When everyday people head to exhibitions, they expect to see paintings on the wall, whether or not they understand what they are in reference to is a different matter altogether. Canvases big and small covered in brush strokes is what the layman is anticipating, coupled with a few people gathered round talking about what it means out loud to themselves just like on TV. To be truthful, this does happen but this isn’t everything you can expect fro ma trip to the MOMA for example. Amongst the 2D artworks are 3D pieces too, sculptures, artifacts, interactive works and at the very other end of the scale is the performance piece.
Performance art is not just misunderstood it is often shunned by onlookers both in and out of art circles. For some reason putting the actual artist in the front and center and using their body to demonstrate ideas is somehow inferior to them signing their name on the back of a canvas and shipping it off to anywhere. Performance art can be funny but more often than not it is intense and thought provoking in a way that leaves many uncomfortable. This level of introspection also comes with an intimacy other works just don’t have, it’s like theatre, you could maybe bad mouth a film you don’t like but when the actors are staring at your face you feel obliged to be polite at the very least. Some of the best performance artists have had lengthy runs in the field with some very notable works for the history books, here are just a few.
Known for his outlandish and often violent performances, Burden made a name for himself as the bad boy of performance. Between getting shot on camera and being nailed to the front of a moving car, people often saw him as a textbook sadist. His work however inspired many on the scene to make more controversial and boundary pushing work.
Born in Serbia in 1946, Marina Abramović is now widely known for her inventive performance pieces, which commonly include some sort of physical or mental endurance. From her early works that sought to test the limits of her body through clearly painful means, she showed that she was prepared to push herself to and beyond the limit. In a piece called Rhythm 4, she crawled naked towards an industrial fan breathing in its air until she collapsed. More recently her Artist Is Present piece at the MOMA shook people’s perception of performance as she sat for days as people came one by one to wordlessly connect with her.
The very same partner of Beatles member John Lennon, Yoko was a performance artist before she met her late husband. Very much in the right place at the right time she became friendly with a slew of local artists in New York and began to make a name for herself. Her conceptual works were groundbreaking such as ‘Cut Piece’ in which she knelt on stage with scissors while audience members cut away her clothes. The idea here was designed around trust, she revived this work after 9/11, a time where trust internationally was at its lowest.