What is Performance Art? How does it differ from Theater? The term 'Performance Art's tarted in the United States in the 60's. It was originally used to describe any live artistic event, which included poets, filmmakers, musicians, dancers, etc. Even though the descriptive word came about in the 1960's, there were earlier precedents for performance art. The live performances of the Dadaist meshed poetry and visual arts. The German Bauhaus, founded in 1919, included theater workshops that explored the relationship between space, sound and light. Direct influence also came about later in the 50's on through the 60's with the Beatniks and the happenings that took place in the Lower East Village in NYC.
Earlier movements such as the Italian Futurists were also very involved in paving the way for what was to come in the 70's. By 1970 the term, performance art was used globally and specifically defined as live art, not theater. Even though theater and performance art often times share the same stage, in practice they are very different. Performance art is not a form of representational art, rather a moment of acquiring multiple characters and creating a fusion between one and the next, but never allowing the true self to ever fully disappear. A performer of performance art is usually oneself either telling a story, a feeling, an opinion, whether it be through video, movement, music, television, poetry, sculpture, spoken dialogue or any mix of these. An actor usually is personifying someone else under very specific conditions.
Performance art leaves more leeway for improvisational efforts to factor whether it is text based or strictly movement. The script is a security paper reassuring a certain aspect of structure, but does not hold an absolute strict compromise. No two performances are ever really alike. A script for an actor is a bible; it tells how and when an action will happen. All cues, lines and characterization get memorized and obsessively rehearsed so that every time performed an almost identical performance is released. Rehearsals for performance artists are much more conceptual and often times will include researching, gathering props and costumes and having discussions with collaborators in their rehearsal time.
Maybe this is so due to the little or no technical training that a performance artist receives. Performance art is often times very emotional and topical, frequently dealing with current political issues, past issues, radical feelings as well as very personal matters. It can be occupied as a quick method of expression. Issues that are often dealt with are race, class, feminism, war, etc.
On the other hand theater deals with dramatic art, where everything is intensified not only by the acting itself, but also with lights, makeup, set designs and actors. Most actors in drama theater are not authors; meanwhile a performance artist is almost always the author, allowing much more freedom of action. There are many existing factors that differ in theater and performance art. Generally, in theater training is a necessity, virtuosity and skills are highly regarded, where as a performance artist's stage presence as well as the charisma, innovative ness and the topicality are valued. The audience comes to witness the uniqueness of the performance artist, not his / her technical skills.
Normally during a performance event a beginning and an end is not a requirement nor does it have to exist at all. On the other hand, even in the most experimental theater -that are not text-based groups- have a beginning, a dramatic peak, and an end. Also theater groups tend to have a more structured and hierarchical work ethic, in which each person has a specific task on a specific level of the triangle; the main actors, the supporting actor, and the technical team. For a performance artist the tasks vary depending on the performance, whether it is a solo in which case, the performer assumes all roles or a piece in which others collaborate. Performance art is in constant flux in this sense. Performance art has many aspects and viewpoints as to what it encapsulates or even as to how it started.
Coco Fusco, a well-known curator, writer, and artist believe that 'performance art in the West did not begin with Dadaist events.' She believes that performance art started 'in the early days of European conquest, when aboriginal samples of people from Africa, Asia, and the Americas were brought to Europe for aesthetic contemplation, scientific analysis, and entertainment.' 'Over the last 500 hundred years, Australian Aborigines, Tahitians, Aztecs, Iroquois, Cherokee (... ) have been exhibited in the taverns, theaters, gardens, museums, zoos, circuses, and world's fairs of Europe, and the freak shows of the United States', explains Fusco. This seems very interesting to me and has risen an astounding point about the origins of performance, even though I do not know if I completely agree with her, being that the majority of the aborigines on display were not there at will. The fact that she deals with culture along the frontier and names this intercultural performance art makes sense. The word "performance" seems so generic and able to grasp and embrace many aspects of dance, theater, art and so many other art forms. Performance is so accessible and immediate that many people recur to it as a means of expression.
It is an art form that will never be outdated or overridden by technology. The ritual of watching a live circulating and breathing body is irreplaceable. For a performance artist the body is the true site of creation that is often placed at risk by some artistic obsessions of taking it to the limit to prove a point. The body becomes a representational object, which can be taken out context and used as an element to supply the whole audience with rendition of the artist's entire thought process.
It is a chance for the body to gain independence and acquire extreme attention. Performance art allows artists to take their art directly to the public forum rather than having to go through a gallery or museum. A performance artist, not a public artist, quite often occupies the streets as an extension of the experimental process, a place to test first drafts with an audience who can be actively or passively involved. Audience is usually not invited personally to participate, but rather finds it by coincidence. "In a public space there are no art viewer, there are just passerby", as Vito Acconci stated before.
It is a moment for the artist to communicate the intimate with the public whether it is a private issue or opinion. It is a place where artists have the opportunity to derail common thoughts amongst society. Performance art gives an artist space to say what others don't, do what other won't and occupy cultural niches -such as communities that encompass the political, ethic, aesthetics, and gender based views- that have been overlooked. Hierarchies, institutional and government power are ruled out or non-existent. Performance art lives on the outskirts of higher culture, pushing the outer limits of culture and identity. It allows the artist to be an insider and outsider at the same time, crossing the border of points of view at all times.
It functions on different levels of society's social structure, sometimes right on par with current events and other times defying all common everyday needs and resistance. Performance art fluctuates between boundaries of all art. Its conceptual territory lies within the contradiction, the ambiguity and the extreme, making it difficult to define borders. Performance art is a means of art that cannot be bought or sold.
It is a chance where all art forms converge in many different mixes, whether it be music, video, painting, poetry, movement, etc. In a postmodern society where all genres loose their limits and are hard to define, performance art has become an absolutely hybrid art form. Bibliography 1. Fusco, Coco. "English is Broken Here." New York: The New Press, 1995. 2.
Goldberg, Rose lee. "Performance Art, From Futurism to the Present." Singapore: C. S. Graphics, 2001. 3. Acconci, Vito, "Public Space in a Private Time", url: web web.