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Performance Art

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“Our understanding of our bodies and physical surroundings is shaped by language.” Jacques Lacan

BY: Khursheed Mushtaq Ali

Performance is not an isolated term of language. It involves the larger range of terms around itself. While the terms ‘performance’ and ‘performance art’ only became widely used in the 1970s, the history of performance in the visual arts is often traced back to futurist productions and dada cabarets of the 1910s (TERMS). Performance emerged historically as a question on the stability of meaning in language. For example the term performance involves permanence, impermanence, presence, absence, material, immaterial etc. These terms consolidate the term performance in the history, concepts and discourses to present the processes and ruptures in becoming rather than being.

So the performance involves broader range of terms, discourses, concepts and actions. In visual arts it involves body, bodies as central point of presence and absence of the actual. So the body has a central role in it. Without artist’s bodily presence, performance is not possible virtually or as real or any other alternative way. Performance has to differentiate between the act, action, reaction and the outcome of the act, action or reaction. The outcome of the performance can be analyzed in multiple manners such as firstly the intended meaning and the interpreted meaning. The meaning which has been destabilized from the authorial fascist pedestal now plays fittingly in the middle ground – the middle ground between the performer and the audience. The categories of the performer and the spectator/audience stands challenged in the tradition of performance arts. The spectator is no longer just a passive consumer of the show but is an active participant to the point where almost all the boundaries between the actor and the viewer are destroyed and the performance becomes a commune, a festival, a celebration.  In this utopian, bacchian commune of transcendental state, the meaning is no longer primary but the experience; the sensorium of the performance event, ritual event becomes primary. Performance arts today should aim towards such a communitas creation where the stratifications of the organized societies fall apart.  It is that body without organs which functions on the plane of intensities, interacting, interplaying with the bodies around it, who themselves become a part of the performative body.  Performance, act of the kind which the organization makes you to perform for their capital gaining desires can be viewed in introduction in how these institutions makes one to perform their respected language. “Performance is what the organization hires one to do, and do well” (Campbell, (1996)). Thus, performance is not defined by the action itself but by judgmental and evaluative processes (cf. Ilgen & Schneider, 1991; Motowidlo, Borman, & Schmit, 1997). The outcomes of the performance depends upon the audience not on the performer what s/he achieved through the performance. Then it becomes a mere experience or witnessing of the event which then disappears. But in conceptual art performances it depends sometimes what the performer presents, it can be arbitrary, which can be interpreted as resistance against the already established norms. But if the point is to resist that has dismantle these norms. Then that kind of performance can be called poor performance. Or it can be reduced to attempt of doing not as engaging.  How that affects the audience. The body as artist investigates the space and time in reference to historical, social, political context of a space, incorporating the bodily acts in an artistic manner and becomes a performance as a whole and can be called as site specific performance. And also sometimes site remains passive in performance. That can also be called performance. Performance is play with the body and bodies. It is presentation of text and context that body generates through a systematic manner of adaptation of idea or thought. It is immediate presentation of thoughts or ideas, that contests wide range of discourses.

The human body in a performative conceptual space becomes the conceptual body and can be aware of histories of the space to intervene to create discourse. The acts of a body in crucial manner tend to generate new forms of language or a set of signs to constitute an alternative to textual language. The act of body in a space that generates a physical texture becomes a signifier. Thus, the act generates a meaning in a wider context. Such acts that evoke the body as an art object are as opposed to a traditional art objects. Concepts, discourses or dialogues imply to a physical attribute and bodily presences. Whilst sensitive to the politics of representation, especially the gender politics of body imagery, emphasis are not placed only on the historical particularities of body, space and time but other concepts and approaches through which a performance takes place. As such, Performance art is opposed to conventional art practice. The conceptual art performances use body imagery to negotiate with language. As going through the politics of representation of body, body possess its own language and histories. These cultural impositions elucidate and complicate the concept to question body itself. Body is purely biology, an animal entity that behaves in a manner to make an exchange with the other entities. So the body contains the language to act, react and respond through different power of senses. Those behaviors are decoded with given meaning or value to make a possible exchange.

When presenting in a conceptual manner a body apart from its cultural construction; or a biological body but in terms of classifications that create and evoke differences, the body becomes a political body. A body begins to speak itself, about its biological differences and is problematized, with cultural impositions, theories, concepts etc. In conceptual art performances, artist’s body evokes the space and time to generate narrative or a context based on histories, myths or realities.

Whether a performance in a space (or this content) can be repeated in another space depends upon the practice and intention of the performer and nature of the performance. Thus, the practice of a performance artist becomes the language that the artist carries within. Whatever the artist presents in front of audience or in any abandoned space is decoded to turn it as a sign. Therefore, the performance art is also known as live art action. Therefore, the body, mind strategy (language) of the performer is as important as the content of a space and time.

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