The contemporary performance

Video existences beyond the society of images

by Jizaino, 10 May 2017


Historically, from the conceptual point of view, traditional performance artists like Jochen Gerz or Marina Abramović & Ulay have made us accustomed to the identification of this artistic activity with the overcoming, or indeed the reaching, of human limits.
The need to shock with something uncommon, to extend the limits of thought beyond the incomprehensible and to shake a conformism as much ummovable as desperately normalising, turned the actions gradually more extreme, until this became the final conceptual purpose.


Jochen Gerz
"Rufen bis zur Erschöpfung"
(Call until exhaustion), 1972


Marina Abramović & Ulay
"AAA-AAA", 1978


Instead, from the practical point of view, since start the performance, even that of the dematerialised art of Allan Kaprow, needed to be recorded to survive and to persist in history, needed a support, either cine or photo and successively video: videoperformance was born and, thanks to the prospect of deferred screenings, it ended up in having no need for a physically present public any more. Then, with the coming of internet and on-line videos, the videoperformance would finally be enjoyed by an audience way wider than that of a physical location.


Giuliano Sturli
"Danza Fatua" (Fatuous Dance), 1987


Albeit people often connect them one each other, videoperformance and videoart should not be confused: a performance mainly is the enacting of a premeditated play, just like at the theatre, even though sometimes improvised and susceptible of extemporary variations or for the spectators' intervention. The action done by the artist must be the preponderant element in the concerning video recording, not the collateral use of one's own image into a video artwork.

Today the performance in video has become a mass phenomenon: sharing a video on-line is at anyone's reach, so we are witnessing to the proliferation of shootings immortalising challenges, stunts, demonstrations of one's own talent, in the accepted meaning of performance as feat, or striking and valiant deeds.
In this multitude, the borderlines between the motivations of video-posting and of artistic performance are indistinct, to the point that only those performance artists who where ahead and acted before the coming of internet (or in some cases of television), could be considered the only milestones representing a movement exhausted by now, because it has fulfilled its purpose, of a concluded epoch, because assimilated by society; but, you know, artists soon or later change things, thus it is interesting to explore contemporary trends trying to understand where performing art is going to.

Today's video-posting faithfully reflects the identification of art with life preconised by the Fluxus of Allan Kaprow, and seems inspired to the longing for the overcoming of one's own limits faced by the most popular modern performers like Marina Abramović, confirming the massification occurred.


Jazmin Taco
"Eyelashes Sculpture - Part I", 2017


Currently, the traditional performance, the live one, survives just in few cases, ceding the floor to videoperformance, that offers the advantages of new technological means, but also for the suffering global economy, which sets limits and demands an ethical involvement either to the artists and to the public; from this point of view, videoperformance has shifted the objective in the overcoming of limits from the human sphere to the economic one.


Roberto Voorbij
"Alledag." (Everyday), 1997

The artistic performances aiming to astonish or to scandalise public opinion, by now does not raise much clamour any more, seeming quite mild and naive in front of the myriads of way more shocking videos shared by "anonymous" individuals, like the acrobatic follies of extreme parkour, several times ended up in the death "live" of the athlete, just like snuff-movies. The performances about pain, on the solicitation of human endurance, by now could be considered not up with the times any more: the reality, among overwork, body-modding, self-harm attitudes and BDSM, has overcome the timid fantasies of artists of the past. Although for a reason.


Joan Jonas
"Wind", 1968


It is important to notice that on-line videos of art performances gain few visualisations respectively to those from "unknown" people searching for their own "fifteen minutes of celebrity", which instead get even millions. This is due to the fact that very often the artists are extremely sensible people, who have undertook a philosophic journey and who utilise the means for a different purpose than the mere self-affirmation, and to transmit a thought or metaphysical concept, to share their own conviction, and not a frivolous "monstrosity", a virtuosity record or one's own status; on the contrary, they are more often actors for the sake of everyone, supported by a Magrittean ability to annul one's own ego, thus resulting deeply disturbing to large part of the public accustomed to mainstream disculture, that promotes the satisfaction of egocentric hedonism and pride.


Benna G. Maris
"Nothing happened - Archetype", 2012


Today we are witnessing to the development of videoperformances getting back a distance from the sparkling extremism, searching for the minimalism in daily life, although always attentive to surrounding phenomenons, tending to be more respectful for the human being and more meticulous in formulating messages. Nearly in a conceptual folding up, the most actual videoperformances portray frail, sensible and insecure actors, who question themselves. But that nihilism is positive, it is a defence passivity guaranteeing continuity to the message, a tactic of resistance and perseverance worthy of Sun Tzu.

Ascertaining many similarities, we could assert that contemporary videoperformace represents the natural evolution of the thinking of Joseph Beuys, one of the most influential artists in this field.


Joseph Beuys
"Filz-TV" (Felt-TV), 1970

Today's videoperformance's answer is quite like a mea culpa: the artists return to consider the limits of their own existence, the spiritual or metaphysical intimacy, addressing it to the collective conscience, not much to the physical or visual presence, which becomes just an aesthetic frill, although needed as an attraction. This inclination is aimed to stem a massificated movement that went astray, to correct the wrong interpretation that evidently the public gave to the historic performance, since the masses are still and always in the grip of materialism, thus they did not grasped the profound meaning of such performances wishing to break the mental schemes, not the practical ones, but that invariably have been adapted to the pragmatism of the consumerist era, to the point of becoming a commercial phenomenon.


Branko Miliskovic
"Endling", 2013



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