"In my experience, painting has always been a natural process like breathing - except on a longer time scale. The first part of your artists life is spent ‘inhaling’ all that is relevant to your work from the world around you in order to build up a repertoire of subjects, and learning various vocabularies which can best express them. After this phase the really interesting part starts; where you can begin to ‘exhale’ all that you have absorbed in your art, the emotions and experiences you have accumulated in the course of a life time. Now I feel I am in my second phase, I have the ability to draw from each period the most important aspects which can use in my current work, to perfect them. It’s a kind of Proustian ‘remembrance of things past’, where in memory, the event or subject is distilled and crystallised stripped of everything but its essentials. Both, fantasy and real life experiences, are part of my memory and influence me in my painting style and colour"
The postmodernist concept is of particular interest to me because the theory allows us to deconstruct our personal identity and represent it to an audience without the need to carry baggage into the cultural setting, other than that which I as an artist with to comment upon. When I experience Performance Art I enter into the public stage as nothing but a conduit through which the audience will help place the paint upon the canvas.
Live Painting performance London.UK 2011
Installation and live painting performance Konstanz. Germany 2012
I notice that when I paint at a performance, I take to the canvas a lifetime of experience, but I need the audience to waken that information. Performance Art is therefore fundamentally a group project that includes the audience in its production.
repeated by many of the artist and is said about the Burning Man Festival. It’s a self-spectacle where the audience is the event and there are no spectators. Performance Art is an art form without boundaries, no rules or regulations.
The effect of the Second World War upon the art world and a number of artistic movements was obviously dramatic. Through the war years, art was often overtly politicised. I feel when looking at Western wartime art that this was a period of intense and powerful propaganda that supported national identity uniting all towards the war effort. There was a recognised common enemy that anyone who valued free expression was prepared to combine forces to combat.
The post war period was an immensely productive period for artists around the world. It was a period that showed many of the traumas that the individual had faced through the war years, but also a period of experimentation. There were many disenfranchised people who had crossed national boundaries as refugees from the tyrannies that had been forced upon them by fascist governments. Images of atrocities were being spread around the world and national economies had been devastated by the war effort.
For the artist this was a time when people were meeting others from different social, economic and ethnic backgrounds and experiences. The dispersal of peoples around the world allowed artists to meet, discuss and share their experiences and inevitably to influence and infuse style and technique. So much had happened over the previous years and there was an inevitable feeling of freedom giving rise to free expression and experimentation that had previously been stilted. The artist was beginning to question what creates our identity and how to present artistic works to an audience who had high expectations for the future.
The Black Mountain College was founded in the United States in the 1940’s by a number of Bauhaus instructors who had been exiled by the German Nazi Party. The college continued the Bauhaus tradition of design incorporating the study of a number of different visual art forms, including theatre workshops, which primed the student in the relationship between space, sound and light. The product was an almost hermetic synthesis between design, the environment and the arts that had not been considered valuable since the Renaissance and would become an example of the multi-discipline approach required for Performance Art.
By the 1950’s the world has started to cut the tethers of the war and economies had once again begun to develop. Youths had also begun to change visually and mentally. Fashion developed which targeted youth culture and for the first time clearly identified the generations. This development of markets was in part a development of the global economic system and the ever-decreasing concentric circles of capitalism.
The early manifestation of the new life entering the art world, and the furtive steps towards Performance Art, was Pop Art which “was a reaction against the emotional seriousness and introspection of Abstract Expressionism” (Belton, R, etal. 2002). The new optimism of the 1960’s, and the growth of world economics and the development of new mass media pushed forward the expansion of consumer culture. As a reaction to the media gaze, Pop Art used iconography of media culture and ‘low’ art forms to produce bold striking images, combining the everyday and the mundane deconstructing the product and reconstructing in a new environment.
As capitalism developed through the Western world markets, there appeared to be a backlash to the restrictions imposed by global economic controls and the individual. One such movement, the ‘Beatniks’, had a huge influence upon the emergence of Performance Art in the 1960’s. The stereotypical image we have of Beatnik exponents are of heavy smoking poets reading their work amongst the backdrop of jazz cafés and coffee houses. Musicians and artists, each influencing each other’s work, working together in joint performances and responding to each other and the audience in often adlibbed free time space.
The Beatniks introduced identity into their art form at a highly personal level. Their poetry had a social realist influence that conveyed an often nihilistic view of the artist’s world. Their common goal was to live for the now because the end could very easily be tomorrow. Images of Beatnik artist’s faces obscured by large sunglasses became the norm. This stereotypical image was reproduced in the burgeoning art house file market, as well as Hollywood movie producers, who saw the Beatniks as a distinct alternative culture that produced an interesting contrast to the norm and mundane lives of the average individual. One of the first Beatnik artists to begin playing with the concept of Performance in art was Jim Dine.
Jim Dine was originally an exponent of Pop Art. Like the Dadaists he believed in the combination of many different media and the use of ready-made objects to create his compositions. “Taking this to its logical conclusion in the late 1950’s, he began organising a series of ‘happenings’ - live performances which combined his art with his experience of life.” (Belton, R. 2002). Though it would be a few years before Performance Art became a recognised style of its own, the first steps had been trod.
Happenings were become popular in America and the media, who were often the focus of much of the work presented at events, became fascinated by what they saw a hedonistic behaviour by the art fraternity. There was much interest caused by the work of Yves Kline and his series of work titled Anthropometries where, during public happenings, nude models dowsed in blue paint left imprints on paper and canvas. This was a turning point in the development of Performance Art that placed the spectator in a reactionary position in terms of the production, whereby their response actively affected the work in progress. As well, it placed the body and our experience of the body in a variety of abstract settings and positions, allowing us to experience the other in an unknown environment.
By the 1970’s Performance Art was recognised as a global term, defined as a live arts performance that is not theatre. It was also distinctly non-commercial. That is to say, it was art that could not be bought, sold or traded as commodity. Artists saw Performance Art as a means by which they could take their art directly to the public gaze, thereby eliminating the need for the business of the art world. This included brushing off the galleries, agents, brokers and accountants, along with as many of the other trappings of capitalism. Artists could claim that they were producing ‘art for art sake’ and not for economic gain, regaining arts purity. Also by releasing themselves from the conflicts of interest attached to payment in work, Performance Artists were freeing themselves to make social or political comment at will.
Although Performance art remained resistant to true definition, there are some key additions to its scope. Through the 1970’s a fashion for autobiographical story telling became popularised by social activists like Anni Sprinkler. Sprinkler, a one- time porn star, reconstructed her identity through Performance Art. Regaining the goddess within her through her shows, which she has claimed were a catharsis, releasing her from the trauma of her life, and allowing the audience to understand her life choices. Sprinkler presents her personal acknowledgement to social causes and issues in a way that she as an ex porn star understands and has experience.
Since the 1980’s Performance Art has increasingly accepted technology into its method of production. San Francisco based Survival Research Laboratories have become infamous for their shows that depend heavily open robotics to power the heavy mechanical creatures that prowl their performance world. Mexican artist Guillermo Gomez-Pena has successfully used the internet to document his performances and to collect data and material. International art festivals like the Burning Man Festival include within the festivalradio, live Internet feeds, as well as any number of other technologies used by individual performers. Speaking on this subject, Erik Davis poignantly states, “Here is postmodern space” (Davis, E. 1997).
The idea of post-modern space is fundamental because Performance Art is a product of post-modern culture. With so many artists experimenting in so many styles throughout the 20th Century, it became apparent that there could no longer be originality in style, and therefore a pastiche of earlier styles is the only option. “The term ‘post modernism’ signalled that this belief in originality and authenticity was now defunct and that assumptions about what are and could be, were no longer valid in a new era of cynicism” (Belton, R. 2002). The continued saturation by mass media and overt commercialism calls into question whether there is anything real behind the surface of imagery. Or as one commentator put it, post-modern society represents style without content. The cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard described the dominance of the media image as ‘hypereality’, whereby the fetishism for the image has left us in a state where we continually experience the unreal in our everyday settings. Baudrillard used the example of Disneyland spilling out into the streets to focus our understanding of his key concepts of hypereality and postmodernism.
Performance Art has developed now into a very broad spectrum of styles. If one looks at the influence of artists within Performance Art we see music, theatre, multi-media, technology and painting directly to canvas...and the lists go on. Performance Art has matured into a multi-disciplined form that has no boundaries to which to conform to. I see and experience Performance Art as a vehicle through which any number of comments and observations can be made, but it is clear that the majority of artists are dealing directly with the concept of identity. Also the loose style of Performance Art does not fall into any other heading and fundamentally it is an art form that exists purely within the context of Western culture because it works continually as an iconoclast to its cultural heritage, using process that would not be tolerated in any other non-Western regime.
‘By the time I was asked to begin painting by the organisers there was already a large crowed dancing to the music or watching the bands perform. My materials were already prepared. I stood for a moment taking in the atmosphere. I felt excited. I wanted to start painting immediately. I took up a colour and turned my attention to the canvas. What did I see that was waiting to be released? My shadow changed colour and angle as the lights for the musical performance danced around the room. I took my pallet knife and began to point me, reflected onto the canvas and reflecting out into the audience.
The music became more intense and I poured more paint onto the canvas. I became aware of the audience watching me, which made me perform and respond to them. I pulled watchers into my area and gave the pallet knife and brush for them to contribute.”
Performance Art, which is more increasingly being called Live Art, is not a singular art form but an umbrella term for live performance practices that are rooted in diverse disciplines and discourses involving the body, space and time. Performance Art does not carry its foundation within art tradition and is resistant to true definition, continually asking the audience to questions their experience of art. It is a test bed for the imagination and an iconoclast of contemporary culture.
Multi-Media Festival Newcastle UK
Northumbria University 2003
Artist exchange Germany - Lake of Constance
Serj Sabet & Samy R.R. Vermeulen
British Visual Artist
1st Class BA Hons Fine Art
University Of Sunderland - UK
Northern Echo Prize for Fine Art 2006 - UK