I’ve been thinking a lot about performance art lately. This may or may not be related to the fact that I just recently performed in a piece that might be called performance art, but I don’t know for sure. Its a topic that has fascinated me for a long time. In case you don’t know what “performance art” is, here’s how wikipedia defines it:
In art, performance art is a performance presented to an audience, traditionally interdisciplinary. Performance may be either scripted or unscripted, random or carefully orchestrated; spontaneous or otherwise carefully planned with or without audience participation. The performance can be live or via media; the performer can be present or absent. It can be any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer’s body, or presence in a medium, and a relationship between performer and audience. Performance art can happen anywhere, in any venue or setting and for any length of time. The actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work.
That might be the least helpful definition ever. But it’s ambiguity is central to what makes performance art just so interesting and engaging. It can be anything. There are no rules. Just make some art. And that makes performance art awesome!
Perhaps the most well-known of the performance artists (that I’m familiar with) is Laurie Anderson, a wonderful musician/spoken word artist/visual artist/performance artist. She plays the violin, but only sometimes. She also plays the electronics…pretty much all the time.
So is this video performance art? Maybe. You are the audience. You are watching it. But it certainly is recorded and doesn’t exist in space so much. But that distintion really doesn’t matter, I suppose. This song(?) is Anderson’s biggest hit, her breakthrough single. It’s a pretty solid representation of the kind of work she does.
But this is all around the central point which is that I love this. There is so much humanity in it all-it’s just this woman telling a story. But she’s not even telling a linear story, she’s a mother calling for her daughter and then she’s not anymore and superman and wars and what? It’s beautiful though. The music. The words. The vocoder that makes her seem like a human but also not a human and is technology the distance between us or the rope connecting us? It all raises a lot of questions, but questions that don’t necessarily have answer or want to be answered.
Anderson came to the Power Center last year and stupefied me through her piece “Delusion.” It was one of those experiences that I couldn’t quite shake off. I loved the newness of it all, but also the power of it all. She told stories with musica accompaniment for the duration of the entire show. Some were connected, others weren’t. But it created a plot. Not a narrative, but a sense of emotional journey during the show. I can’t remember the details anymore of it all, but I do remember the feeling after seeing it. Like I found something amazing and whole and unique. Like I witnessed an art form that has never been seen before.
And I suppose that’s what performance art makes me feel like. Each piece is it’s own little world and has it’s own little rules. But it is beautiful. Or at least it is to me.