Since the court jester served to publicly entertain their master, performance art has had an underlying political motivation. Gaining radical momentum in the 1960’s with anti-war campaigns and the feminist movement, performance art has served to educate and motivate the masses.
For many female performance artists, their work is about feminism, Ana Mendieta’s work was autobiographical and focuses on feminism and violence. Her series of Glass on Body Images she presses a piece of glass on parts of her body in order to distort that part so there was no longer anything distinguishable or beautiful about it. By doing this she highlighted that there was no measure of normality of the human body making all women beautifully different.
Performance art is also about exploration, Marina Abramovic used her work to examine the relationship between the audience and performer. She pushes her body to the limits and exhausts the possibilities of the mind in one of her most recent iconic pieces of work, The House with the Ocean View (2002) she spent 12 days in the Sean Kelly Gallery without eating, writing of speaking. She slept, drank water, urinated and showered in three rooms built above ground with a ladder leading down that had rungs made of butcher knives. This work was completely viewable by the public and focused on the idea of presence and shared energy.
Political motivation is sometimes behind performance art. As part of Domestic Tension (2007) Wafaa Bilal spent 30 days locked in a room in FlatFiles gallery, Chicago. In protest to the Iraq war he set up a paintball gun that fired yellow balls and sounded like a semi-automatic, the gun was remote control so viewers could shoot him anytime of the day and watch via webcam. Over the course of 30 days, 60,000 shots were fired from 128 countries. For …and counting (2010) Bilal overed his back with a borderless map of Iraq and tattooed a dot for each Iraqi and American casualty in that city. American soldiers were marked by a red dot and Iraqi casualties are represented by dots of green UV ink, visible only under a black light. This was captured live over the course of 24 hours.
Illma Gore is in the process of tattooing her body for her first solo art show in America, One Hundred Little Stories. She using her body as a blank canvas and inviting people to submit their names and a couple of words to be tattooed on her through a kick-starter campaign. In doing this she is empowering other to express themselves whilst simultaneously reclaiming control over her own body, and drawing attention to the high level of scrutiny of different body types in society.
Arianna Ferrari uses her art to look at the relationship humans have with machines, by manipulating her body with structural constraints and repetitive actions, she aims to topple the hierarchical relationship between mind and body. She hopes to liberate her body from the constraints of culture. Arianna Ferrari: Will to Power, Strategies for Bodily Subversion will be open to the public from March 26 – 28 at the Performance Space. In this exhibition she will undergo a series of public experiments.
Performance art continuously pushes the barriers and effectively challenges and educates society.
Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints), 1972, Photograph. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York
Marina Abramovic in The House with the Ocean View (2002) at Sean Kelly Gallery
Wafaa Bilal, Domestic Tension, 2007, FlatFiles Gallery, Chicago
Will to Power: Strategies for Bodily Subversion (work in progress), Arianna Ferrari – 2014, Photo Credit: Daniella Valz Gen