We could all agree that performance art can be a little… interesting. You know what? Let’s just say it. It can be quite creepy and most of the times it just makes you want to say “WTF is wrong with them?”
I know the point is to confront and shock us in order to expose a message, but come on. One of the recent performances that shook the world happened in 2013, when Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky sat naked at the Red Square in front of Lenin’s Mausoleum and nailed his scrotum to the pavement. People were aghast not only because this man had just pierced his scrotum, but because of the fortitude and lack of emotion he showed. Police officers just took a blanket and covered him, and later on, when he was, let’s say, free, they arrested him. This happened on the annual celebration of the Russian Police Day and, according to the artist, his performance was a way of criticizing Putin’s police state as well as its apathy and indifference towards justice. Although this was pretty hardcore, there have been more graphic and harsh performances that make this one look like a musical comedy on Broadway. Well, not that much, but you get the idea. Take a look at them:
Seedbed – Vito Acconci (1972)
For his performance, Acconci hid under a wooden ramp, and while people walked around the gallery hall, he would masturbate. He had a microphone with him, so all his noises and reactions were played through huge speakers. The idea behind his performance was to play with the idea of privacy and public demonstrations while making one of the weirdest connections with his audience. Seedbed refers to the idea of the growing life of plants and makes a metaphor with the seed that comes from his body. With this performance, Acconci became an icon.
Implanted Camera – Wafaa Bilal (2010)
The Iraqi artist and professor at New York University planned to get a little camera surgically implanted to the back of his head to capture for a year everything that happened behind him. The device, called “3rdi” was programmed to take a photo every 60 seconds, all of which were automatically uploaded to his website. Inspired by his life as a refugee, the idea was to make a record of all the things one leaves behind, not only your homeland or material things, but every experience and image. It’s actually a good idea and a nice message, but unfortunately, his body kept rejecting the titanium pieces that were supposed to keep the camera on his head, so it didn’t work so well. Still, his project or the intention behind it became a hit at the time.
Shrapnel – Adrian Parsons (2007)
Also known as “Live Circumcision,” the performance consists of exactly what the title suggests. This artist, Adrian Parsons, based in Washington, decided to perform a live and staged circumcision on himself. He took a not so sterile Swiss army knife and in front of an audience proceeded to remove his foreskin. A shrapnel is a shell bomb that basically has a phallic shape. When the top of the shell was removed all the content would come out to show its lethal power. In that way, Parsons wanted to make of his penis an “organic shrapnel,” exploding (not literally) in front of the audience with an artistic message, whatever that means.
Insemination Performance – Aliza Shvarts (2008)
Okay, this was strange and kind of too much. This art student decided to document a nine-month process where she artificially inseminated herself and, at the same time, ingested abortive drugs over that time span. What for? Well, apparently she wanted to make a political and social statement regarding the relationship between arts and the human body. Now, many labeled her performance as brutal and immoral, while others thought it was just a fraud. Why? Because she actually did the fertilization and took the abortive drugs so that the possible miscarriages coincided with her menstruation. In other words, it was impossible to know if she had actually fertilized herself, since the blood and the cramps could be mistaken for her regular period. Still, this is one of the most controversial performances in recent years.
I Miss You – Franko B (2003)
In this particular piece, the Italian artist Franko B attended the London’s Tate Modern Museum and organized a catwalk show. When he came out walking the runway, he was all painted in white so that the audience could see the contrast between the color and the blood that was spurting from his arms. He actually cut himself and inserted two cannulas on his elbow crease before going out, and the runway was filled with his own blood. According to Franko B, this performance was a demonstration of what it’s like to be human: the flesh and bone, and the pain we endure.
Shoot – Chris Burden (1971)
Although this might sound like an episode of 1,000 Ways to Die, it was actually a highly acclaimed and extremely controversial performance during the early seventies. What was this all about? Well, Burden stood still lying on a wall while his friend aimed a real rifle at him. She shot him right in the arm while all this was recorded on a camera. The idea behind the performance, if we could consider it such, was to show the violent times they were living at the time. It was the time of the Vietnam War and the different riots throughout the United States. Although later on, Burden stated that this had been a really stupid idea, this rose him to fame, allowing him to make a very profitable artistic career for forty years.
Hymenoplasty – Regina José Galindo (2004)
This Guatemalan artist is known for being extremely political in her work, and Hymenoplasty wasn’t the exception. In this performance, she got a surgical reconstruction of her hymen and vagina to question how society still qualifies the value of a woman in relation to her virginity. The whole procedure was documented, and all the graphic images were published to confront her audience on this matter.
As you have seen, performance art pushes the boundaries of art, as well as those of social and moral standards, which are exposed or questioned. No matter how deep the meaning of each piece is, we still can ask ourselves whether these pieces can really be considered art or they’re just another form of spectacle. That’s for you to decide.
For more on performances, check out the following:
5 Artists That Were Abused During Their Performances
Can We Really Call James Franco And Shia La Beouf Artists?