Reflecting on my current practice, its development in time and discussing it with Professor Wendy McMurdo, I sensed that a deeper and more critical explanation of its “performative” aspects could be beneficial in the way I am presenting my whole body of work.
Lisa S. Wainwright, on the “Enciclopaedia Britannica”, defines Performance art, as “a time-based art form that typically features a live presentation to an audience or to onlookers (as on a street) and draws on such arts as acting, poetry, music, dance, and painting. It is generally an event rather than an artifact, by nature ephemeral, though it is often recorded on video and by means of still photography” (Wainwright, 2018): this general and classic definition starts relating Performance Art to performing arts, but as we can appreciate, also thanks to its evolution in time, it transcended this “limit” and started involving different art-forms.
Traditionally, it is related to the Fine Arts context and it is usually interdisciplinary, involving more disciplines at the same time. It can be a live performance or released through different visual media and in many cases it actively involve the audience, asking for their active participation in a sort of art-experiment, even if this point it is not strictly necessary to consider a piece of work as a performance. Of course, having strong experimental traits, it often transcends the boundaries of the classic white-wall galleries, in which, by the way, it can find its place as Art History taught us: it can take place anywhere since it gives priority not to the context of consumption, that often can become integral part of the performance itself, but to the message it wants to convey, its significance. It is not meant to entertain the audience but to make the observer to reflect of re-think the concepts behind the performance.
Starting from the concepts mentioned here above, we can find performance traits on my project “I can hear you now” at different levels:
- With my still images a “performed” act can be observed and viewers are asked to participate in different ways. They are asked to observe and empathise while facing my “Sequences” and to actively participate by identifying emotions observing my “Confrontation sheets”, similarly to what done by PINK de Thierry and her photographic production in which she represented the concept of Humanity’s cultural transference. The difference, here, is that with my photographic practice my aim is to transfer and communicate human’s emotions;
- With my video materials, that wants to enlarge the context of consumption of my work making it more immediate thanks to an action taking place directly in front of the audience’s eyes, in which I had the chance to connect my practice to performance once more by using different visual languages and solutions. An example is my “I can hear you now – video self portraits” in which I undertake the same path my sitters followed in front of my camera to allow viewers to feel a deeper connection with my stills by observing the sequence to take on a life on its own. This video, alongside “I can hear you now – emotional response”, creates a stronger link between my practice and Performance Art. While the first one can be related to Matt White’s 2008 “Weightless”, that the author defined as a use of “self-hypnosis in an attempt to free himself from the force of gravity; the result of this experiment is the uncovering of two opposing, highly charged and deeply engaging emotional states” (White, 2008) and to Marina Abramović’s “Freeing the Voice”, the second presents similarities to her “Holding the Milk. The kitchen, Homage to Saint Teresa” since, while Abramović in her video is forced to stand still and hold a heavy bowl full of milk in a meditative act, in my video the subject is forced to remain still and hold her heavy emotional reaction to my video self-portrait, while facing my grief and empathise with my feelings. I had the chance to be present during the opening of Abramović’s performance-event in Alba, Italy, and I felt moved by the experience. I also decided to observe the audience during the whole performance and while some people wanted to discuss it while it was taking place, some other remained silent, ecstatic, while observing the scene: everyone was deeply involved even though in different ways. My hope, creating this video, was to register the emotional response of my audience to my practice and, at the same time, to create a performance that could allow who is watching it to face the emotion of an individual who is facing my emotions, creating different levels (and layers) of meaning;
Matt White, Weightless, 2008, UK. ©Matt White, 2008.
Marina Abramović, Freeing the Voice, 1976, Budapest, Hungary. ©Marina Abramović, 1976.
Marina Abramović, Holding the Milk. The kitchen, Homage to Saint Teresa, official leaflet of the event curated by Ceretto Family, including information related to the permanent exhibition at La Piola, 2017, Coro della Chiesa della Maddalena, Alba, Italy. Slideshow. ©Ceretto Family, 2017.
- My “Twelve episodes” in which the actual becomes photography, represent in self-portraits form different moments after long periods of suffering and the relationship with my companion through a visual dialogue. As we can read into the article “Performance Art Movement Overview and Analysis” on “The Art History. Modern Art Insight”, this section of my work can be linked to Process Art, “often intrigued by the possibilities of mundane and repetitive actions” (Butler, 2018). As we can read into their definition of Process Art, “When Harold Rosenberg coined the term “Action Painting,” he was emphasizing the importance of not the artwork itself – the objet d’art – but the process by which the work was made. Thus, Process Art refers to the actions or, in some cases, the performance of creating a work of art. The actual term was popularized by Robert Morris for a 1968 exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum” (Butler, 2018). In this “Step” of my project, what matters is not only the subject matter itself, but also, to use Morris’ words, the process by which I created those images. Moreover, this section can be also related to 1970s Performance artworks in which we can observe the incorporation of the autobiography;
- My short documentary “[ɪˈmaː.ɡoː]”, can be considered as almost pure Performance Art. Alongside narration and interviews, there are visual experiments, which I analysed more in details into my previous article “[ɪˈmaː.ɡoː]: a deeper analysis and a first recognition”, that want to re-enact the actual in a symbolic way. One sequence especially has been inspired by Michael Betancourt’s “Dancing Glitch” its the author defines as “a 2.5 minute long movie that is based around footage from the Louis Lumière film Danse serpentine, vue no. 76, featuring the American dancer/choreographer Loïe Fuller, shot in 1896” (Betancourt, 2013).
Michael Betancourt, Dancing Glitch, 2013, USA. ©Michael Betancourt, 2013.
Performance Art has its origins in the works of Futurist, Dadaists and Surrealists artists, who often accompanied their works with performances that were something in between vaudeville comedies and political demonstrations: this demonstrates the mentioned intention to focus on contents that are relevant to modern Society and on their meaning more broadly.
Hannah Höch, Dada Exhibit, at the First International Dada Fair, Berlin, 1920. ©Hannah Höch, 1920.
After the World War II, many artists decided to step into the political discourse and artistically demonstrate with their practice their thoughts about the Society they were living in. All around the world, from the US, to Europe, to Asia, in different ways and forms artists became more concerned in transforming their artworks into statements. From body art to Feminist movements, creative minds decided to use different media and artistic solution to demonstrate their emotional frustration and to fight social injustice. As “The Art History. Modern Art Insight” stated about Feminist movement in the world of art, “This permitted rage, lust, and self-expression in art by women, allowing them to speak and be heard as never before. Women performers seized an opportune moment to build performance art for themselves, rather than breaking into other already established, male-dominated forms. They frequently dealt with issues that had not yet been undertaken by their male counterparts, bringing fresh perspectives to art” (Butler, 2018). This chapter discusses Performance art during the 1960s and 1970s, and it is terrible to me, as a woman, to realise that after forty years nothing changed. We can still observe a male dominated world in which the same act performed by a man and by a woman is interpreted in two different ways. During the late 1980s, Guerrilla Girls, an American group of female art activists, wanted to bring “attention to women artists and artists of colour and exposing the domination of white males in the art establishment” (Enciclopaedia Britannica, 2018). Their Movement, including anonymous artists and professionals who called themselves using the names of influential women artists of the past, arouse after they noticed that into the MoMA’s exhibition “An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture” only 13 out of more than 160 artists were female. Their intervention, alongside the one of other activists in history, induced the MoMa of New York itself to create an exhibition in 2015, titled “Messing with MoMA: Critical Interventions at the Museum of Modern Art, 2939 – Now”, organised by Jennifer Tobias, Reader Services Librarian at MoMA. As described on the dedicated page of the museum’s website, “As an institution dedicated to ever-changing art forms, MoMA consistently attracts direct engagement. This exhibition documents seven decades of interventions by artists, the general public, and even MoMA staff, ranging from manifestos and conceptual gestures to protests and performances. “Messing” connotes the variety of these actions, which question, play with, provoke, subvert, and comment on the paradox of institutionalizing radical art” (Tobias, 2015). Thanks to this exhibition, that created a performance out of different performance actions in time, we can see how artists, but also common people as well, during the history of the museum decided to manifest their thought and express their personal or artistic “unacceptance” while facing the predominant artistic environment.
Anonymous, Image published on “But Is It Art?” in New York Daily News, August 25, 1969. ©New York Daily News, 1969.
Another brilliant contribution to Feminism has been created by the Artist Judy Chicago at The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, 1974-79. In her installation, form of art strictly connected to Performance Art, a massive triangular table organised in thirty-nine place settings, each one commemorating an important woman in history. As we can read on the website of the Brooklyn Museum, “The settings consist of embroidered runners, gold chalices and utensils, and china-painted porcelain plates with raised central motifs that are based on vulvar and butterfly forms and rendered in styles appropriate to the individual women being honored. The names of another 999 women are inscribed in gold on the white tile floor below the triangular table. This permanent installation is enhanced by rotating Herstory Gallery exhibitions relating to the 1,038 women honored at the table” (Brooklyn Museum, 2018). This installation, represents the arise of “Women’s Liberation” Movement in the West Coast of United Stated during the 1970s.
Judy Chicago (American, born 1939). The Dinner Party, 1974–79. Ceramic, porcelain, textile, 576 × 576 in. (1463 × 1463 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, 2002.10. ©Judy Chicago. Photo by Donald Woodman.
But, in my opinion, female Performance Art definitely crossed its boundaries with the work done by Yoko Ono, starting from her “Cut Piece” and with Marina Abramović and her series “Rhythms”. “Cut Piece” and “Rhythm 0” are quite similar in the way they are structured. In Ono’s performance, debuting in Kyoto in 1964, the artists, sitting on a stage, provided clear instructions to the audience: they could approach her one a time and cut a small piece of her best dress. We can observe that while some people of the audience resulted hesitant, some others decided to dare more and started ripping her blouse and even her bra. The performance ended at the artists discretion. As we can read on MoMa Learning, “It is the realization of what she calls a ‘score’, a set of written instructions that when followed result in an action, event, performance, or some other kind of experience. As with most of her work—which also encompasses music, poetry, film, sculpture, installation, paintings events—the participation of others is often key. Equally conceptual and physical, Cut Piece relies upon audiences’ willingness to interpret and follow the instructions outlining their role. Though participatory art is now more common, Ono was among its pioneers. In works like Cut Piece, she invites viewers to become agents in the creation of art” (MoMa Learning, 2018). Without audience’s participation, this work would not be complete and could not take place.
Yoko Ono, Cut Piece, 1965, at Carnegie Hall, New York, USA. Filmed by documentary filmmakers Albert and David Maysles. ©Yoko Ono/Maisles, 1965.
Slightly different the case of “Rhythm 0” that took place at Studio Morra in Naples, Italy, in 1974. Abramović placed on a table a series of tools of pleasure or pain and she passively allowed the audience to actively interact with her body in any way they wanted. The experiment has suddenly been ended by the organisers, when some participants became more and more violent, cutting the artist’s dress, skin and also placing a loaded gun into her hand. The peculiar fact was that this occurred while she was able to maintain a completely passive behaviour, but as soon as she became “conscious” again and she started to interact with the attendees, their dare suddenly disappeared and, to use Abramović’s words “everybody ran away” (Abramović, 2013). They could not confront her as a real person after what happened.
Marina Abramović, Marina Abramovic on Rhythm 0 (1974), 2013, Directed, Produced, and Edited by Milica Zec, USA. Video released on YouTube, May 2017. ©MAI, Marina Abramovic Institute.
Connecting the concept of “Feminist art” but also moving forward from this topic, in my project, anyone can appreciate a predominance of female subjects: this was not a choice, since I have been asking both men and women to be portrayed. What I could notice is that men have been less receptive in expressing their frailty but, at the same time, since my practice is focused on emotions, Mental Health and social problems, I had to face a further obstacle: the fear of being judged by viewers and this is something that involved men and women at the same level. We think that in 2018 people are open to a constructive dialogue around these concepts, but this is not true, because in reality Mental Health related topics are still a taboo in our culture. People don’t focus their attention on the word “Health”, but on “Mental” and this still induce many individual to avoid an open confrontation having a falsified perception of what is under discussion, like if this topic can be only correlated to madness and not also to those “minor” issues we have to face every single day: like grief, pain, solitude, social exclusion, bullism or traumas. This is why the performance is so important into my practice that I decided, during the opening night of my solo exhibition and FuoriLuogo Art and Culture Residence, Asti, Italy, to ask a woman to be photographed while releasing her negative emotions through as scream. I waited for the room to be full of people focused on my stills, videos and activities in order to silently start photographing her. I wanted viewers to be “surprised” and have a genuine reaction to the performed action. Unfortunately, since I was busy in portraying my sitter, I had no chance to portray the reaction of viewers and I only have photos of me and my subject during the live performance made by my companion, again, and by the Staff.
Dayana Marconi, I can hear you now art exhibition, June 2018, Fuoriluogo Art and Culture Residence, Asti, Italy. ©Dayana Marconi/Matteo Conti, 2018.
There is still a great need of Performance in the world of art, there is a huge need of artists willing to defy those social habits that transform these issues in something awkward and this is why Performance Art is so important in my practice as well due to its subject matter. These artists are simply individuals who want to creatively say “No” to the current social situation and honestly, with my work I want to become one of them. “Instead of seeking entertainment, the audience for performance art often expects to be challenged and provoked. Viewers may be asked to question their own definitions of art, and not always in a comfortable or pleasant manner. As regards style, many performance artists do not easily fall into any identified stylistic category, and many more still refuse their work to be categorized into any specific sub-style. The movement produced a variety of common and overlapping approaches, which might be identified as actions” (Butler, 2018), this is why many artists can be liked to different categories since they use different artistic solutions in their practice at the same time. The term “Action” is the one that could include all artists into a category only: the action is what connect to the audience since, as previously mentioned, often Performance artists ask them to actively participate to their creative experiments.
Artists who definitely took action have been Gilbert and George, who adopted the slogan “Art for all”, having an openly anti-elitist approach to art. This concept has also been fundamental, for instance, in the creation of “I AM HERE – HERE I AM” art event, created in collaboration with Maryann Morris, Nathan Wacey, Ed Sykes and Will Wright. Working as a collective, we decided to completely rethink the space in which art should be consumed and to have the same anti-elitist attitude while considering how to create and manage the whole event. Gilbert and George’s practice involved a great variety of media. From live performances, like their 1970 “The singing sculpture” in which their covered their hands and heads in metalised powders and, sitting at a table, started singing “Underneath the Arches” by Flanagan and Allen several times during the same day, to photography with their 1971-2005 series “The Pictures”, that they described as a “visual love letter from us to the viewer” (Gilbert and George, 2007). In their interview to “Italy Magazine”, they also added “”We are dealing with universal subjects: death, hope, life, fear, sex, money, race, religion – these are all things that are relevant to everybody” (Gilbert and George, 2007). The two artists often appear as subjects of their stills, often in a very provoking way, like in the case of the photograph titled “Shitty Naked Human World”, in which the artists portrayed themselves nude alongside images of giant pieces of faeces. They are the artists who represent, in my opinion, the perfect bond of Performance Art and photography, that in time remained their predominant form of artistic expression.
Many artists in time had an important role in Performance Art, like Spalding Gray with his famous Comedy monologues; Laurie Anderson, the American avant-garde artist who, in her “Duets on Ice”, played her violin while wearing ice skates frozen in a block of ice until it melted; HA Schult, who hired a stunt pilot to crash an aircraft on a landfill in Staten Island to send the video via satellite to Kassel during Documenta VI in 1977 and PINK de Thierry, who created the MWC, Man-Woman-Child, to symbolically represent a constant in cultural transference, experimenting with photo and video art, installations in public spaces and performances. What matters, in my opinion, is that Performance Art, with its provoking attitude, will continue to defy viewers and Modern Society, employing no matter what medium or style: what truly matters is “The Message” and human being, nowadays, definitely still need charismatic figures able to use art to open minds and move consciences generating a stronger sense of awareness in the audience.
Abramović Marina, Freeing the Voice, 1976, Budapest, Hungary. Video available released YouTube in 2011 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBVzJI6m72A
Abramović Marina, Holding the Milk. The kitchen, Homage to Saint Teresa, 2017, curated by Marina Abramović and Ceretto Family, Coro della Chieda della Maddalena, Alba, Italy.
Abramović Marina, Rhythm 0, 1974, Studio Morra, Naples, Italy.
Anderson Laurie, official website http://www.laurieanderson.com/
Betancourt Michael, Dancing Glithc, 2013, USA, video released on Batancourt’s official Vimeo account “Cinegraphic” https://vimeo.com/56486626
Butler Anne Marie, Performance Art, Performance Art Movement Overview and Analysis, on The Art History. Modern Art Insight, 2018, Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors, Accessed 19 Jul 2018, https://www.theartstory.org/movement-performance-art.htm
De Thierry PINK, L’Art du Bonheur: Man Woman Child series, 1980–1990, various locations.
Gray Spalding, official website https://www.spaldinggray.com/
Italy Magazine Team, Gilbert & George deshock at Rivoli, on Italy Magazine, October 2007 issue http://www.italymagazine.com/italy/marche/gilbert-george-deshock-rivoli
Höch Hannah, Dada Exhibit, at the First International Dada Fair, Berlin, 1920. Artist’s page on Enciclopaedia Britannica https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hannah-Hoch
MAI, Marina Abramović Institute, Official website https://mai.art/about-mai/
Marconi Dayana S., I can hear you now, project’s official website http://www.icanhearyounowproject.com/
Marconi Dayana S., [ɪˈmaː.ɡoː]: a deeper analysis and a first recognition, on Dayana Marconi CRJ, July 2018 issue https://daybydaydayana.wordpress.com/2018/07/12/%c9%aa%cb%88ma%cb%90-%c9%a1o%cb%90-a-deeper-analysis-and-a-first-recognition/
Marconi Dayana S., [ɪˈmaː.ɡoː], April/May 2018, Asti/Rome/Los Angeles, released on Dayana Marconi Vimeo page https://vimeo.com/269339225
Marconi Dayana S., I can hear you now – emotional response, November 2017, Asti/Turin, released on Dayana Marconi Vimeo page https://vimeo.com/241800018
Marconi Dayana S., I can hear you now – video self-portrait, March 2017, Asti/Turin, released on Dayana Marconi Vimeo page https://vimeo.com/208347694
Marconi Dayana S./Morris Maryann/Sykes Ed/Wacey Nathan/Wright Will, I AM HERE – HERE I AM, art event that took place at The Studio, Marks Tey, Essex, UK. Official website created and managed by Maryann Morris https://iamhereexhibit.wordpress.com/
MoMa Learning, Cut Piece. Yoko Ono. 1964 Performance, 2018, on Learning area of MoMa, New York, official website https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/yoko-ono-cut-piece-1964
Ono Yoko, Cut Piece, 1965, Carnegie Hall, New York, USA. Filmed by Albert and David Maysles.
Schult HA, official website http://www.haschult.de/
Tobias Jennifer, Messing with MoMA: Critical Interventions at the Museum of Modern Art, 2939 – Now, 2015, exhibition at MoMA, New York, USA. Information available on MoMA official website https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2015/messingwithmoma/
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Guerrilla Girls, on The Encyclopaedia Britannica, April 1999 issue https://www.britannica.com/topic/Guerrilla-Girls
The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, exhibition’s page on the Brooklyn Museum official website https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/dinner_party
Wainwright Lisa S., Performance Art, on The Encyclopaedia Britannica, March 2008 issue https://www.britannica.com/art/performance-art
White Matt, Weightless, 2008, available on Matt White official website http://www.matt-white.org/projects.html