becoming + performance art


becoming + performance art
  ---- by Adrian Parr
  The early era of performance art from the mid-1960s and through the 1970s included such figures as Allan Kaprow, Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, Chris Burden, Adrian Piper, Laurie Anderson, Lacy and Labowitz, Hannah Wilke, Carolee Schneemann, and Ana Mendieta in the United States; Joseph Beuys, Marina and Ulay, Valie Export, Hermann Nitsch and the Vienna Actionismus in West Europe; Jan Mlcoch, Petr Stembera, Milan Knizak, Gabor Attalai, Tamas Szentjoby in East Europe; Stuart Brisley, and Gilbert and George in England; and Jill Orr, Stelarc and Mike Parr in Australia. More recently performance has become a significant, if not primary, ingredient of many artistic practices. Examples include but are not restricted to: Coco Fusco, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Ricardo Dominguez, Santiago Sierra, Franco B., Vanessa Beecroft, Matthew Barney, Tehching Hsieh, and Andrea Fraser.
  Strongly influenced by Antonin Artaud, Dada, the Situationists, Fluxus and Conceptual Art, performance art in its early days tended to define itself as the antithesis of theatre, in so far as the event was never repeated the same way twice and did not have a linear structure with a clear beginning, middle and end. More importantly though, all performance art interrogates the clarity of subjectivity, disarranging the clear and distinct positions that the artist, artwork, viewer, art institution and art market occupy.
  Trying to articulate the changed relationship between artist, artwork and viewer that performance art inaugurated can at times be difficult but the Deleuzian concept of 'becoming' is especially useful here in that it allows us to consider art in terms of a transformative experience as well as conceptualise the process of subjectification performance art sustains. 'Becoming' points to a non-linear dynamic process of change and when used to assist us with problems of an aesthetic nature we are encouraged not just to reconfigure the apparent stability of the art object as 'object' defined in contradistinction to a fully coherent 'subject' or an extension of that 'subject' but rather the concept of art's becoming is a fourfold becoming-minor of the artist, viewer, artwork and milieu. It is in this regard that performance prompts us to consider the production and appreciation of art away from the classical subject/object distinction that prevailed by and large up until the 1960s.
  A good example of this would have to be Acconci's Following Piece (1969) that began with a proposition randomly to follow people in New York. The idea was that the performance would independently arrive at a logical endpoint, regardless of the artist's intention and despite the 'goal' of the work being achieved. Instead, it was the person being followed who brought the work to its final conclusion, such as when she entered her apartment or got into her car and drove off. In this instance the work was provisionally structured by a proposition, 'to follow another person', but the eventual form the work took was structured by the movements of the person being followed. In fact, here the art can be considered as a process sensitive to its own transformation; as the artist was led around the city at the whim of someone else. There is a proposition to do 'X' then the activity of doing 'X' activates new previously unforeseen organisations to take place; the art is in the 'becoming of art' that is in itself social. Art of this kind may be best articulated as 'art without guarantees'; this is because it exists entirely in duration and amidst the play of divergent forces that typifies Deleuze's understanding of 'becoming'.
  What is more, with performance art artistic value is produced socially; it is not an abstract value that is imposed outside the creative process itself. Hence, what we find is that this kind of artistic practice concomitantly provides a radical challenge against the whole concept of labour in a capitalist context. Value is not decided according to profit margins and the market, rather it is a particular kind of social organisation. For example, when Beuys arrived at the René Block Gallery in New York (May 1974) where he lived with a wild coyote for seven days in the gallery, the art was in how the two slowly developed a sense of trust in the other to the point where they eventually slept curled up together. The meaning that emerged out of the piece was not universal, nor was it absolutely relative; as an a-signifying process this was an art practice occurring at the limits of signification.
  In the examples given, the art was both socially produced and conceived in terms of 'social formation', one that converged differences in their mutual becoming. Hence, what this demonstrates is that performance art turns its back on the optical emphasis that once governed art. Instead, such practices aim at producing an encounter or event, not in the simplistic sense that it 'happened' at a particular moment in time, but in so far as it aspires to bring a variety of elements and forces into relation with one another. Ultimately, performance art involves a multiplicity of durations, each of which is implied in the artwork as a whole. The crucial point is that performance art cannot be described within traditional aesthetic parameters that reinforce the validity of subject/object distinctions, consequently the conceptual apparatus 'becoming' offers us is descriptive. It helps us describe the process of change indicative of performance art; an event that in its singularity concomitantly expresses a multiplicity of relations, forces, affects and percepts.

The Deleuze dictionary. . 2010.

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