The legal layover
: regulating and rearticulating queer, racialised and non-normative intimacies and bodies in performance 1970–2019

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines how queer, racialised and non-normative intimacies and bodies are rearticulated and re-embodied in what I term ‘the legal layover’. This dissertation understands the law as a biopolitical, regulatory framework that controls and circumscribes people’s lives. In particular, I focus on performance from 1970–2019, focussing my discussion on the following artists: Tehching Hsieh, Linda Montano, David Wojnarowicz, Every Ocean Hughes, Isaac Julien, Trajal Harrell, Suzanne Lacy, Teresa Margolles, Ana Mendieta, Emma Sulkowicz, Tino Sehgal, Adrian Piper, Hannah Black and Juliana Huxtable.1 I argue that these artists create performances to resist (in most cases) and challenge the law through the ‘legal layover’, as a formal trace that relates to, conjures, and references the law, which draws us to that which exceeds the law. Through the ‘legal layover’, the artists explored in this thesis aim to challenge and critique the law, using performance and its formal properties to challenge the ways that the law functions as what Michel Foucault might think of as an insidious ‘norm’. 2 One of the main assertions of this thesis is that certain subjects are made unduly precarious and vulnerable through systems of ‘justice’ and the law, for example, as I explore in Chapter Two, survivors of sexual, gendered and racialised violence. The artists explored in this thesis rearticulate the aesthetics and the logics of the law—whether this is through verbal contracts, crime scene photography, contracts, or through sequences of courtroom dramas—to produce a legal layover that actively resists how the lives of queer, racialised and non-normative subjects, are often constrained by such normative modes of regulation. The law’s governance of queer, racialised and non-normative subjects and intimacies is relentless, and the legal layover produces an otherwise: a space to disarticulate, articulate, embody and re-embody such injustices, in order to negotiate and rearticulate possibilities for other ways of living. I argue that this layover gestures us towards other forms of life, sites where we can work through the law’s pleasures, vulnerabilities, difficulties, and the potential harm that the law causes. I conclude by considering the possibilities of why artists rearticulate and re-embody a system that is detrimental to their flourishing, focusing specifically on what might be at stake in disrupting ‘the smooth deployment of regulatory power’.3

1 During the process of writing this thesis, Emily Roysdon changed her name to Every Ocean Hughes and still uses the pronoun she/her. I have changed my use of Emily Roysdon to Every Ocean Hughes throughout, however, where I reference sources that use her name previous to her name change, I retain the name Emily Roysdon.

2 Michel Foucault, ‘Right of Death and Power Over Life’, in The History of Sexuality Volume One: An Introduction, trans. by Robert Hurley (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978 [1976]) pp. 133–160, p. 144.

3 Tim Dean, ‘The Biopolitics of Pleasure’, South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 111 (2012), pp. 477–496, p. 479.
Date of Award1 Jul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAlan Read (Supervisor) & Lara Shalson (Supervisor)

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