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The terms 'performance' and, especially, 'performative' have been widely used to examine culture at large. When focusing particularly on the realm of art we see that the term 'performative' is being used in a less and less specific sense. It is often used simply to describe, identify or quantify a certain work of art as having a relation to performance or performance-like attributes. A look at the large variety of art works that are associated with these terms quickly affirms that performance is anything but a precisely formed discipline. It seems to be more like a heterogeneous net that gathers together concepts and artistic approaches from various media, artistic fields and cultural backgrounds.

In the field of visual art the term is mostly linked to what we have come to know as 'performance art', which could be fined as an art form that is based on representation by action. It is generally executed by an artist or a group of artists in front of a live audience at a specific time and at a specific place. In contrast to theatre, performance art does not present the illusion of events, but rather presents actual events as art. Yet the specific term 'performance art' related particularly to work made during the late 1960s and early '70s and is still mainly identified with this period.

It is crucial to look also at a more obvious but apparently more restricted definition of performance, one that sees the body as the nucleus of its artistic investigation and expression and that is analogous to the term 'body art'. Especially important here is Lea Vergine's book Body Art and Performance: The Body as Language (1971), which was the first to bring together a wide range of artists who worked with or on the body. This definition of performance as being purely centred on the body has to this day very much defined our word 'performance', many of us immediately think of work by classic practitioners such as Marina Abramović, Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, Otto Mühl, Bruce Nauman, Dennis Oppenheim and Carolee Schneemann. Consequently, what many of us today identify with performance are often clichés of beaten, abused and naked bodies generally crawling in mud, blood or even excrement. Certainly body art reaches far beyond these stereotypes. In fact, anything and everything connected to one's own existence and identity can be utilised in a wider understanding of the term 'body art', thereby uncovering a wide range of possible ways to creatively engage aspects of life. Ultimately we discover that 'body art' is also, in fact, a broadly inclusive term that cannot be reduced to one particular area.

© Daniel Wu, all rights reserved