The Mythic Being and the
Aesthetics of Direct Address
Adrian Piper confronts racism, sexism, and xenophobia by di-
rectly addressing the viewer with evidence of his or her respon-
sibility for them. This is a method Piper began to explore as early
as 1968, when she made artworks revealing the conditions of
the viewer’s experience. She developed the practice in Cataly-
sis, embracing performance to reach viewers directly, outside
of the gallery or museum where expectations are mediated by
discourses of art history and criticism. In 1970, she explained
why she made unannounced performances: “The strongest im-
pact that can be received by a person in the passive capacity of
viewer is the impact of human confrontation (within oneself or
between people). It is the most aggressive and the most threat-
ening, possibly because [it is] the least predictable and the least
controllable in its consequences.”1 In her Mythic Being perfor-
mances, Piper adapted her approach to engage critically with
popular representations of race, gender, sexuality, and class,
challenging viewers to accept personal responsibility for xeno-
phobia, discrimination, and the conditions that allow them to
To accomplish this goal, since 1975, Piper has reprised the
Mythic Being to ask viewers whether they bear responsibility
for him. In 1987, for example, Piper—dressed as the university
professor she had become, in turtleneck and sweater—began a
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