More Than Shock Value

In thinking about the specifics of my own taste in art, I have been mulling over one subject for months now: performance art. I find that we generally have a connotative idea about what performance art is, because we mostly her about the most extreme, graphic, and even grotesque examples. I think that performance art is as valid as any other art form and, while I adore some of the weirder and wilder pieces, there are some simpler and more profound performance works that I hope can spark an interest in the medium. So as always I encourage readers out there to keep an open mind and hopefully appreciate this art form as we go along.

Starting with an artist whose fame has spiked in recent times, I feel it’s poignant to discuss Marina Abramović and a few of her stunningly profound pieces. The self-proclaimed “grandmother of performance art” created many endurance and strength-testing pieces over four decades. At her most daring she produced pieces like Rhythm 0, wherein she placed 72 items on a table and allowed participants from the audience to manipulate the items and/or her body for six hours with no consequence. This obviously posed quite a threat to the artist, who even had a loaded gun pointed at her head during this time. The message of this piece was delivered by Abramović herself, who stated “After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the audience. Everyone ran away, to escape an actual confrontation.”

As for the pieces that inspired her current bout of fame, they revolve around her relationship with West German performance artist Ulay. The two collaborated on many intense and physically strenuous pieces up until the one that marked the end of their relationship, Lovers. The piece consisted of the two starting at opposite ends of the Great Wall of China, walking towards each other until they met in the middle to say goodbye. While mystically sorrowful, this piece is merely the prelude to the moment that inspired new interest in Abramović during her piece The Artist is Present. This piece consisted simply of the artist sitting at a table where participants would sit across from her silently for a moment, and an unplanned visit from Ulay brought an emotional moment that was captured in a viral video.

There are also more contemporary performance artists that show simple, conceptually brilliant pieces. Yoann Bourgeois, also a choreographer for some top musicians in America, has created several stunning pieces combining choreography and physics. His iconic piece Trampoline Fugue is an acrobatic performance consisting of the artist moving along a staircase and rhythmically falling to the trampoline below. The piece takes extreme planning and talent to execute it the way he does, and the messaging is very clear and relatable. Another piece of his, Celui Qui Tombe(One Who Falls), involves Yoann and his wife Marie performing stunning gravity-defying duet choreography using the physics of a spinning platform. The performance is beautiful and almost speaks a narrative through the two performers, and I certainly recommend watching this piece.

So hopefully, this post has inspired someone to look into and appreciate performance art. It takes such profound skill and creativity to craft pieces like these, and I am extremely happy to share them.

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