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Survival of the Sickest, the art of Martin O’Brien



Survival of the Sickest, the art of Martin O’Brien is the first book bringing together writing and documentation on Martin O’Brien and marking ten years of his work.

The book includes photographs and essays by philosophers, performance scholars and art historians including Alphonso Lingus, Amelia Jones, Amanda Lopez-Kurtz, Jareh Das, Yetta Howard and Gianna Bouchard, as well as Martin’s own writings.

Martin O’Brien is best known for his long durational solo performances and collaborations with the pioneering body artists Sheree Rose. His work draws upon his experience of suffering from cystic fibrosis. His performance and video art is concerned with physical endurance, disgust long durations and pain base practices in order to address a politics of the sick, queer body and examine what it means to be born with a life-threatening disease, politically and philosophically.

“While many books are celebrated as ‘timely’, Survival of the Sickest demands more of the word: to sound out at volume the urgency and necessity; the love, guts, lungs, glitter, mucus of Martin O’Brien and the work he makes drawn from his experiences of suffering from cystic fibrosis (CF). Published in the year his life expectancy (30) was reached, and exceeded, this extraordinary book – of both critical writings and performance documentation since 2011 – somewhat coincidentally marks, and subtly calls to attention, O’Brien’s significant age. The book exists then on the threshold of another kind of (life)time and plunges its reader deep into this sensorial temporal moment, with the late artist Bob Flanagan – himself a CF sufferer – appearing and reappearing throughout the book: a rebellious presence, a spirit guide, through the pages. In O’Brien’s own words he and Flanagan meet as atoms, as “little dots” beginning to join across history in constellation. This most powerful writing provokes thinking forward to O’Brien’s own future-as-history and the legacy of his own work, when others might find him through this book, as a shape in the distance: a dot, an atom, a star.” – Ella Finer, researcher

Survival of the Sickest has been supported by Artsadmin, Arts Council England and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation.

Published by Live Art Development Agency, 2018. 148 pages, Paperback with colour images throughout.

ISBN: 978-0-9935611-2-2

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