(Bryan Zanisnik, performance of “When I Was a Child I Caught a Fleeting Glimpse”, 2009. )
An artistic performance is a behavioral artistic action undertaken by an artist(s), in front of an audience.
The work can be presented in solo or in group, accompanied by lighting, music or visual elements made by the artist, alone or in collaboration, and produced in various places, art galleries museums and “alternative” spaces.
The performance can only be performed once or repeated, relying or not on a scenario, be improvised or have been the subject of long rehearsals.
It is a medium or an interdisciplinary artistic tradition that originated in avant-garde artistic practices from the first half of the 20th century such as Futurism, Dada, Surrealism and the Bauhaus School.
It has been in the forefront since the 20th century and RoseLee Goldberg even speaks of “avant-garde”.
(“Requiem für die Mobiltelephone” by Lubo Kristek, 2007, Vienna. )
Performance art is, in essence, an ephemeral art that leaves few objects behind. It is mainly known by her traces: photographs, most of the time, and sometimes films and testimonies like the contemporary artist Tino Sehgal who wants all his pieces to be ephemeral and survive only thanks to the memory of the witnesses. “Although the idea of performance is present in both cases, we must distinguish between live performance and offline performance. Photography, video, film, sound recording and some forms of sculpture […] are often the backbone of works in which performance is deferred,” notes Chantal Pontbriand. “It is obvious in this case that it is not only documentation but real real performances.”
Some art historians place the origin of performance art in the practice of rituals or rites of passage observed since the origin of man. From an anthropological point of view, performance art has been manifested and defined in different ways across cultures and ages. According to Richard Martel, performance art is perhaps the oldest artistic form of humanity. One thing seems clear though: body, time and space are usually the building blocks of a “performance”.
In the Western contemporary art tradition, there are several terms referring to types of performances related to different traditions. “Concrete performance” is essentially an artistic behavioral action undertaken by an artist(s), in front of an audience; the “maneuver” activates an attempt at behavioral infiltration of the environment by the artist and extension objects; the happening so named by Allan Kaprow and initiated by John Cage; “poetry-action”, an expression proposed by Bernard Heidsieck, one of the founders of sound poetry, is about putting in action a situation involving text and presence; the “constructed situation” is an action directed towards the social fabric; the “body art” of the 1960s and 1970s defines a practice where the limits of the body are put to the test in an artistic framework and where the artist aims to experiment and to share a work in which the body is put in a state of cognitive or experiential destabilization. Other artistic traditions offer other performance concepts. For example, in the tradition of contemporary Javanese art, the concept of “Jeprut”, a spontaneous behavioral action without pre-determined duration and that can take place on an unusual time scale, was proposed as early as the 1990s.
Because of their often “monstrative” characters, appealing to a certain form of representation, certain performances sometimes take elements from theatrical language. But their demonstrations, more based on the idea of process, are more situations based on a temporal structure than on the stage. Unlike the theater where time is constructed in a purely fictional way, time and space in situ are often the essential elements of performance art practice. Some performances also use theatrical elements by diverting them from their original functions, inspired by the concept of Brechtian distancing.
The performance art, “intermedia” practice, in the sense of this term given by Dick Higgins, can find its origin in all the sectors of the art of which it blurs the borders and mixes the categories, although it is obvious that, depending on the socio-cultural context in which the term “performance” is used, it includes – or excludes – certain artistic disciplines in its production process. It can also borrow elements from the culinary arts, technology, folk art or even sometimes socio-economic activities where the body is used for market purposes (such as microsurgery at Orlan, eroticism at Cosey Fanni Tutti, etc.). Thus, a performance can indifferently occur by one or more mediums, media or even mass media.
Performance can be an art of immediate risk, presented in public, often interacting with his members. It is a map, a writing that is deciphered in the immediate, in the present, in the present situation, a confrontation with the spectator.
The performance comes mostly from a composition, a score, or any other “prior writing” (as O. Garcin asserts) related to the notion of formulation. By extension, translated as text, drawings, protocols … produced a priori or a posteriori, the performance gives works beyond the “ephemeris” of its revelation. Born in a context of modern reproduction of the image, often ephemeral and evanescent, it challenges the notion of merchandising the art object while offering material signs that are also works belonging to the category of objects.
In such a context, the problem of representation, for performance artists as for art lovers, is important. The representation, translated in the form of a “show”, has some ideological problems that artists active in action art denounced from the beginning (especially among the futurists and, later, by the happenings of Allan Kaprow, then by the Situationists, as evidenced by passages from Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle). Thus a whole movement of performance art calls for the setting up of situations aimed at infiltrating the social fabric. With the emergence of “relational practices” and new communication tools at the end of the twentieth century, the artists who work in this way have multiplied since the 1990s.
A particular creation principle, performance art is a response to the modus operandi of the late twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century art, questioning the hypothesis of the permanence of the object in art and announcing the necessary interest in the process of realization, performance art reminds us that art has no existence, like all production of the mind, without the existence of the artist himself: the life. The notion of “real” is in question thanks to the concrete presence of the artist and the focus on his body.