Pleading in the Blood: The Art and Performances of Ron Athey

Published by Live Art Development Agency and Intellect Books, 2015

Hardback 28cm x 21 cm, paperback 17cm x 23cm, 248 pages, colour images throughout

Trade Orders: Intellect Books, see our Distribution page for more information

“Johnson’s committed, affectionate, and generous volume does an extraordinary job of paying homage to Athey, of grappling with the complexities of live art, and of doing justice to the wildness of belief that is perhaps the key theme in Athey’s work and in his contentious critical reception.”

 “ … a wonderful and rich example of how to do a history of performance art… Without a doubt, the standard for any future writings on Athey will be the challenging, poly-vocal, and powerful testament offered by Pleading in the Blood.”

Contemporary Theatre Review, 2014

“While Johnson alludes to Athey’s biography, the performance artist is given space to tell his own childhood which is fitting as both now literary image and visual image are under Athey’s control.  The whole book appears a lesson in discipline. It seeks to dispel myth. It wants to get the record straight.”

Richard Maguire, Lambda Literary Review


Ron Athey is an iconic figure in contemporary art and performance. In his frequently 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 Athey to explore key themes including gender, sexuality, radical sex, queer activism, postpunk and industrial culture, tattooing and body modification, ritual, and religion.

Pleading in the Blood includes three newly commissioned essays on different aspects of Athey’s work by Adrian Heathfield, Amelia Jones, and Dominic Johnson. These scholarly essays are complemented by shorter texts by Homi K. Bhabha, Jennifer Doyle, Tim Etchells, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Matthew Goulish, Lydia Lunch, Juliana Snapper, Julie Tolentino, Alex Binnie, Catherine (Saalfield) Gund, Bruce LaBruce and Catherine Opie, along with a hand-written text from Robert Wilson. The book also includes Athey’s own writings, including new pieces and hard-to-find archival texts.

The publication is lavishly illustrated with full-colour images by photographers including Catherine Opie, Manuel Vason, Elyse Regher, Slava Mogutin, Dona Ann McAdams, Bruce LaBruce, Rick Castro, Sheree Rose, Edward Colver, Jennifer Precious Finch, and others. Antony Hegarty (Antony and the Johnsons) has written a foreword to the publication.

About Intellect Live

This publication is the second in the Intellect Live book series. Intellect Live is a collaboration between Intellect Books and the Live Art Development Agency on influencial artists working at the edge of performance. The series is characterized by lavishly illustrated and beautifully designed books that are created through close collaborations between artists and writers, and that are the first substantial publication dedicated to the artists’ work.

View other titles in the Intellect Live series.