performance art: the art form that perpetually disappears

What constitutes as performance art? Is it all about the live event, or does documentation count as well? And what about a re-enactment of a performance piece by someone else? Where, when and how can performance art happen?

In the art world exists an dissensus about this. Some people say it’s about the live event. A supporter of this theory is  Peggy Phelan, a professor at Stanford University. She states: “Performance implicates the real through the presence of living bodies.” It is about the “maniacally charged present” and afterwards it fleets into memory.  Even though it is possible to perform a performance again, this repetition is inherently different from the previous performance. According to her, performance should honour the notion that only a restricted amount of people, in a specific span of time and space, is able to experience. Phelan regards any form of documentation, re-enactments or writings, as a weakened memory of the original performance.

Amelia Jones, on the other hand, argues that there cannot possibly be a definitively “truthful” or “authentic” form of the live event, not even at the actual moment the performance is taken place. The performance is constantly “escaping into the past” because the medium – the body – is confronted with time and space.  Jones argues that a relationship to any kind of cultural product, including performance art, is mediated. The apprehension of performance art is only possible through “subjective perception.” This itself originates from memory and experiences. According to Jones we cannot confirm the true meaning of a life event because nothing is singular or authentic because we can never grasp the “now.”

So what do we think about a re-enactment of performance art such as is happening right now at the MoMA PS1 where there are weekly performances of a past performance by Bruce Nauman by other performers? Each Friday and Saturday, Bruce Nauman’s Wall-Floor Positions, which was first staged by Bruce Nauman in 1965 when he attended the University of California, Davis, are performed by different people – not the original artist himself. And it’s not based on the original performance, but a 1968 video provides the score for this solo performance.

Does it feel authentic? Does it feel fake? Does it matter? Maybe it doesn’t, you can’t grasp performance art either way because it perpetually flees into your memory and is therefore not unmediated anyway.

 

For more information click here.

Performers: Laurel Atwell, Kim Brandt, Paul Hamilton, Honey Jernquist, Jiang Feng 江峰 , NIC Kay, Lydia Adler Okrent, Kiyan Williams

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