As I’m rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and waking up enough to write coherently, I’m becoming aware of how much my body aches. Last night I performed two physically demanding pieces. In one I play a violent game of Duck, Duck, Goose and smash pottery with a hammer, and in the other I climb and dangle from a rope while wrapped in a bedsheet that I paint from the inside using my whole body.
God help me, it always sounds so crazy when I put it into words. Why do I work in performance art?
The first time I learned about performance art (as an undergrad studying art), my initial reaction was pretty much this:
But then I saw some work by Janine Antoni and it lodged itself in my brain. I found her pieces Loving Care, Lick and Lather, and Touch especially beautiful. In contrast to her gentle work, I was also inspired (albeit shocked and terrified) by the work of Marina Abromavic, the grandmother of performance art whom you may watch Lady Gaga drool over on Youtube. I discovered in a sculpture class that I wanted to be literally inside my artwork, so I began creating artwork for critique that housed my body. I then became confident enough to strip away the elements of sculpture and work with my body instead.
I could attack and defend performance art as a medium all day, but more concretely, I want to consider why it’s the one I consistently use. SPOILER ALERT: I am not a badass. These reasons are not hardcore, lofty, or mind blowing. They are pretty honest, and maybe even a little embarrassing.
THE TOP THREE REASONS I AM A PERFORMANCE ARTIST
1. I love preparing for my work. It gives me an excuse to daydream. I painstakingly select my materials and go over every detail to ensure that it makes sense with my vision. This preparation gives me opportunities to philosophize, solve problems creatively, and develop a sense of playfulness and wonder about life. Also, if I set a date for a piece, I am forced to follow through. I find it difficult to allow myself time to create, and I am more motivated by a social obligation with a deadline than my raw drive to make stuff.
2. I am an introvert, and performance art allows me to share deeply personal thoughts and emotions with others in way that is comfortable for me. I feel safe when my work is complex enough to provide some space between my viewers and my own heart/mind/soul. But I enjoy my work when it is also clear enough to engage viewers in personally meaningful ways.
3. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Because I am highly critical and growth oriented, it’s often not helpful for me to look back on my old work. I am acutely aware of my mistakes and can relate to art student owl on this one:
I’m sure other artists with old sketchbooks know the horror of flipping through old work… With performance art, I am never haunted by a single poorly executed image. I can sleep easy knowing that I don’t have terrible work that someone paid good money for hanging in their living room. While I document each piece and reflect on what I can do better next time, there is SO MUCH freedom in being able to move on as soon as a work is finished. It also helps that I value intangible things way more than tangible things. ❤