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Tuesday, April 10, 2012



In the 90's performance art was hardly ever practiced by the first and second generation originators of the current form. Was it because they lost their audience , their youth, their nerve, their funding, their concepts? Maybe all or none of the above.
After 25 or 30 years of exposure to performance art events, viewers had seen enough, taped themselves doing transgressive things enough, learned enough to be performance artists themselves and as a result they stopped coming to performances as co-creators, co-healers, empathetic witnesses and became restless critics of a genre which often utilizes intuitive and raw production values, hermetic/autobiographical motifs and arbitrary voyeuristic-making content.
Audinces learned to want their money's worth, they wanted a slick show, not an aesthetic catharsis and performance artists wanted to experience the early freedoms of the form so in the locking of aesthtic horns, change was inevitable.
Then there was money. Stringent codes of behavior designed by watchdogs of morality and political correctness demanded that unless performances were entertaining exhibitions of might and spectacle suitable for PG 13 audiences, then no support would be forthcoming. Fundamentalists pointed to AIDS and "I told you so" convincing taxpayers that their money was being ill-spent on dangerous/outrageous art whenever content offended the moral majority.
How did perofrmance art respoond to the challenge?
Performance art is not about money and audience but is more closely related to poverty consciousness and transformation and less with business acumen and gold stars. Those artists with nerves of steel, skill and desire continue, and survived the critical microscope of the 90's. Others moved, retreated, wrote books about themselves or flexibly re-worked their objectives while hopiing for a big museum retrospective of the relics from their past pieces. Some returned to their firrst love be it painting or sculpture, some brought their expertise to the academy where performance was encoded as a subject to be taught, analyzed, historicized, re-mixed, appropriated, deconstructed, interpreted and practiced again."Those who can" do teach.
In some alternative spaces, it was just like old times, when groups of friends would meet at Tom Marioni's place and perform for each other; or when women in LA gave art birth to deep and secret issues at the Women's Building .Thirty years later the scene is alive in some academies and university performance students give good attention, full energy and unrepressed expression to their work in a classroom atmosphere nourished by non-competitive critique yet they also feel comfortable writing heady treatises on the history of performance. An occasion for good healing and good thinking.
Isn't it strange!The academy, when it is protected by a supportive and forthcoming, first amended, non-spooked by corporate donors administratoin has the capacity to become the foster home of the new avant garde.

Conversely when the difficult, the arousing, the transgressive is not treasured there as a subject worthy of critical yet carefull dialogue, then performance art professors can come under intense scrutiny by detractors. Rumors fly around about graphic content in the class, about a performative language that is objectionable, about uninhibited student performances, about a grading policy that is non-conversant with the departments, about the professor's unique and questionalbe teaching style! Tsk,Tsk.
Out of context and without experiencing or hearing explanations for all of the above, performance art is deemed dangerously non-academic and the response is often to deny tenure to the professor or eliminate the area in the department.
Does this deter Performance art? Not really. Performance art has many homes to go to, not just to academia, having filtered down or maybe up to the arena and media perch of popular culture it graciously allows itself to be co-opted by TV and just like the 100th monkey theory, performance is EVERYWHERE!

Yes!!!Performance is EVERYWHERE! What follows are a few real, popular culture,"found" performances which look like, imitate or at least could be claimed as performance art.

A "Say No To Drugs" TV commercial, seemingly crafted by a MFA performance studies grad. In this brilliant use of the formula, a ragefull generation X woman breaks dishes, throws an iron skillett, threatens the camera with looks and detrius, acts extrememly steroidly and projects the "drugs kill" message from all 40 trillion cells of her body. This is not theatre, this is really perofmance art. And it's good, efficacious, powerfull. Performance art used to deter addiction and death.

In a cosmopolitan airport, a woman cries loudly, hysterically as she walks alone to the baggage claim. Her wails about her issue, echo through the termiinal. She doesn't stop, nobody asks, and everybody knows that this is real and it is art because they are touched to wake up, they let her wail, don't bother her. Fantastic performance art.

April 1999, David Blaine a magician is buried six feet under for seven days in a casket below three tons of water. TV personalities and movie stars que up to see him. Tabloids applaud this endurance art.

Performance art has never advocated danger, death toward the self or otheres but wasn't Heaven's Gate a highly choreographed theatrically bizare , costumed ritual reminiscent of suicide-less museum and gallery installations of the 80's? This example is beyond art and the Guiness Book of Records. Don't imitate it!

What now? Some performance art players have joined the exodus to the internet and other technologies which offer refuge from art police, fundamentalist censors and inquisitors of creativity although all three are quick on the heels of the genre.
Others theorize performance art at scholarly conferences, re-print their first edition books or write more theories about the subject. Is this called retirement?
And there are still master performers, public encouragers of creativity and aesthetic revolution who are willing to take the risk of being visably vulnerable. They deserve our gratitude and support.
THANK YOU STELARC:For continuing to coax us out of our obselecent bodies.
THANK YOU ORLAN: For physically exploring the meaning of pain and disfigured suffering.
THANK YOU BOB :For eroticizing death.
THANK YOU CAROLEE AND ANNIE : For developing new ways to be intimate.
THANK YOU KAREN: For courageously raging.
THANK YOU HANNAH: For your insistence on the body as a vehicle for art.
THANK YOU DONNA: For embracing the seasons.
THANK YOU (Your name or another ) :For......................................

AND THANK YOU to the unmentioned multitudes throughout the world, still willing to be performatively seen and heard.
Please continue to shock us, warn us, nurture us, wake us up, and teach us how to explore everything: genetics, robotics, weightlessness, border issues, and re-runs of Wheel of Fortune watched with octogarian parents.
Catapult us performance artists into a new world, One braver than what could ever be imagined.
And perhapes the new performance art will be totally invisible but will feel like RAPTURE.
That's uncensorable!

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