This blog post attempts to expand my thoughts and understanding of performance art, as it relates to my own practice but also in relation to others.
I’m currently developing a performance piece for an academic context. I’m delighted to have been invited by the School of Modern Languages and Cultures Research Forum, at Bangor University, to perform and talk about my work. As well as pushing on in performance terms, I’ll be investigating the links between memory, body and neurology.
The piece is called, The Sadness of Being Nothing, which I blogged about a little in my last post here, and on The Other Side. The following links give details about the origins of the piece.
It’s going to tie together my post-memory work and my work on neurodiversity, but it also gives me a chance to think more deeply about performance.
Last week I was lucky enough to see a brief performance, at Brookes University, by artist Poppy Jackson, and to hear her talk about her work and influences. Poppy works with the female body and cites artists such as Frida Kahlo, Tracy Emin and Carolee Schneemann as women artists who have a strong bearing on her practice. It was a truly thought provoking experience as Poppy’s work is extremely challenging, in many ways compelling, but not without problematic elements I felt. How to use the female body in radical, and even violent ways (albeit with a reinterpretation of the meaning of violence as a natural force for creation) without unwittingly fetishising or objectifying? How to tread the line between critiquing and mimicking aspects of the very cultural norms you seek to challenge?
The interesting thing about art performance is that it occupies a neutral zone, where conventions of taste are pushed beyond usual boundaries, but nonetheless it exists alongside commercial image making and is tied to the art industry. This performance zone, which exists at one remove from mainstream culture cannot ultimately exist in splendid isolation. For example, the internet provides a space where images of women can be accessed indiscriminately and viewed out of context. This is not wholly unproblematic.
That it is a female artist manipulating her own body, and controlling where the viewer’s gaze may fall and on what selected acts however, carries an important bearing on the difficulties outlined above, separating this privileged zone from commercial representations of the female body. Subversion is indisputably taking place. The artist seeks to enact, transform and provoke. I think that she succeeds.
There is much to learn from the powerful engagement in Poppy’s practice and the commitment to self exposure and personal challenge. Another vital way in which to understand performance is not only as an act for the viewer but also as an act for the artist. Performance has the power to transform us, not only during the act but in the longer term. These are moments of heightened awareness, with the potential to bring lasting insight. Performance, like any other art from is the development of language. It is also the wresting of power. Through it, we speak and are untouchable (in the zone), conventional form is powerless against us. This growing realisation on my part makes performance possible as both gentle protest and a more vigorous subversion. It is the artist’s choice.
Catching up with Poppy’s website I realised that the work shared on the day was carefully selected, and that some of her more challenging work goes beyond my own personal comfort zone. My subject is not the female body – but rather displacement, more specifically exile, rooted in a history and now also in neurological difference. Nonetheless, she inspires me to focus and evolve. Commitment to performance can never be half-hearted, I always prepare meticulously – but there’s always room for more more thought, and the potential to take it just a little bit further.
My thanks go to Mexican performance artist Veronica Cordova and her colleague Peta Lloyd, for the opportunity to view this work.