Body Art Body

As referenced in a previous blog, this week we’ve been looking at specific examples of Performance Art and, what began to be called Body Art, in the early 1970’s.

What does the term Body Art imply? Personally, I think of tattoos, but, to extend this further to practices that are considered under the umbrella, it is the use of the body as canvas for, or as, art in and of itself; using the body as a medium for artistic expressing in varied forms and formats. The foregrounding of the body explores the relationship between the body as object or objectified, implicit or explicit, as culturally inscribed or created through culture.

Image Credit: Zebrowski Photography
Performer Credit: Leah Debrincat

Alongside this, much Body Art practise explored the limits of the body through durational exploits or inflicting of pain; both aspects reflected in tattoo experiences. We can also consider the body as archive wherein the art resides both in, and on, the body – however, the fixity of the designation ‘archive’ implies permanence, which, as we have looked at previously, can be troubled as a concept. So too in the body; the idea of tattoos representing a permanence can be subverted if we consider the inconstancy, and eventual death, of the artist/canvas.

Artists attributed themselves (either at the time, or after the event) as a synecdoche: by forcing the audience to confront, and therefore question, what they are ‘allowing’ to happen in front of them, the work invites examination of what is being ‘allowed’ to happen elsewhere. In one piece by the artist Gina Pane, which took place in an apartment rather than a gallery, arriving audience members were made to deposit a percentage of their salary into a box. This extends to examination of what might happen to ‘our’ money, in a way that doesn’t happen when we put money into a bank - simply another kind of box. By forcing this confrontation with capitalism, the ownership of money, and the transactional, commercialised nature of art or experience, this action asks where we, literally and metaphorically, place value?

Gina Pane's post-performance documentation
Image Source:

As previously discussed, the work ‘Shoot!’, by Chris Burden appears to be legitimising violence under the auspices of art; however, violence was, and still is, already legitimised in mass and popular media. It is the frame which imposes the authority of art on this action, which, if it took place without this mandate, would be indistinguishable from something like ‘Jackass’, or the many prank videos on YouTube - the spaces of production and reception, the intended audiences, and the methods of documentation infer superiority.

Much of the work had a shocking visual, visceral impact; reflecting on the social movements of the time, and a society worn down by images of war. By presenting something present, immediate, and not on a TV screen or newspaper images, audiences engage with aspects of encounter; disturbing a disturbed quotidian.


Popular Posts