of the week: performance art

Wilfred Prieto, Walk, 2000

'Perhaps one of Wilfredo Prieto's cleverest tactics is his apparent invisibility in the relation between the work of art and the spectator’ remarked Ferran Barenblit, director of the CA2M in Madrid.

Walk was conceived in 2000, during a residency in Curaçao which witnessed the artist leaving his home of Cuba for the first time. A plant is placed in a wheelbarrow, stabilised in a base of soil, and ‘taken for a walk’ - more precisely, a 5 kilometre walk. In Prieto fashion, this work showcases his style of satire, of dissecting social structures in a light-hearted, poking sort of way.
As Guggenheim deduces: ‘Walk connects to a long tradition of walking in twentieth-century art, its precursors including the Situationists’ dérive (drift), the Surrealists’ unconscious explorations of Paris, Robert Smithson’s forays into the ruins of Passaic, New Jersey, and Francis Alÿs’s treks around Mexico City.’

Known for his conceptual and minimalist artworks that challenge traditional notions of art and question the role of the artist in society, Prieto often works with everyday objects and materials, transforming them in unexpected ways to create thought-provoking pieces. Another notable work is Potato Project (1996-ongoing), in which Prieto has been collecting potatoes from around the world and displaying them in a variety of configurations. The piece raises questions about the nature of art, the value of everyday objects, and the role of food in society.

Patty Chang, in love, 2001

4 minutes : 2 channel video

Exploring themes of identity, gender, and the body, and Chang has been known for her provocative works.

As she divulges on her site: ‘In this video, I share eating an onion with my mother and my father. The video is played backwards so that we begin in a kissing embrace with tears in our eyes. As the video plays, the tears roll back up and an onion emerges from our mouths. As the title suggests, the video is about the abstract boundaries of love, sacrifice, familial relations and inheritance.’

Chang's early works in the 1990s often involved performance art that explored the boundaries of the body, often using her own body as a canvas to express her ideas. In her later works, Chang turned to video and installation art to explore similar themes. For example, in her video work Shaved, she shaved her own head as a way of exploring issues of beauty, femininity, and cultural identity. In her installation works, she has often used everyday objects in unexpected ways to create a sense of disorientation and provoke questions about the nature of reality.

Valie Export, Action Pants: Genital Panic, 1968

‘I didn’t want to perform in a gallery or a museum, as they were too conservative for me, and would only give conventional responses to my experimental works. It was important for me to present my works to the public, in the public space, and not within an art-conservative space, but in the by then so-called underground ... When I was performing my actions in public, on the streets, in the urban space, new and different forms of reception developed. In the streets I provoked new explanations. I wanted to be provocative, to provoke, but also aggression was part of my intention. I wanted to provoke, because I sought to change the people’s way of seeing and thinking ... If I hadn’t been provocative, I couldn’t have made visible what I wanted to show. I had to penetrate things to bring them to the exterior.’

An Austrian performance artist renowned for her feminist works which subvert traditional notions of femininity and objectification, Export was never fearful of pushing both physical and public interaction limits. In 1968, she entered a Munich art cinema that was hosting an experimental film screening, clad in a full leather outfit in which the pubic area had been cut out - exposing her sex, with a machine gun in her hands.

This performance - Action Pants: Genital Panic - was created with the intention of confronting the seated viewers with her genitalia front-on, full-view.

As Tate elaborates: ‘This confrontation challenged the perceived cliché of women’s historical representation in the cinema as passive objects denied agency.’

Marina Abramoviç, rhythm 0, 1974

There are 72 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired.
I am the object.
During this period I take full responsibility.”

“Gun, bullet, blue paint, comb, bell, whip, lipstick, pocket knife, fork, perfume, spoon, cotton, flowers, matches, rose, candle, mirror, drinking glass, polaroid camera, feather, chains, nails, needle, safety pin, hairpin, brush, bandage, red paint, white paint, scissors, pen, book, sheet of white paper, kitchen knife, hammer, saw, piece of wood, ax, stick, bone of lamb, newspaper, bread, wine, honey, salt, sugar, soap, cake, metal spear, box of razor blades, dish, flute, Band Aid, alcohol, medal, coat, shoes, chair, leather strings, yarn, wire, Sulphur, grapes, olive oil, water, hat, metal pipe, rosemary branch, scarf, handkerchief, scalpel, apple.”

Lasting six hours, rhythm 0 involved Abramoviç standing completely still and allowing the audience to use a variety of objects on her body in any way they chose.
72 objects were laid out on a table.
The audience was instructed not to touch Abramoviç until she indicated that the performance was over. However, they were allowed to use any of the objects on her in any way they wished.

Over the course of the performance, the audience progressively became more aggressive, with some people cutting her clothes off, scratching her skin with the thorns of the rose, sexually assaulting her and even holding the loaded gun to her head, resulting in a fight breaking out between the audience members / participants.
She remained completely passive throughout the performance, accepting whatever was done to her without any resistance. A performance turned social experiment, it was intended to explore the relationship between performer and audience and the limits of human behaviour.
A captivating commentary on the human condition, our capacity for both cruelty and empathy, and the willingness of individuals to surrender control to authority figures.

David Hammons, Bliz-aard Ball Sale, 1983

‘The photos portraying Hammons with his neatly arranged rows of snowballs for sale are probably the most frequently reproduced images in the artist’s oeuvre.
The piece has become iconic, the single ephemeral work – a work that is essentially about ephemerality – that has come to stand for his entire practice. As it comes down to us in documentation, it is a portrait of the artist as an anonymous and disreputable pedlar, an absurdist street hustler.
Hammons’ notion of an artist includes a constant flirtation with notions of the illicit and the fraudulent – the ever-present suggestion that the whole business might be a scam.
What, after all, could be more of a scam than selling snowballs in winter?’
(Steven Stern).

Selling snowballs for $2 a pop, Hammons stood behind his product, in a stance very familiar to most market sellers, in New York’s East Village. Surrounded by snow, the absurdity of selling snowballs is heightened - a startling commentary on the nature of the art world and need, yet also functions on a social level of eliciting discussion. The salesman, Hammons in this case, is rendered seen / interacted with as his products gain attention and strike up discussion.

Hammons' work often explores issues of race, class, and the African American experience. He uses a wide range of materials and mediums, including found objects, street materials, and traditional art materials like paint and canvas. Another of Hammons' most famous works is The Door (Admissions Office), which he created in 1969. The piece consists of a discarded wooden door that Hammons found on the street and painted black. He then hung the door in the gallery at the Just Above Midtown (JAM) Gallery in New York City, where it served as the entrance to the gallery's admissions office. The work was a commentary on the exclusionary nature of the art world, and the difficulties that black artists face in gaining entry and recognition. Hammons also created Basketball Drawing in 1989, covering a basketball in graphite and rolling it across sheets of paper, creating a series of drawings that resemble abstract landscapes. The work comments on the intersection of sports and art, and the way that race and class intersect in both arenas.

Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975

In Semiotics of the Kitchen, Rosler performs a parody of a cooking show host by adopting the persona of an overly serious, robotic presenter who goes through the alphabet, introducing kitchen utensils and demonstrating their proper use. However, instead of demonstrating how to use these utensils in a conventional manner, Rosler violently gestures and makes aggressive noises with each tool. The piece can be seen as a critique of the gendered roles assigned to women in the kitchen, as well as a commentary on the ways in which language and gestures can be used to convey power dynamics.

The work takes a semiotic approach to the kitchen, using the signifiers of domesticity and femininity to reveal the underlying power structures at play. Rosler's performance subverts the conventional meanings associated with these signifiers, using them instead to highlight the violence and aggression that can be hidden beneath seemingly innocuous domestic activities. In this sense, "Semiotics of the Kitchen" can be seen as a feminist critique of the ways in which women are expected to perform domestic labor and the limited options available to them within this sphere.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1943 she began her career in the 1960s as a photographer. Rosler's early work focused on documentary-style photography, often exploring political and social issues such as poverty and gentrification. In the 1970s, she began working with video, producing pieces that critiqued the mainstream media and the role it played in shaping public opinion.

One of Rosler's most well-known works is her photomontage series, Bringing the War Home, created in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which juxtaposed images of the Vietnam War with scenes of domestic life in America. Through this series, Rosler aimed to expose the hypocrisy of the government's handling of the war and to challenge the idea that the war was a distant, separate issue from American society.

Tehching Hsieh, time clock piece, 1980-81

‘I was thinking about wasting time. Before I had a studio but I didn’t know what to create. I was just wasting time, thinking, for years. Then I turned wasting time into art.’

Known for his series of One Year Performances that took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of these performances, titled One Year Performance 1980–1981 (Time Clock Piece), involved Hsieh punching a time clock every hour on the hour, 24 hours a day, for an entire year. This seemingly mundane activity seems simple yet prevented Hsieh from having proper sleep or engaging fully in any specific task.

During the performance, Hsieh lived in a small room in New York City with a bed, a sink, a hot plate, and the time clock. He would punch the clock every hour, on the hour, even if he was sleeping, eating, or showering. Each punch was documented with a photograph and a written record, which were later displayed in an exhibition.

The Time Clock Piece was a commentary on the nature of time, work, and human endurance. Hsieh's performance highlighted the monotony of daily life and the impact of time on the body and mind. The performance was also a challenge to the art world and the commercialization of art, as Hsieh did not create any physical artworks during the year-long performance.

Born in Taiwan, having relocated to New York in 1974, Tsieh found himself working odd jobs in service and construction, deemed as ‘immigrant’ jobs, to survive. He found this struggle incredibly exhausting and this experience formed the basis for his One Year Performances. Through these performances, Hsieh sought to explore the limits of human endurance, the nature of time, and the relationship between art and life. He often uses mundane or repetitive actions to highlight the monotony of everyday life and to subvert traditional notions of productivity and success.