Coming across an article about a Marina Abramovic show I started to wonder about performance art and body art in general – there are often two different responses to this work, those who think it’s exhibitionist attention-seeking unnecessary pretentious provocation and those who have an emotionally stirring experience of the work, finding it to be of cultural/political/social importance. I remember first hearing about the woman who made art out of random objects and herself with the instruction that the audience could do with her and the objects as they pleased. To my teenage mind this sounded a tad sketchy – I wouldn’t want to be in a room alone with a gun let alone invite people to play with it around me, on me. But I don’t trust people. Nor do I have any desire for people I don’t know (okay, maybe some people I don’t know might be desireable but not all of them) to touch, stare or tease me…
These days I’m still wary. But it’s exciting. And what is art about if not entertaining the fantasies of the artist.
A stunt can be defined as “a performance displaying a person’s skill or dexterity” and the piece Abramovic is currently performing at Moma in New York certainly requires dexterity – 3 months of silence, as various people both known and unknown to her sit opposite, and Expect. A stunt can also be defined as “any remarkable feat performed chiefly to attract attention”. I am sure this is also true, without the attention any possible statement goes unrecognised and we’re back at the old tree-falling-in-a-forest-with no-one-around-does-it-still-make-a-sound-? situation, which translates here as artist-alone-in-room-are-they-successful-in-their-artistic-endeavor-if-no-one-cares-?. There is a degree of self-indulgence in all statements made through artistic means – the text Carolee Schneemann pulled out of her pussy whilst standing naked on a table, Joseph Boyce living in a cage with a coyote, Franko B bleeding down a catwalk, Tehching Hsieh not sleeping for a year – you’ve gotta want to do it and be confident enough to do it. Stunt and statement baby.
Maybe exhibitionist attention-seeking unnecessary pretentious provocations encourage emotionally stirring experiences and are of cultural/political/social significance. The question is – when do you care? What makes you care?