The stage of performance art is always the human body. Discuss in depth the presentation of the human body in the work of no more than three performance artists from the lecture. How do[es] their work challenge notions of 'the body'?
The stage of performance art is always the human body and many fail to see it for what it is; an extension of the soul and an accessory of the will. The stage of performance art is always the human body; it is a tool of greatest importance to address notions of the body. In order to challenge these notions, one must first embrace them. ‘Performance art’ is centred in the realm of the postmodern, a movement that we are very much incorporated in today (Counsell: 1996:207). It is is a complex and varied concept and “[s]implifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives” (Lyotard, 1984:XXIV). This references the belief of seeing the world through ‘the bigger picture’ as it is working along a grand narrative. Postmodernism steps away from this credence, expressing the world as an abundance of ‘smaller pictures’. Fundamentally, it utilizes the idea that there is an infinite expanse of realities, each one constructed by the individual and we build these realities around our shared cultures and ideals; it is these realties that formulate the world (Hulse, 2011:2). Succinctly, postmodern art revolves in conjunction with the chaos of reality, it means everything and nothing. Performance Art embraces this process and is often spontaneous meaning no eventuality is rehearsed or clearly predicted and the interpretation or response is varied because of the individual’s personal associations, beliefs and history.
In the mix of colliding realities, society has built some collective values dictating what is and what is not ‘acceptable’ behaviour. In brief, humans learn how to think and act through indoctrination by others. So it is no surprise that amongst our individual perceptions of reality we engage mutual beliefs and notions; most relevantly, notions of the body. We are all too aware that the body is designed to change through growth and environmental imposition. Yet, controversy is inspired when one takes it upon him/herself to make personal changes through means of surgery or disfigurement regarded as ‘self harm’. Practises fall into a particularly grey area when birth and reproduction is concerned. The most natural thing on earth is ‘corrupted’ when one incorporates it into performance art, for performance art, says Marina Abramović, “is not theatre, theatre you repeat... performance is real... in performance the blood and the knife and the body of the performer is real” (MoMA, 2010). Other notions of the body stem into areas such as modesty and narcissism and sexualisation but arguably the most profound notion of the body is its limits and how they can be pushed or cheated.
These notions and values are challenged by the performance artists. Marina Abramović, a Serbian performance artist is known for her “pieces that test the limits of her body” (Sudbanthad, 2011). The notion of the body experiencing pain is a clear limitation in the lives of human beings and is something that restricts the body’s potential. For instance, we know what is a safe height to jump from and what is not; theoretically, we are limited in the height we can jump from. This is because pain is the “physical adjunct of an imperative reflex” meaning, instinctually, if something is going to hurt, our instincts tell us to avoid it (Sherrington, 1906:229-230). This of course is theoretical, technically we have the physical ability to jump from any height we please and this principle is what Abramović deals with. If she can surpass the limitations caused by pain, she will be ‘limitless’. For example, In Lips of Thomas Abramović stated: “I will violently whip myself until I no longer feel pain”. Self flagellation allowed her to detach her instincts from causing physical renunciation, little by...
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