You are in an art gallery and you are looking at the works on display, when you suddenly notice a shadow moving and the public migrating towards it. You hurry to the nearest exit, but you are too late. The performance has already started and you feel you are in an embarrassing, inescapable situation. So you stay and take part in the event. In the meantime, you wonder what the artist wants to convey and why you have to put up with these awkward circumstances. Your concerns are justified. Maybe you will find an answer in the following lines.
According to a general definition, performance is that type of art that is created by the actions of the artist and/or the participants. Depending on the artistic vision, it can be live or recorded, spontaneous or based on a scenario. At first glance, it resembles a play. It would not be the first time the two are compared. It is understandable. After all, they have the same roots. People have always participated in events similar to plays and performances. The ritual is the oldest example of such activities. Like the ritual, the performance requires total involvement and the “reality” factor is one hundred percent present. This allows the performance to push its limits to the extreme.
To emphasize how real a performance can be, we will go back in time, in 1974. In an art gallery, a 23-year-old girl created a performance that required the active participation of the public. On a table in front of her were 76 objects, some causing pleasure, others pain. Among them were a rose, a coat, a glass of water, a knife, a razor blade and a gun loaded with a bullet. The instructions were also displayed. The artist, assuming full responsibility for what was going to happen during the performance, presented herself as an object with which the visitors could do anything they wanted for six hours.
At first, we might think that the public settled to using the more harmless objects. But the dark side of human nature is hard to accept, isn’t it? Quite soon, people began to choose the razor blade, the knife and the thorns and even put a gun to her head. After the six hours had elapsed, the young woman gave up her position as an object and resumed her role as a human being. Tears running down her face, bleeding and half-naked, she began to walk towards the members of the public. Suddenly, they wanted to retire. An eloquent testimony of human nature. The artist was Marina Abramović. Her performance, Rhythm 0, successfully demonstrated how far the human mind could go. Rhythm 0 is also the perfect example of how this type of art differs from other similar forms. Performance art is, as defined by Abramović, the mental and physical construct that the artist creates in a certain time and space, in front of the public. Unlike a play, in which everything is an illusion, the performance offers something real, a reflection of your own reality through the artist.
Another performance, whose photographic documentary can be seen at the Art Encounters Biennial, is Praying for Rain (1977), by artist Maria Pinińska-Bereś. She wanted to achieve sensory harmonization with the rhythm of nature. The performance took place near the artist’s house, on the outskirts of Krakow. Kneeling on the pasture, Pinińska-Bereś buried her face in the grass and removed the stones around her, creating a space in the shape of a circle. Then she cut the grass with a knife and marked the circle with pink flags. At the end, she sat down facing the sky and her hands outstretched in the shape of a bowl, waiting for the rain.
As with any other form of art, it’s up to you whether you consider such performances good or not. But you need to know one thing. A performance requires allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable and looking inside yourself, accepting your feelings, no matter how difficult that may be. Indeed, a performance can make you feel uncomfortable, but that is its primary goal. So next time the opportunity arises, maybe even during this biennial, do not leave the room. Accept the discomfort and think about the real reason you feel that way.