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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Art Antics

In our western culture, and in much of the rest of the world as well, we tend to think of art as a static product of a single creative individual working alone, living on Ramen Noodles and cheap wine, misunderstood and unappreciated. That may have been the case during some eras in art history, but it is mostly an outdated stereotype today. Virtually everything about that image is dead wrong. Art no long must be static. Even your brother-in-law's vacation slide show, while probably a feeble attempt at creative communication, is not static--the slides change (albeit, perhaps too slowly). The slides themselves are not art, but the presentation might possibly be, thus there is no product, only a boring experience. In fact, in today's digital age, the whole idea of a slide show is mostly antiquated. In any case, If the "artist" (and/or spouse) can afford a vacation and photography equipment, they are probably not starving. The misunderstood and unappreciated part depends more on the audience than the artist. The would-be visual artist, though perhaps stretching the definition of art to the breaking point, is, in fact, a performance artist whether he or she stars in the presentation or merely produces, directs, records and edits it.

Please don't skip this video. It's a little long, but it's also the key to understanding much of what follows:

Normally I write discussing a given topic or individual while including numerous images chosen to reinforce and clarify my words. However, as you might imagine, given the topic in this case, that would be totally inadequate. Normally we think of art as having two dimensions as in paintings and drawings; three in the case of sculpture and architecture. Performance art has four dimensions. The first two (length and height) are traditional while the third (depth) is illusional as suggested by the first two. The fourth dimension is the element of time. A motion picture takes time to watch. Even your brother-in-law's vacation shots take time to present.

In the past I've written about the seeds of performance art as sewn and grown by the Dada movement during the interbellum period of the 1920s and 30s. Individually, I've featured a few performance artists such as Vanessa Beecroft (above). A more recent installation by Vanessa Beecroft from early October, 2017, at the Uffizi in Florence isn collaboration with Tod's (an international fashion retailer) appears below.

Vanessa Beecroft,
performance artist.

Although Vanessa Beecroft may well be the most famous (and well-paid) performance artist, her work is all her own and not typical of much that may goes on in the avant-garde art galleries of Europe and the United States. Some of it is slow, elegant, to the point of being ethereal, such as the Butoh Dance Performance in Japan (below). I should also mention that the majority of such performance art involves human body movement and very often that body is nude or nearly so.

There is a nearly inextricable link between performance art and motion pictures (film or digital video) media. During the early days of performance art there was little or no effort to preserve the work of such artists. Today, the relatively low cost of doing so, and the possible returns to be had by the artists and their sponsors, usually entails turning such performances into media products for rental or resale. Oliver de Sagazan's Transfiguration (below) is about as far removed from Vanessa Beecroft as one could imagine. And though I would deem it is nothing short of "gross," my guess is that once you start watching it, as disgusting as it might seem, you'll be unable to stop the video.


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