No Innocent Bystanders

My recent compulsion to get into performance art requires urgent research and self education. I have absolutely no background in this area but I feel strongly that this is a direction which lends itself to what I want to say. As a late returner to art it is extremely difficult to be taken seriously and to obtain access to resources and appropriate or established exhibition venues. Performance offers the opportunity to bypass these issues and still be “seen”. It allows for greater flexibility, the use of informal or unusual media and methodologies. The constraints and potential limitations of the art establishment which seem predominantly exclusionary and self serving are rendered irrelevant.

Learning about performance has been stimulating to say the very least. The typical gallery environment serves to separate the artist from the viewer in terms of immediacy. Interaction is delayed or can be entirely avoided. The viewer response is relayed often unreliably by the gallerist. Sales mean the work is “liked” but “why” is not clear. There are “good” buyers and ” bad” ones.

The challenge of performance is the direct interaction with and the role played by the audience who becomes an integral part of the work.

Current reading material includes “No Innocent Bystanders. Performance Art and Audience” by Frazer Ward. Ward looks at performance art by Acconci, Burden, Abromovic and Tsieh with particular focus on the audience interaction.
I was fascinated by a reference to a performance titled “Thomas’ Lips” by Marina A. In which she cuts a star n her belly with a razor-blade. A young woman became so stressed that she stood up and, visibly upset, called out “You can stop. You don’t have to do this”. This was immediately followed by a male voice that assertively called out “Yes she does.”.

In “Rhythm 0”, she placed 72 objects on a table in a room with instructions to the audience to use them on her as they desired; a 6 hour performance at the end of which, according to Abromovic, she walked towards the audience and they fled!!

Thus I begin to realize that the audience is not necessarily remote and separate but can be very much a part of a performance and possibly change the intended meaning of the work by their intended or unintended participation. An exciting and challenging prospect for a would be performance artist!

Would love your thoughts on this subject.


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