Over the summer, I stepped out of Tinney during one of our art crawls and headed across the street to peruse the galleries of the Arcade. To my surprise, I found a former friend of mine was showing in Coop Curatorial Collective’s space. Having taken a course on contemporary art together that previous semester, I was not so much surprised that he was occupying this space; however, I was intrigued to discover that his method of art-making was quite unexpected. Nearly unprecedented at the First Saturday Art Crawl, my friend was exhibiting a conceptual performance piece in which the audience was invited to interact with the artist. This collaboration, in turn, resulted in an omnipresent, yet intangible “art object”.
This experience, in combination with Marina Abramović’s recent establishment of an institute for the study of long-duration performance art, has enticed me to explore the role of this practice within the creative zeitgeist of contemporary art.
Performance art arose in the early 1970s as a general term for a multitude of activities—including happenings , body art, actions, events, and guerrilla theatre. It embraces a wide diversity of styles. Although it is often recorded on video and by means of still photography, this time-based medium and is usually presented to an audience or onlookers causes it to be classified as an event, rather than a traditional art ‘artifact’. In the 1970s and 1980s, performance art ranged from Laurie Anderson ’s elaborate media spectacles, Carolee Schneeman’s body ritual, the camp glamour of the collective known as General Idea, and Joseph Beuys ’s illustrated lectures. In the 1990s it encompassed Ron Athey’s AIDS activism to Orlan’s use of cosmetic surgery on her own body. And now, in the early 21st century, Marina Abramović rekindled a great interest in the medium through her re-creation of historical pieces at MoMA. The important status of performance art in the contemporary Art World reflects the ever-expanding and all-encompassing nature of that which society is willing to define as art.