Performance art is an artwork or art exhibition created through actions executed by the artist or other participants. It may be live, through documentation, spontaneously or written, presented to a public in a Fine Arts context, traditionally interdisciplinary. Performance art, also known as artistic action, has been developed through the years as a genre of its own in which art is presented live. It had an important and fundamental role in XX century avant garde art.
It involves four basic elements: time, space, body and presence of the artist, and the relation between the creator and the public. The actions, generally developed in art galleries and museums, can take place in the street, any kind of setting or space and during any time period. Its goal is to generate a reaction, sometimes with the support of improvisation and a sense of aesthetics. The themes are commonly linked to life experiences of the artist themselves, or the need of denunciation or social criticism and with a spirit of transformation.
The term performance art and performance became widely used in the 1970s, even though the history of performance in visual arts dates back to futurist productions and cabarets from the 1910s. The main pioneers of performance art are artists such as Carolee Schneemann, Marina Abramovic, Ana Mendieta, Chris Burden, Hermann Nitsch, Joseph Beuys, Nam June Paik, Yves Klein and Vito Acconci. Some of the main exponents more recently are Tania Bruguera, Abel Azcona, Regina José Galindo, Tehching Hsieh, Marta Minujín and Petr Pavlensky. The discipline is linked to happening, the Fluxus movement, body art and conceptual art.
The definition and historical and pedagogical contextualization of performance art is controversial. One of the handicaps comes from the term itself, which is polysemic and one of its meanings relates to the scenic arts. This meaning of performance in the scenic arts context is opposite to the meaning of performance art, since performance art emerged with a critical and antagonistic position towards scenic arts. Performance art only adjoins the scenic arts in certain aspects such as the audience and the present body, and still not every performance art piece contains these elements.
The meaning of the term in the narrower sense is related to postmodernist traditions in Western culture. From about the mid-1960s into the 1970s, often derived from concepts of visual art, with respect to Antonin Artaud, Dada, the Situationists, Fluxus, installation art and conceptual art, performance art tended to be defined as an antithesis to theatre, challenging orthodox art forms and cultural norms. The ideal had been an ephemeral and authentic experience for performer and audience in an event that could not be repeated, captured or purchased. The widely discussed difference, how concepts of visual arts and concepts of performing arts are utilized, can determine the meanings of a performance art presentation.
Performance art is a term usually reserved to refer to a conceptual art which conveys a content-based meaning in a more drama-related sense, rather than being simple performance for its own sake for entertainment purposes. It largely refers to a performance presented to an audience, but which does not seek to present a conventional theatrical play or a formal linear narrative, or which alternately does not seek to depict a set of fictitious characters in formal scripted interactions. It therefore can include action or spoken word as a communication between the artist and audience, or even ignore expectations of an audience, rather than following a script written beforehand.
Some types of performance art nevertheless can be close to performing arts. Such performance may utilize a script or create a fictitious dramatic setting, but still constitute performance art in that it does not seek to follow the usual dramatic norm of creating a fictitious setting with a linear script which follows conventional real-world dynamics; rather, it would intentionally seek to satirize or to transcend the usual real-world dynamics which are used in conventional theatrical plays.
Performance artists often challenge the audience to think in new and unconventional ways, break conventions of traditional arts, and break down conventional ideas about "what art is". As long as the performer does not become a player who repeats a role, performance art can include satirical elements; utilize robots and machines as performers, as in pieces of the Survival Research Laboratories; involve ritualised elements (e.g. Shaun Caton); or borrow elements of any performing arts such as dance, music, and circus.
Some artists, e.g. the Viennese Actionists and neo-Dadaists, prefer to use the terms "live art", "action art", "actions", "intervention" (see art intervention) or "manoeuvre" to describe their performing activities. As genres of performance art appear body art, fluxus-performance, happening, action poetry, and intermedia.
Performance art is a form of expression that was born as an alternative artistic manifestation. The discipline emerged in 1916 parallel to dadaism, under the umbrella of conceptual art. The movement was led by Tristan Tzara, one of the pioneers of Dada. Western culture theorists have set the origins of performance art in the beginnings of the XX century, along with Constructivism, Futurism and Dadaism. Dada was an important inspiration because of their poetry actions, which drifted apart from conventionalisms, and futurist artists, specially some members of Russian Futurism, could also be identified as part of the starting process of performance art.
The Cabaret Voltaire was founded in Zurich (Switzerland) by the couple Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings. It created for to artistic and political purposes and was a place where new tendencies were explored. Located in the upper floor of a theater, whose exhibitions they mocked in their shows, the works interpreted in the cabaret were avant garde and experimental. It is thought that the Dada movement was founded in the ten square meter local. Moreover, Surrealists, whose movement descended directly from Dadaism, used to meet in the Cabaret. On its brief existence—barely six months, closing the summer of 1916—the Dadaist Manifesto was read and it held the first Dada actions and performances and hybrid poetry, plastic art, music and repetitive action presentations. Founders such as Richard Huelsenbeck, Marcel Janco, Tristan Tzara, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Jean Arp participated in provocative and scandalous events that were fundamental and the basis of the foundation for the anarchist movement called Dada.
Dadaism was born with the intention of destroying any system or established norm in the art world. It is an anti-art movement, anti-literary and anti-poetry, that questioned the existence of art, literature and poetry itself, not only was it a way of creating, but of living too; it created a whole new ideology. It was against eternal beauty, the eternity of principles, the laws of logic, the immobility of thought and clearly against anything universal. It promoted change, spontaneity, immediacy, contradiction, randomness and the defense of chaos against the order and imperfection against perfection, ideas similar to those of performance art. They stood for provocation, anti-art protest and scandal, through ways of expression many times satirical and ironic. The absurd or lack of value and the chaos protagonized their breaking actions with traditional artistic form.
Futurism was an artistic avant garde movement that appeared in 1909. It first started as a literary movement, even though most of the participants were painters. In the beginning it also included culpture, photography, music and cinema. The First World War put an end to the movement, even though in Italy it went on until the 1930s. One of the countries where it had the most impact was Russia. In 1912 manifestos sucha as de Futurist Sculpture Manifesto and the Futurist Architecture arose, and in 1913 the Manifesto of Futurist Lust by Valentine de Saint-Point, dancer, writer and French artist. The futurists spread their theories through encounters, meetings and conferences in public spaces, that got close to the idea of a political concentration, with poetry and music-halls, which anticipated performance art.
The Bauhaus, founded in Weimar in 1919, included an experimental performing arts workshops with the goal of exploring the relationship between the body, space, sound and light. The Black Mountain College, founded in the United States by instructors of the original Bauhaus who were exhiled by the Nazi Party, continued incorporating experimental performing arts in the scenic arts training twenty years before the events related to the history of performance in the 1960s. The name Bauhaus derives from the German words Bau, construction and Haus, house; ironically, despite its name and the fact that his founder was an architect, the Bauhaus did not have an architecture department the first years of its existence.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the action painting technique or movement gave artists the possibility of interpreting the canvass as an area to act in, rendering the paintings as traces of the artist's performance in his/her studio . According to art critic Harold Rosenberg, it was one of the initiating processes of performance art, along with abstract expressionism. Jackson Pollock is the action painter par excellence, who carried out many of his actions live. Names to be highlighted are Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, whose work include abstract and action painting.
Nouveau réalisme is another one od the artistic movements cited in the beginnings of performance art. It was a painting movement founded in 1960 by art critic Pierre Restany and painter Yves Klein, during the first collective exhibition in the Apollinaire Gallery in Milan. Nouveau réalisme was, along with Fluxus and other groups, one of the many avant garde tendencies of the 1960. Pierre Restany created various performance art assemblies in the Tate Modern, amongst other spaces. Yves Klein is one of the main exponents of the movement. He was a clear pioneer of performance art, with his conceptual pieces like Zone de Sensibilité Picturale Immatérielle (1959–62), Anthropométries (1960), and works such as the photomontage Saut dans le vide. All his works have a connection with performance art, as they are created as a live action, like his best-known artworks of paintings created with the bodies of women. The members of the group saw the world as an image, from which they took parts and incorporated them into their work, they sought to bring life and art closer together
One of the other movements that anticipated performance art was the Japanese movement Gutai, who made action art or happening. It emerged in 1955 in the region of Kansai ( Kansai (Kyōto, Ōsaka, Kōbe). The main participants were Jirō Yoshihara, Sadamasa Motonaga, Shozo Shimamoto, Saburō Murakami, Katsuō Shiraga, Seichi Sato, Akira Ganayama and Atsuko Tanaka. The Gutai group arose after the terrible experience of World War Two. They rejected capitalist consumerism, carrying out ironic actions, with latent aggressiveness (object breaking, actions with smoke). They influenced groups such as Fluxus and artists like Joseph Beuys and Wolf Vostell.
Land Art and performance
In the late 1960s, diverse Land Art artists such as Robert Smithson or Dennis Oppenheim created environmental pieces that precede performance art in the 1970s. Works by conceptual artists from the early 1980s, such as Sol LeWitt, who made mural drawing into a performance act, were influenced by Yves Klein and other Land Art artists. Land art is a contemporary art movement in which the landscape and the artwork are deeply bound. It uses nature as a material (wood, soil, rocks, sand, winf, fire, water, etc.) to intervene on itself. The artwork is generated with the place itself as a starting point, and the result is sometimes a junction between sculpture and architecture, and sometimes a junction between sculpture and landscaping that is increasingly taking a more determinant role in contemporary public spaces. When incorporating the artist's body in the creative process, it acquires similarities with the beginnings of performance art.
Portrait of Valentine de Saint-Point in the space of creation
Portrait of Pierre Restany in one of his openings
Freeing of 1001 blue balloons, "sculpture aérostatique" by Yves Klein.
In the 1960s, with the purpose of evolving the generalized idea of art and with similar principles of those originary from Cabaret Voltaire or Futurism, a variety of new works, concepts and a growing number of artists led to new kinds of performance art. Movements clearly differentiated from Viennese Actionism, avant garde performance art in New York, process art, the evolution of The Living Theatre or happening, but most of all the consolidation of the pioneers of performance art.
The term Viennese Actionism (Wiener Aktionismus) comprehends a brief and controversial art movement of the XX century, which is remembered for the violence, grotesque and visual of their artworks. It is located in the Austrian vangard of the 1960s, and it had the goal of bringing art to the ground of performance art, and is linked to Fluxus and Body Art. Amongst their main exponents are Günter Brus, Otto Muehl and Hermann Nitsch, who developed most of their actionist activities between 1960 and 1971. Hermann Nitsch presented in 1962 his Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries (Orgien und Mysterien Theater), pioneer of performance art, close to scenic arts.
New York and Avant-Garde Performance
In the early 1960s, New York City harbored many movements, events end interests regarding performance art. Amongst others, Andy Warhol began creating films and videos, and mid decade he sponsored The Velvet Underground and staged events and performative actions in New York, such as the Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966), that included live rock music, explosive lights and films.
The Living Theatre
Indirectly influential for art-world performance, particularly in the United States, were new forms of theatre, embodied by the San Francisco Mime Troupe and the Living Theatre and showcased in Off-Off Broadway theaters in SoHO and at La MaMa in New York City. The Living Theatre is a United States theater company created in 1947 in New York. It is the oldest experimantal theatre in the United States. Throughout its history it has been led by its founders; actress Judith Malina, who had studies theatre with Erwin Piscator, with whom she studied Bertolt Brecht's and Meyerhold's theory, and painter and poet Julian Beck; after Beck's death in 1985, the company member Hanon Reznikov became co-director along with Malina. Because it is one of the oldest random theatre or live theatre groups nowadays, it is looked upon by the rest. They understood theatre a way of life, and th eactors lived in a community under libertary principles. It was a theatre campaign dedicated to transformation of the power organization of an authoritary society and hierarchical structure . The Living Theatre chiefly toured in Europe between 1963 and 1968, and in the U.S. in 1968. A work of this period, Paradise Now was notorious for its audience participation and a scene in which actors recited a list of social taboos that included nudity, while disrobing.
Fluxus, Latin word that means flow, is an artistic mainly visual arts movement, related to music, literature and dance. Its most active moment was in the 1960s and 1970s. They proclaimed themselves against the traditional artistic object as a commodity and declared themselves a sociological art movement. Fluxus was informally organized in 1962 by George Maciunas (1931–1978). This movement had representation in Europe, the United States and Japan. The Fluxus movement, mostly developed in North America and Europe under the stimulus of John Cage, did not see the avant-garde as a linguistic renovation, but it sought to make a different use of the main art channels that separate themselves from specific language; it tries to be interdisciplinary and to adopt mediums and materials from different fields . Language is not the goal, but the mean for a renovation of art, seen as a global art. As well as Dada, Fluxus escaped any attempt for a definition or categorization. As one of the movement's founders, Dick Higgins, stated:
Fluxus started with the work, and then came together, applying the name Fluxus to work which already existed. It was as if it started in the middle of the situation, rather than at the beginning.
Robert Filliou places Fluxus opposite to conceptual art for its direct, immediate and urgent reference to everyday life, and turns around Duchamp's proposal, who starting from Ready-made, introduced the daily into art, whereas Fluxus dissolved art into the daily, many times with small actions or performances.
John Cage was an American composer, music theorist, artist, and philosopher. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. Critics have lauded him as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. He was also instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage's romantic partner for most of their lives.
Process art is an artistic movement where the end product of art and craft, the objet d’art (work of art/found object), is not the principal focus; the process of its making is one of the most relevant aspects if not the most important one: the gathering, sorting, collating, associating, patterning, and moreover the initiation of actions and proceedings. Process artists saw art as pure human expression. Process art defends the idea that the process of creating the work of art can be an art piece itself. Artist Robert Morris predicated “anti-form”, process and time over an objectual finished product.
Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort in The New Media Reader, "The term 'Happening' has been used to describe many performances and events, organized by Allan Kaprow and others during the 1950s and 1960s, including a number of theatrical productions that were traditionally scripted and invited only limited audience interaction." A happening allows the artis to experiment with the movement of the body, recorded sounds, written and talked texts, and even smells. One of Kaprow's first works was Happenings in the New York Scene, written in 1961. Allan Kaprow's happenings turned the public into interpreters. Often the spectators became an active part of the act without realizing it. Other actors who created happenings were Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Whitman and Wolf Vostell: Theater is in the Street (Paris, 1958).
The works by performance artists after 1968 showed many times influences from the political and cultural situation that year. Barbara T. Smith with Ritual Meal (1969) was at the vanguard of body and scenic feminist art in the seventies, which included, amongst others, Carolee Schneemann and Joan Jonas. These, along with Yoko Ono, Joseph Beuys, Nam June Paik, Wolf Vostell, Allan Kaprow, Vito Acconci, Chris Burden and Dennis Oppenheim were pioneers in the relationship between body art and performance art, as well as the Zaj collective in Spain with Esther Ferrer and Juan Hidalgo.
Barbara Smith is an artist and United States activist. She is one of the main African-American exponents of feminism and LGBT activism in the United States. In the beginning of the 1970s she worked as a teacher, writer and defender of the black feminism current. She has taught at numerous colleges and universities in the last five years. Smith's essays, reviews, articles, short stories and literary criticism have appeared in a range of publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Village Voice and The Nation.
Carolee Schneemann was an American visual experimental artist, known for her multi-media works on the body, narrative, sexuality and gender. She created pieces such as Meat Joy (1964) and Interior Scroll (1975). Schneemann considered her body a surface for work. She described herself as a '"painter ho has left the canvas to activate the real space and the lived time".
Joan Jonas (born July 13, 1936) is an American visual artist and a pioneer of video and performance art, who is one of the most important female artists to emerge in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Jonas' projects and experiments provided the foundation on which much video performance art would be based. Her influences also extended to conceptual art, theatre, performance art and other visual media. She lives and works in New York and Nova Scotia, Canada. Immersed in New York's downtown art scene of the 1960s, Jonas studied with the choreographer Trisha Brown for two years. Jonas also worked with choreographers Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton.
Yoko Ono was part of the avant-garde movement of the 1960. She was part of the Fluxus movement. She is known for her performance art pieces in the late 1906s, works such as Cut Piece, where visitors could intervene in her body until she was left naked. One of her best known pieces is Wall piece for orchestra (1962).
Joseph Beuys was a German Fluxus, happening, performance artist, painter, sculptor, medallist and installation artist. In 1962 his actions alongside the Fluxus neodadaist movement started, group in which he ended up becoming the most important member. His most relevant achievement was his socialization of art, making it more accessible for every kind of public. In How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965) he covered his face with honey and gold leaf and explained his work to a dead hare that lied in his arms. In this work be linked spacial and sculptoric, linguistic and sonorous factors to the artist's figure, to his bodily gesture, to the conscience of a comunicator whose receptor is an animal. Beuys acted as a shaman with healing and saving powers toward the society that he considered dead. In 1974 he carried out the performance I Like America and America Likes Me where Beuys, a coyote and materials such as paper, felt and thatch constituted the vehicle for its creation. He lived with the coyote for three days. He piled uUnited States newspapers, symbol of capitalism in that country. With time, the tolerance between Beuys and the coyote grew and he ended up hugging the animal. Beuys repeats many elements used in other works. Objects that differ form Duchamp's ready-mades, not for their poor and ephemerality, but because they are part of Beuys's own life, who placed them after living with them and leaving his mark on them. Many have an autobiographical meaning, like the honey or the grease used by the tartars who saved in World War Two. In 1970 he made his Felt Suit. Also in 1970, Joseph Beuys taught sculpture in the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. In 1979, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of New York exhibited a retrospective of his work from the 1940s to 1970.
Portrait of Barbara Smith
Conference by Yoko Ono in the Viena Biennial, 2012
Portrait of Yoko Ono
Video art piece from the Brooklyn Museum with an interview with Carolee Schneemann
Joan Jonas guring a performance documented on video and installed, 1972
Portrait of artistJoan Jonas
Portrait of Joseph Beuys in a conference-performance, 1978
Joseph Beuys in a video art piece
Nam June Paik was a South Korean performance artist, composer and video artist from the secong half of the XX century. He studied music ans art history in the University of Tokyo. Later, in 1956, he traveled to Germany, where he studied Music Theory in Munich, then continuin in Cologne in the Freiburg conservatory. While studying in Germany, Paik met the composers Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage and the conceptual artists Sharon Grace as well as George Maciunas, Joseph Beuys and Wolf Vostell and was from 1962 on, a member of the experimental art movement Fluxus. Nam June Paik then began participating in the Neo-Dada art movement, known as Fluxus, which was inspired by the composer John Cage and his use of everyday sounds and noises in his music. He was mates with Yoko Ono as a member of Fluxus.
Wolf Vostell was a German artist, one of the most representatives of the second half of the XX century, who worked with various mediums and techniques sucha as painting, sculpture, installation, decollage, videoart, happening and fluxus.
Vito Acconci was an influential American performance, video and installation artist, whose diverse practice eventually included sculpture, architectural design, and landscape design. His foundational performance and video art was characterized by "existential unease," exhibitionism, discomfort, transgression and provocation, as well as wit and audacity, and often involved crossing boundaries such as public–private, consensual–nonconsensual, and real world–art world. His work is considered to have influenced artists including Laurie Anderson, Karen Finley, Bruce Nauman, and Tracey Emin, among others. Acconci was initially interested in radical poetry, but by the late 1960s, he began creating Situationist-influenced performances in the street or for small audiences that explored the body and public space. Two of his most famous pieces were Following Piece (1969), in which he selected random passersby on New York City streets and followed them for as long as he was able, and Seedbed (1972), in which he claimed that he masturbated while under a temporary floor at the Sonnabend Gallery, as visitors walked above and heard him speaking.
Chris Burden was an American artist working in performance, sculpture and installation art. Burden became known in the 1970s for his performance art works, including Shoot (1971), where he arranged for a friend to shoot him in the arm with a small-caliber rifle. A prolific artist, Burden created many well-known installations, public artworks and sculptures before his death in 2015. Burden began to work in performance art in the early 1970s. He made a series of controversial performances in which the idea of personal danger as artistic expression was central. His first significant performance work, Five Day Locker Piece (1971), was created for his master's thesis at the University of California, Irvine, and involved his being locked in a locker for five days.
Dennis Oppenheim was an American conceptual artist, performance artist, earth artist, sculptor and photographer. Dennis Oppenheim's early artistic practice is an epistemological questioning about the nature of art, the making of art and the definition of art: a meta-art which arose when strategies of the Minimalists were expanded to focus on site and context. As well as an aesthetic agenda, the work progressed from perceptions of the physical properties of the gallery to the social and political context, largely taking the form of permanent public sculpture in the last two decades of a highly prolific career, whose diversity could exasperate his critics.
Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist who, throughout her career, has worked with a great variety of media including:sculpture, installation, painting, performance, film, fashion, poetry, fiction, and other arts; the majority of them exhibited her interest in psychedelia, repetition and patterns. Kusama is a pioneer of the pop art, minimalism and feminist art movements and influenced her coetaneous, Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. She has been acknowledged as one of the most important living artists to come out of Japan and a very relevant voice in avant garde art.
Video-installation-performance by Nam June Paik in 2008
Portrait of Wolf Vostell in 1980
Portrait of Allan Kaprow in 1973
Vito Acconci during a video-performance in 1973
Installation by Vito Acconci in the Luigi Pecci Contemporary Art Centre
Installation by Dennis Oppenheim in the Vancouver Sculpture Biennial
Yayoi Kusama signing her work
In the 1970, artists that had derived to works related to performance art evolved and consolidated themselves as artists with performance art as their main discipline, deriving into instalaltions created through performance, video-performance or collective actions or in the context of a socio-historical and political context.
In the early 1970s the use of video format by performance artists was consolidated. Some exhibitions by Joan Jonas and Vito Acconci were made entirely of video, activated by previous performative processes. On this decade various books that talked about the use of the means on communication, video and cinema by performance artists, like Expanded Cinema, by Gene Youngblood, were published. One of the main artists who uses video and performance, with notorious audiovisual installations, is the Soth Korean artist Nam June Paik, who in the early 1960s had already been in the Fluxus movement until becoming a mediatic artist and evolving into the great audiovisual installations he is known for.
Carolee Schneemann's and Robert Whitman's 1960s work regarding their video-performances must be taken into consideration as well. Both of them were pioneers of performance art, turning it into an indemendent art form in the early seventies.
British couple Gilbert and George, had already documented their actions in video, and created their live-sculpture act, that was painted in gold and sung Underneath The Arches for long periods of time. Joan Jonas started to include video in her experimental performances in 1972, while Bruce Nauman scenified his acts to be directly recorded on video.
Bruce Nauman is a United States multimedia artist, whose sculptures, videos, graphic work and performances have helped diversify and develop culture from the 1960s on. His unsettling artworks emphasized the conceptual nature of art and the creation process. His priority is the idea and the creative process over the end result, his art recurs to the use of an icredible array of materials and specially his own body. He is one of the most innovative and provocative United States contemporary artists.
Gilbert and George is an English artist couple composed by Italian artist Gilbert Proesch and English artist George Passmore, who have developed their work inside conceptual art, performance and body art. They were best known for their live-sculpture acts. One of their first makings was The Singing Sculpture, where the artists sang and danced Underneath the Arches, a successful song from the 1930s. Since then they have forged a solid reputation as live-sculptures, making themselves works of art, exhibited in front of spectators through diverse time intervals. They usually appear dressed in a suit and tie, adopting diverse postures that they maintain without moving, though sometimes they also moved and read a text, and occasionally they appeared in assemblies or artistic installations. Apart from their sculptures, Gilbert and George also made pictoric works, collages and photomontages, where they pictured themselves many times, next to diverse objects from their e¡immediate surroundings, with references to urban culture and a strong reivindicative content; they addressed topics such as sex, race, death and HIV, religion or politics, critiqueing many times the British government and the stablished power. ON this topic, their most prolific and ambitious work was Jack Freak Pictures, where they has a constant presence in the colors red, white and blue in the Union Jack. Gilbert and George have exhibited their work in some of the best museums and galleries in the world, like the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum of Eindhoven (1980), the Hayward Gallery in London (1987), the Tate Modern (2007), etc. They have participated many times in the Venice Biennale. In 1986 they won the Turner Prize.
Endurance performance art deepens the themes of trance, pain, solitide, deprivation of freedom, isolation or exhaustion. Some of the works, based on the passing of long periods of time are also known as long-durational performances. One of the pioneering artists was Chris Burden in California since the 1970s. In one of his best known works, Five days in a locker (1971) he stayed for five days inside a school locker, in Shoot (1971) he was whot with a fire arm, and inhabited for twenty two days a bed inside an art gallery in Bed Piece (1972). Another example of endurance artist is Tehching Hsieh. During a performance created in 1980–1981 (Time Clock Piece), where he stayed a whole year repeating the same action around a metaphorical clock. Hsieh is also known for his performances about deprivation of freedom; he spent an entire year confined. In The House With the Ocean View (2003), Marina Abramović lived silently for twelve days without food. The Nine Confinements or The Deprivation of Liberty is a conceptual endurance artwork of critical content carried out in the years 2013 and 2016. All of them have in common the illegitimate deprivatio of freedom.
Performance in a political context
In the mid 19780s, behind the Iron Courtain, in the Eastern Europe capitals such as Budapest, Cracovia, Belgrade, Zagreb, Novi Sad and other cities, scenic arts of a more experimantal content flourished. Against political and social control, different artists who made performance of political content arose. Orshi Drozdik's performance series, titled Individual Mythology 1975/77 and the NudeModel 1976/77. All her actions were critical of the patriarchal discourse in art and the forced emantipation programme and constructed by the equally patriarchal state. Drozdik showed a pioneer and feminist point of view on both, becoming one of the precursors of this type of critical art in Eastern Europe. In the 1970s, performance art, due to its fugacity, has a solid presence in the Eastern European avant-garde, specially in Poland and Yugoslavia, where dozens of artists who explored the body conceptually and critically emerged.
In the mid 1976s, Ulay and Marina Abramović founded the collective The Other in the city of Amsterdam. When Abramović and Ulay started their collaboration, the main concepts they explored where the ego and artistic identity. This was the start of a decade of collaborative work. Both artists were interested in the tradition of their cultural heritage and the individual's desire for rituals. In consecuense, they decided to form a collective that they named The Other. They dressed and behave as one, and created a relation of absolute confidence. They created a sreies of works in which their bodies created additional spaces for the audience's interaction. In Relation in Space they ran around the room, two bodies like two planets, meshing masculine and feminine energies into a third component they called "that self". Relation in Movement (1976) had the couple driving their car inside the museum, doing 365 spins, a black liquid dripped out of the car forming a sculpture, and each round represented a year. After this, they created Death Self, where both of them united their lips and inspired the air expired by the other one until they used up all oxygen. Exactly 17 minutes after the start of the performance both of them fell inconscious, due to their lungs filling with carbon dioxide. This piece explored the idea of the ability of an person to absorb the life out of another one, changing them and destroying them. In 1988, after some years of a tense relationship, Abramović and Ulay decided to make an spiritual travel that would put an end to the collective. Both of them walked along the Great Wall of China, starting on opposite ends and finding each other halfway. Abramović conceived this walk on a dream, and it gave her what she saw as an appropriate and romantic ending to the relationship full of misticism, enery and attraction. Ulay started on the Gobi dessert and Abramovic in the Yellow sea. Each one of them walked 2500 kilometres, found each other in the middle and said goodbye.
In 1973, Laurie Anderson interpreted Duets on Ice in the streets of New York. Marina Abramović, in the performance Rhythm 10, included conceptually the violation of a body. Thirty years later, the topic of rape, chame and sex exploitation would be reimagined in the works of contemporary artists such as Clifford Owens, Gillian Walsh, Pat Oleszko and Rebecca Patek, amongst others. New artists with radical acts consolidated themselves as the main precursors of performance, like Chris Burden, with the 1971 work Shoot, where an assistant shot him in the arm from a five-meter distance, and Vito Acconci the same year with Seedbed. The work Eye Body (1963) by Carolee Schneemann en 1963, had already been considered a prototipe of performance art. In 1975, Schneemann recurred to innovative solo acts such as Interior Scroll, that showed the femenine body as an artistic media.
One of the main artists was Gina Pane, French artist of Italian origins. She studied at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in París from 1960 until 1965 and was a member of the performance art movement in the 1970 in France, called "Art Corporel". Parallel to her art, Pane taught in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Mans from 1975 until 1990 and directed an atelier dedicated to performance art in the Pompidou Centre from 1978 to 1979. One of her best jnown works is The Conditioning (1973), in which she was lied into a metal bed spring over an area of lit candles. The Conditioning was created as an homage to Marina Abramović, part of her Seven Easy Pieces(2005) in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2005. Great part of her works are protagonized by self-inflicted pain, separating her from most of other woman artists in the 1970s. Through the violence of cutting her skin with razors or extinguishing fires with her bare hands and feet, Pane has the intention of inciting a real experience in the visitor, who would feel moved for its discomfort. The impactful nature of these first performance art pieces or actions, as she preferred to call them, many times eclipsed her prolific photographic and sculptural work. Nonetheless, the body was the main concern in Panes's work, either literally or conceptually.
Portrait of Ulay in 1972
Abramovic and Ulay´s Furgone
Exhibition of Marina Abramović's first works in Stochholm
Installation by Bruce Nauman in Germany
Gilbert and George in a presentation
The Technique of Performance Art
Until the 1980s, performance art has demitified virtuosism, this being one of its key characteristics. Nonetheless, from the 1980s on it started to adopt some technical brilliancy. In reference to the work Presence and Resistance by Philip Auslander, the dance critique Sally Banes writes "... by the end of the 1980s, performance art had become so widely known that it no longer needed to be defined; mass culture, especially television, had come to supply both structure and subject matter for much performance art; and several performance artists, including Laurie Anderson, Spalding Gray, Eric Bogosian, Willem Dafoe, and Ann Magnuson, had indeed become crossover artists in mainstream entertainment.". In this decade the parametres and technicalities built to purify and perfect performance art were defined.
Critique and investigation of performance art
Despite the fact that many performances are held within the circle of a small art-world group, Roselee Goldberg notes in Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present that "performance has been a way of appealing directly to a large public, as well as shocking audiences into reassessing their own notions of art and its relation to culture. Conversely, public interest in the medium, especially in the 1980s, stems from an apparent desire of that public to gain access to the art world, to be a spectator of its ritual and its distinct community, and to be surprised by the unexpected, always unorthodox presentations that the artists devise." In this decade publications and compilations about performance art and its best known artists emerged.
Performance art from a political context
In the 1980s, the political context plays an important role in the artistic development and specially in performance, as almost every one of the works created with a critical and political discourse were in this discipline. Until the decline of the European Eastern bloc during the late 1980s, performance art had actively been rejected by most communist governments. With the exception of Poland and Yugoslavia, performance art was more or less banned in countries where any independent public event was feared. In the GDR, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Latvia it happened in apartments, at seemingly spontaneous gatherings in artist studios, in church-controlled settings, or covered as another activity, like a photo-shooting. Isolated of the western conceptual context, in different settings it could be like a playful protest or like a bitter comment, using subversive metaphors to express dissent with the political situation. Amongst the most remarkable performance art works of political content in this time were the works of Tehching Hsieh between July 1983 and July 1984, Art/Life: One Year Performance (Rope Piece).
In 1982 the terms poetry and performance were first used together. Performance poetry appeared to distinguish text-based vocal performances from performance art, especially the work of escenic and musical performance artists, such as Laurie Anderson, who worked with music at that time. Performance poets relied more on the rhetorical and philosophical expression in their poetics than performance artists, who arose from the visual art genres of painting and sculpture. Many artists since John Cage fuse performance with a poetical base.
Feminist Performance Art
Since 1973 the Feminist Studio Workshop in the Woman's Building of Los Ángeles had an impact in the wave of feminist acts, but until 1980 they did not completely fuse. The conjunction between feminism and performance art progressed through the last decade. In the first two decades of performance art development works that had not been conceived as feminist are seen as such now. Still, not until 1980 did artists self-define themselves as feminists. Artist groups in which women influenced by the 1968 student movement as well as the feminist movement stood out. This connection has been treated in contemporary art history research. Some of the women whose innovative input in representations and shows was the most relevant were Pina Bausch and the Guerrilla Girls who emerged in 1985 in New York, anonymous feminist and anti-racist art collective. They chose that name because they used in their activism guerrilla tactics to denounce discrimination against women in art through political and performance art. Their first performance was placing posters and making public appearances in museums and galleries in New York, to critique that some groups of people were discriminated against for motives of gender and race mostly. All of this was done anonymously; in all of these appearances they covered their faces with gorilla masks (this was due to the similar pronunciation of he words “gorila” and “guerrilla”) and, on top of that, they used as nicknames the names of artist women who had previously died. From the 1970s until the 1980s, amongst the works that challenged the system and their usual strategies of representation, the main ones feature women's bodies; Ana Mendieta's works in New York City where her body is outraged and abused or the artistic representations by Louise Bourgeois with a rather minimalist discourse that emerge in the late seventies and eighties. Special mention to the works created with feminine and feminist corporeity such as Lynda Benglis and her phalic performative actions, who reconstructed the feminine image to turn it into more than a fetish. Through feminist performance art the body becomes a space for developing these new discourses and meanings. Artist Eleanor Antin, creator in the 1970s and 1980s, worked on the topics of gender, raze and class. Cindy Sherman, in her first works in the seventies and already in her artistic maturity in the eighties, continues her critical line of overturning the imposed self, through her use of the body as an object of privilege.
Cindy Sherman is a United States photographer and artist. She is one of the most representative post-war artists and exhibited more than the work of three decades of her work in the MoMA. Even though she appears in most of her performative photographies, she doesn't consider them slef-portraits. Sherman uses herself as a vehicle to represent a great array of topics of the contemporary world, such as the part women play in our society and the way they are represented in the media as well as the nature of art creation. In 2020 she was awarded with the Wolf prize in arts.
Judy Chicago is an artist and pioneer of feminist art and performance art in the United States. Chicago is known for her big collaborative art installation pieces on images of birth and creation, that examin women's part in history and culture. In the 1970s, Chicago has founded the first feminist art programme in the United States. Chicago's work incorporates a variety of artistic skills such as sewing, in contrast with skills that required a lot of workforce, like welding and pyrotechnics. Chicago's best known work is The Dinner Party, that was permanently installed in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art in the Brooklyn Museum. The Dinner Party celebrated the achievements of women throughout history and is widely considered as the first epic feminist artwork. Other remarkable projects include International Honor Quilt, The Birth Project, Powerplay, and The Holocaust Project.
Students in a Martha Rosler exhibition
Guerrilla Girls exhibition
Installation by Louise Bourgeois in a Brazilian museum
Portrait of Judy Chicago
Expansion to Latin America
In this decade performance art spread until reaching Latin America through the workshops and programmes that universities and academic institutions offered. It mainly developed in Mexico, Colombia -with artists such as Maria Teresa Hincapié—, in Brasil and in Argentina.
Ana Mendieta was a conceptual and performance artist born in Cuba and raised in the United States. She's mostly known for her artworks and performance art pieces in land art. Mendieta's work was known mostly in the feminist art critic environment. Years after her death, specially since the Whitney Museum of American Art retrospective in 2004 and the retrospective in the Haywart Gallery in London in 2013 she is considered a pioneer of performance art and other practices related to body art and land art, sculpture and photography. She described her own work as earth-body art.
Tania Bruguera is a Cuban artist specialized in performance art and political art. Her work mainly consists of her interpretation of political and social topics. She has developed concepts such as “conduct art” to define her artistic practices with a focus on the limits of language and the body confronted to the reaction and behavior of the spectators. She also came up with “useful art”, that is ought to transform certain political and legal aspects of society. Brugera's work revolves around power and control topics, and a great portion of her work questions the current state of her home country, Cuba. In 2002 she created the Cátedra Arte de Conducta in La Habana.
Regina José Galindo is a Guatemalan artist specialized in performance art. Her work is characterized by its explicit political and critical content, using her own body as a tool of confrontation and social transformation. Her artistic career has been marked by the Guatemalan Civil War that took place from 1960 to 1996 and that triggered a genocide of more than 200 thousand people, many of them indigenous, farmers and women and children. With her work, Galindo denounces violence, sexism, (one of the main topics she works with is femicide), the western beauty standards, the repression of the estates and the abuse of power, specially in the context of her country, even though her language transgresses borders. Since her beginnings she only used her body as media, which she occasionally takes to extreme situations (like in ”Himenoplasty” (2004) where she goes through a hymen reconstruction, work that won the Golden Lyon in the Venice Biennale), to later have volunteers or hired people to interact with her, so that she looses control over the action.
The 1990s was a period of absence for classic European performance, so performance artists stayed on a low profile, nevertheless, Eastern Europe experiences a peak. On the other hand, Latin American performance continues to boom, as well as feminist performance art. There also was a peak of this discupline in Asian countries, whose motivation emerges from the Butō dance in the 1950s, but in this period they professionalized and new Chinese artists arose, earning great recognition. We can also appreciate a general professionalization in the increase of exhibitions dedicated to performance art, at the opening of the Venice Art Biennial to performance art, where various artists of this discipline have won the Leone d'Oro: Anne Imhof, Regina José Galindo or Santiago Sierra, amongst others.
Performance with political context
While the Soviet Bloc dissolved, some forbidden performance art pieces began to spread. Young artists from the former Eastern Bloc, including Russia, devoted themselves to performance art. Scenic arts emerged around the same time in Cuba, the Caribbean and China. "In these contexts, performance art became a new critical voice with a social strength similar to that of Western Europes', the United States and South America in the sixties and early seventies. It must be emphasized that the rise of performance art in the 1990s in Eastern Eurooe, China, South Africa, Cuba and other places must not be considered secondary or an imitation of the West".
Professionalization of performance art
In the Western World, in the 1990s, performance art joined the mainstream culture. Diverse performance artworks, live, photographed or through documentation started to become part of galleries and museums that began to understand performance art as an art discipline. Nevertheless, it was not until the next decade that a major institutionalization happened, when every museum started to incorporate performance art pieces into their collections and dedicating great exhibitions and retrospectives; museums such as the la Tate Modern in London, the MoMA in New York City or the Pompidou Centre in Paris. From the 1990s on many more performance artists were invited to important biennials like the Venice Biennale, the Sao Paulo Biennial and the Lyon Biennial.
Performance in China
In the late 1990s Chinese contemporary art and performance arte received great recognition internationally, as 19 Chinese artists were invited to the Venice Biennial. Performance art in China and its history had been growing since the 1970s due to the interest between art, process and tradition in Chinese culture, but it gained recognition from the 1990s on. In China performance art is part of the Fine Arts Education Programme and is becoming more and more popular. In the early 1990s, Chinese performance art was already acclaimed in the international art scene.
Performance at the entrance of the Romanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale
Video installation with the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei
China Pavilion at the Venice Biennale
Since the 2000s
New Media Performance
In the late 1990s and into the 2000s, a number of artists incorporated technologies such as the World Wide Web, digital video, Webcams, and streaming media, into performance art works. Artists such as Coco Fusco, Shu Lea Cheang, and Prema Murthy, produced performance art that drew attention to the role of gender, race, colonialism, and the body in relation to the Internet. Other artists, such as Critical Art Ensemble, Electronic Disturbance Theater, and Yes Men, used digital technologies associated with hacktivism and interventionism to raise political issues concerning new forms of capitalism and consumerism.
In the second half of the decade, computer-aided forms of performance art began to take place. Many of these works led to the development of algorithmic art, generative art, and robotic art, in which the computer itself, or a computer-controlled robot, becomes the performer.
Coco Fusco is an interdisciplinary Cuban-American artist, writer and curator that lives and works in the United States. Her artistic career began in 1988. In her work, she explores topics such as identity, race, power and gender through performance. She also makes videos, interactive instalations and critical writing.
During the first and second decade of the 2000s, various artists are prosecuted, judicialized, detained or imprisoned for their works of political content. Artists such as Pussy riot, Tania Bruguera, and Petr Pavlensky have been judged for diverse artistic actions created with the intention of denouncing an visibilizing.
On February 21, 2012, as a part of their protest against the re-election of Vladímir Putin, various women of the artistic collective Pussy riot entered the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of Moscow of the Russian Orthodox Church. They made the Sign of the Cross, bowed before the shrine, and started to interpret a "performance" compound by a song and a dance under the motto "Virgin Mary, put Putin Away". On March 3, they were detained. On March 3, 2012, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, two members of the Pussy Riot, were arrested by the Russian authorities and accused of vandalism. At first, they both denied being members of the group and started a hunger strike for being incarcerated and taken apart from their children until the trials began in April. On March 16 another woman, Yekaterina Samutsévitch, who had been previously interrogated as a witness, was arrested and accused as well. On July 5, formal charges against the group and a 2800-page accusation were filed. That same day they were notified that they had until July 9 to prepare their defense. In reply, they announced a hunger strike pleading that two labour days was an innapropriate time frame to prepare their defense. On July 21, the court extended their preventive prison to last six more months The three detained members of the Pussy Riot are son reconognized as political prisoners by the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners. Amnesty International considers them to be prisoners of conscience for "the severity of the response of the Russian authorities".
In December 2014 Tania Bruguera was detained in La Habana to prevent her from carrying out new reivindicative works. Her performance art pieces have earned her harsh critiques, she has even been accused of promoting resistance and public disturbances. In December 2015 and January 2016, Bruguera was detained for organizing a public performance in the plaza de la Revolución of La Habana. She was detained along with other Cuban artists, activists and reporters that took part in the campaign Yo También Exijo, which was created after the declarations of Raúl Castro and Barack Obama in favor of restoring their diplomatic relationship. During the performance El Susurro de Tatlin #6 she set microphones and talkers in the Plaza de la Revolución so the Cubans could express their feelings regarding the new political climate. The event had great repercussion in international media, including a presentation of El Susurro de Tatlin #6 in Times Square, and an action in which various artists and intellectuals expressed themselves in favour of the liberation of Bruguera by sending an open letter to Raúl Castro signed by thousands of people around the world asking for the return of her passport and claiming criminal injustice, as she only gave a microphone to the people so they could give their opinion.
In November 2015 and October 2017 Petr Pavlensky was arrested for carrying out a radical performance art piece in which he set on fire the entry of the Lubyanka Building, headquarters of the Federal Security Service of Russia, and a branch office of the Bank of France. On both occasions he sprayed the main entrance with gasoline, in the second performance he sprayed the inside too, and lit it up with a lighter. The doors of the building were partially burnt. Both times Pavlenski was arrested without resistance and accused of debauchery. A few hours after the actions, several political and artistical reivindicative videos appeared on the internet.
Institutionalization of performance art
Since the 2000s, big museums, institutions and collections have supported performance art. Since January 2003, Tate Modern in London has had a curated programme of live art and performance. With exhibitions by artists such as Tania Bruguera or Anne Imhof. In 2012 The Tanks at Tate Modern were opened: the first dedicated spaces for performance, film and installation in a major modern and contemporary art museum.
The Museum of Modern Art held a major retrospective and performance recretation of Marina Abramovic's work, the biggest exhibition of performance art in MoMA's history, from March 14 to March 31 of 2010. The exhibition consisted of more than twenty pieces by the artist, most of them from the years 1960–1980. Many of them were re-activated by other young artists of multiple nationalities selected for the show. In parallel to the exhibition, Abramovic performed The Artist is Present, a 726-hour and 30-minute static, silent piece, in which she sat immobile in the museum's atrium, while spectators were invited to take turns sitting opposite her. The work is an updated reproduction of one of the pieces from 1970, shown in the exhibition, where Abramovic stayed for full days next to Ulay, who was his sentimental companion. The performance attracted celebrities such as Björk, Orlando Bloom and James Franco who participated and received media coverage.
Zenith shot of the performance The Artist Is Present in the Museum of Modern Art
Hermann Nitsch carrying out a performance in his homonymous museum (2009)
Collective Reivindication Performance Art
On 2014 the performance art piece Carry That Weight is created, also known as "the mattress performance". The artist behind this piece is Emma Sulkowicz who, during her end of degree thesis in visual arts in the Columbia University in the city of New York. In September 2014, Sulkowicz's piece began, as she started carrying her own mattress around the Columbia University campus. This work was created by the artist with the goal of denouncing her rape in that same mattress years before, in her own dormitory, which she reported and was not heard by the university or the justice, so she decided to carry the mattress with her for the entire semester, without leaving it at any moment, until her graduation ceremony in May 2015. The piece generated great controversy, but was supported by a bunch of her companions and activists who joined Sulkowicz multiple times when carrying the mattress, making the work an international reivindication. Art critic Jerry Saltz considered the artwork to be one of the most important of the year 2014.
On 2019 a collective performance art piece named A Rapist in Your Path was created by a feminist group from Valparaíso, Chile named Lastesis, which consisted of a demonstration against the women's rights violations in the context of the 2019-2020 Chilean protests. It was first performed in front of the Second Police Station of the Carabineros de Chile in Valparaíso on November 18, 2019. A second performance done by 2000 Chilean women on November 25, 2019 as a part of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was filmed and became viral on social media. Its reach became global after feminist movements in dozens of countries adopted and translated the performance for their own protests and vindicate local demands for the cessation and punishment of femicide and sexual violence, amongst others.
Mexican interpretation of "A Rapist in Your Path" in Oaxaca, November 27, 2019
A child intervenes during the performance A Rapist in Your Path
- Classificatory disputes about art
- Conceptual art
- COUM Transmissions
- Danger music
- Endurance art
- Experimental theatre
- Flash mob
- Guerrilla theatre
- List of performance artists
- Living statue
- New media art
- Noise music
- Poetry slam
- Radio drama
- Survival Research Laboratories
- Graphic arts
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- Ana Mendieta: New Museum archive
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Performance art.|
|Wikiversity has learning resources about Performance art|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Performance art|
- Live Art Archives at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection
- Thomas Dreher: Intermedia Art: Performance Art (most articles in German)
- Verlag, Hatje Cantz. "Beuys Brock Vostell – Zeitgenössische Kunst – Hatje Cantz Verlag". www.hatjecantz.de.