border who sometimes works under the alias of La Chica Boom. Ibarra uses hyperbolized modes of racialization and sexualization to test the boundaries between her own body and coloniality, compulsory whiteness, and Mexicanidad. Her practice integrates performance, sex acts, and burlesque with video, photography, and objects. Throughout her multiple works, she teeters between abjection and joy and problematizes the borders between proper and improper racial, gender, and queer subject.

Ibarra’s work has been featured at El Museo de Arte Contemporañeo (Bogotá, Colombia), Broad Museum (LA, USA), Popa Gallery (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Joe’s Pub (NYC), PPOW Gallery (NYC), and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (SF) to name a few. Recent residencies include Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, National Performance Network, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts. She has been awarded the Art Matters Grant, NALAC Fund for the Arts, ReGen Artist Fund, and the Franklin Furnace Performance and Variable Media Award. Her work has been mentioned in Artforum, Hyperallergic, Huffington Post, and in various journals internationally. She is currently co-curating a Latinx feminist performance series with Nao Bustamante for The Broad Museum.

As a community organizer, Ibarra’s work is located within immigrant, anti-rape and prison abolitionist movements. Since 2003, she has actively participated in organizing with INCITE!, a national feminist of color organization dedicated to creating interventions at the intersection of state and interpersonal violence. She currently lectures within the Critical Studies program at California College of the Arts.


Imagery of Asco (1972-1985), Virtual Vérité (2005 - 2017), and current performance works will accompany this lecture that focuses on the recent demolition of the iconic Los Angels 6th Street Bridge, the confluence of freeways, and the familiar nondescript locations that often serve as a starting point for anonymous journeys across an ocean of undulating asphalt. The swirling milieu of multiple cultures/languages of Los Angeles are in perpetual collision/melding/erasure as sudden tectonic shifts reset the clock towards countdown to consciousness. The historical relevance of events and places are subject to system loss of memory.
Drawing from John Currin’s painting Laughing Nude (1998), this performance engages the skin and skein of race. Nude and encased in a nylon skin cocoon, the performer examines the vexed relation racialized subjects have to not only one’s own skin, but also one’s own entanglements and knots (skeins) with whiteness and white womanhood. By filling this nude cocoon with paradigmatic “white lady accoutrements” (blonde hair, ballet shoes, furs, pearls, and fake breasts), the performer visualizes and embodies the skein of race, negotiating the simultaneous joys and pains of subjection, abjection, and personhood.
The Fall Vital Signs artists conclude their visit with a public dialogue and Q&A.

Nao Bustamante + Rafa Esparza

FEBRUARY 14 + 15, 2018

Nao Bustamante

Nao Bustamante is an internationally known artist originally from California and residing in Los Angeles. Bustamante's work encompasses performance art, video installation, visual art, filmmaking, and writing. Bustamante has presented in Galleries, Museums, Universities, and underground sites around the world including the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, the New York Museum of Modern Art, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Sundance Film Festival, Outfest Film Festival, El Museo del Barrio Museum of Contemporary Art, First International Performance Biennial, and more. She was an unlikely contestant on Bravo's "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist." She has received the prestigious Anonymous Was a Woman Fellowship; the CMAS-Benson Latin American Collection Research Fellowship; a Makers Muse Award from the Kindle Foundation; and the Chase Legacy award in Film (In conjunction with Kodak and HBO). She has been named a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow and Lambent Fellow; Artist-in-Residence of the American Studies Association; Queer Artist-in-Residence at UC Riverside; a UC MEXUS Scholar-in-Residence in preparation for a exhibit at Vincent Price Art Museum. Bustamante is alum of the San Francisco Art Institute, New Genres program, and the Skowhegen School of Painting and Sculpture. Currently she is an Associate Professor and Vice Dean of Art at the USC Roski School of Art and Design. Photo Credit: Eden Batki.

Rafa Esparza

Rafa Esparza received his BFA from UCLA and currently works in a variety of mediums, including installation, sculpture, drawing, painting and performance. His work was included in the Made in L.A. Biennial (2016) at the Hammer Museum; the MexiCali Biennial (2013) at the Vincent Price Art Museum; and in Native Strategies 3 at Human Resources, Los Angeles (2013). Esparza was awarded a Rema Hort Mann Foundation Emerging Artist Grant (2015), a California Community Foundation Fellowship for Visual Artists (2014) and an Art Matters Grant (2014). His work is currently featured in the 2017 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York. Image:


The Winter Vital Signs event schedule will be announced shortly. Please check back for updates.

Ron Athey + Keijaun Thomas

MAY 3 + 4, 2018


Ron Athey is an iconic figure in the development of contemporary art and performance. In his often-bloody portrayals of life, death, crisis, and fortitude in the time of AIDS, Athey calls into question the limits of artistic practice. These limits enable him to explore key themes including: gender, sexuality, SM and radical sex, queer activism, post-punk and industrial culture, tattooing and body modification, ritual, and religion. He began performing at underground galleries with Rozz Williams in 1981, in a collaboration known as Premature Ejaculation. In 1992 he began staging what was to become a performance “torture” trilogy: Martyrs & Saints, Four Scenes in a Harsh Life, and Deliverance. Recent works include Judas Cradle, Self-Obliteration, and Gifts of the Spirit: Automatic Writing, in which he explores his Pentacostal upbringing and the creation of an ecstatic experience. Also a visual artist and journalist, he recently celebrated the release of the first publication dedicated to his life and work, Pleading in the Blood: The Art and Performance of Ron Athey (2013), edited by Dominic Johnson.
Portrait by Bettina Witteveen.

Keijaun Thomas

Keijaun Thomas ( New York City/ USA) creates live performance and multimedia installations that oscillate between movement and materials that function as tools, objects and structures, as well as a visual language that can be read, observed, and repeated within spatial, temporal, and sensorial environments. Her work investigates the histories, symbols, and images that construct notions of Black identity within black personhood. Thomas examines, deconstructs, and reconstructs notions of visibility, hyper-visibility, passing, trespassing, eroticized, and marginalized representations of the black body in relation to disposable labor, domestic service, and notions of thingness amongst materials addressing blackness outside of a codependent, binary structure of existence. Thomas earned their Masters degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Thomas has shown work nationally and internationally in Los Angeles, CA; Portland, OR; Chicago, IL; Boston, MA; New York, NY; Miami, FL; and Taipei, Taiwan; Paris, France; Mexico City, Mexico; Santiago, Chile; Saskatchewan and Vancouver, Canada and the United Kingdom. Photo by Nir Arieli.


The Spring Vital Signs event schedule will be announced shortly. Please check back for updates.