Whether masturbating under the floor, cracking paint filled eggs on your vulva, killing yourself with barbiturates or simply staring at the person opposite. Performance art has a long history of being weird, pointless, revolting and many other things besides.
I love it. Well, some of it.
My first experience with performance art was an exhibition my mother took me to see when I was still in high school. It was very reasonable. No nudity, no swearing, no masturbation or even mutilation. In hindsight, it must have been the most banal performance art ever performed. Mind you, Australia is not well known for this particular genre. At the recent GOMA exhibition ‘Trace: Performance and its Documents’, I was saddened to find few Australian artists involved. Mike Parr and The Brown Council was pretty much it. Which is not a nothing, by any stretch of the imagination. Mike Parr (b1945) is a prolific and quite well known artist. One of the first performance artists I was interested in after my attention was caught by my mothers foray into the field.
His work goes for the shock value, using self mutilation and extreme physical feats as a (sometimes political) art-form. He often uses his work to protest injustice.
The Brown Council is a younger collaborative group of four Sydney women, Frances Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley and Diana Smith. I saw the 2012 residual installation of their work ‘Performance Fee’ at the GOMA in Brisbane.
As opposite to Mike Parr as a performance artist/s can get, The Brown Council tends to keep their clothes on and their body parts intact. They seem to be a more evolved style of the art form, avoiding the shock value to focus more on the fundamental purpose of performance art in itself.
I haven’t left out Stelarc. No need to worry.
I was simply trying to move on to newer artists.
However, trying to find young Australian Performance Artists is like trying to find someone who honestly like performance art.
Alex Murray-Leslie is part of the multi-disciplinary group ‘Chicks on Speed’. Which started in 1997 as a performance art group but has slowly morphed into more of a music group.
Jodie Whalen is from Sydney where she lives and practices performance art. She explores physical endurance and stamina in her work.
With exhibitions in the MCA and other such notable galleries, she is obviously a brilliant artist. Yet I can find less on her than I can about the grumpy cat meme. I can find bucketloads of international performance artists, is it unacceptable in this country? Maybe I need to go out and cut some limbs off, garner a little more interest in the genre.
Performance art can be wacky, and grotesque but it can also be inspiring and amazing. I will never forget the image of Yoko Ono(performing Shigeko Kubota’s work) painting with her vagina, nor the concept of Warhol getting friends to piss on a canvas. Maybe the world thinks that since the crazy 60’s are done, then so are the crazy ideas? Guess what world, you are just better at hiding things.
I want my kids to know that there are artists/kooks out there who will eat a human foetus, or sit around with a paper bag on their head. I want my kids to know that they don’t have to limit themselves to the normal and banal. I also want them to know that someone else has already done this crazy shit so they don’t have to!
And, yes, I have taken my kids to see performance art. They loved it!