The first episode of the grim series Black Mirror depicts the kidnapping of a British royal. The kidnapper promises to release her under the condition that the Prime Minister has sex with a pig. When it finally gets to that scene, the episode becomes somewhat repulsive and frightening, but the genius of it is that in the end it’s revealed that the kidnapper was one of the greatest living artists, whose deed was praised as "the first great work of art of the twenty first century.”
After the twentieth century, art mutated into something impossible to classify. Painting was transformed with the avant-garde; photography and film took a different path, and theater experienced a technological revolution. However, something that characterized contemporary art was the emergence of performance. Inspired by theater, performance art broke the fourth wall and confronted the artist and spectator with each other. Above all, it turned the body into the canvas on which the work of art would be visualized and experienced.
From a man who took his life in the name of art, to a feminist punk band that invaded a church, performance art has always been controversial, but it seems that in the society of the spectacle, performative work is now in the hands of another type of artist. For years, Hollywood actors have sought to distance themselves from the stigma that they are vapid people living off their beauty and limited talent. James Franco proved to be more than an actor by showing he could paint and direct films inspired by great authors like Faulkner and McCarthy. But when during his "roast" on Comedy Central he declared it a performance, he became a darling of the art world.
Shia LaBeouf is another who has dabbled in performance art and perhaps has taken it too seriously. From his appearance on the red carpet with a paper bag on his head where he had written "I am not famous anymore,” to his live broadcast that is planned to last the four years of Trump's first term as president, some already question the actor's mental state.
In collaboration with W Magazine, the 21-year-old celebrity reenacted Yoko Ono's "Cut Piece,” Yves Klein's "Anthropometries," "Passing Through" by Murakami Saburo, and two works by Marina Abramovic and Ulay: "Relation in Time" and "Aah." It’s easy to see this as a big joke, but at the same time, there is a much more critical message in a short video from W Magazine.
"Of course, being a supermodel is great. Flying in private jets, cars... my friends. But I believe that in my soul it’s to be an artist. I mean, when you’re a model you're a mannequin for other people, now I want to be the director of my own vision."
In the two and a half minute video we see a brief explanation of what the performance means. They even mention Kanye West as an example, who has said that his whole life is a performance. Afterwards, Jenner appears in a dress that people start to cut. With her face serious and not moving, alluding to Yoko Ono, scissors take off pieces of the garment until someone shouts "cut" and states that it was a dress worth ten thousand dollars.
Then she takes a turn as the neo-dadaist painter Yves Klein. His sensual works show painted blue bodies coloring a canvas, and Kendall Jenner tries to recreate this in a hilarious way; without a backing soundtrack, we witness her painting by crashing against the canvas, with the scene becoming quite uncomfortable.
In "Passing Through," the violence, strength, and sense of claustrophobia that Murakami's work causes is transformed into a fashion catwalk when Jenner, dressed in designer clothes, tears through the canvases, explaining that the performance means beauty can arise from decadence.
Finally, she interprets the performances by Abramovic and Ulay with her best friend, Gigi Hadid. Jenner explains that those long-lasting works take the body to the extreme. Immediately, we see Jenner's and Hadid's hair braided (in reference to "Relation in Time”), and then the two women looking at each other face to face while shouting “Ahh;" Kendall interrupts Gigi and asks if her face wrinkles when she does that and the other woman answers yes; after all she is already over twenty years old.
It’s not just a great way to make fun of, not necessarily, contemporary art, but also the efforts of famous personalities trying manifest art beyond their profession. Just as Kanye West did, Kendall Jenner has the money and the means to make herself known, and if she wanted to, she could turn this joke into something more serious and really become a performance artist. Let's not forget that Lady Gaga did this by attending an artist retreat with Marina Abramovic, and thus gave more credibility to her music and figure as an artist.
While Kendall Jenner prepares her performance, "The Selfie,” we have this great video from W Magazine to laugh and remember that both contemporary art and Hollywood celebrities are to be taken seriously, but maybe not to be put on a pedestal and render them untouchable.
Reference: W Magazine
Translated by Joseph Reiter