Performance art is one of my favorite genres of art. There is something so amazing about being able to not only express your idea in physical form, but to become the art piece.
Performance art, not to be confused with the performing arts, such as theater, is the use of one’s body to create art within a designated amount of time. I particularly love performance art because there is no other feeling like performing, from trying to embody so completely your idea.
It doesn’t have to be heavy, but I tend to be a bit intense with my performances. You can do performance art that is light-hearted and meant to spark joy, excitement, or even a feeling of community. My own performances usually had to do with social pressures and feeling alien. Some of the world’s most famous performance artists put together huge group performances where they arrive to build an object for no other purpose than to create together.
Why performance art?
Just like creating any type of art, you start with your idea. What do you want to convey? What do you want your audience to feel? My most popular and my favorite performance I ever did, titled “The Red Room”, started with being inspired to show how damaging propaganda about woman’s appearance really is. I wanted to show that it is more than just “harmless messaging” and to make others feel uncomfortable about it.
“The Red Room” by Maura Housley.
How do you go about expressing that in an image, or a painting? How much more powerful would it be if it was an experience that the audience went through when watching and interacting with a performance?
“The Red Room” by Maura Housley.
How does performance art convey your concept?
Just like every type of art has elements to it, like painting in hues and brushstrokes, performance has the dimensions of time, space, and self.
The performer or self: The performer influences the performance. Whether if the person is male or female, or white or black. Any and all your personal traits influence the performance. The fact that I was a woman, that was performing a piece about the influence of beauty pressures on women made a difference. It would be a much different piece if I was male.
Your audience: Who are you performing to? Are you doing your performance on the street where people with or without knowledge of what performance art is can still interact? Or is this a performance that would do best in a more academic or art defined setting, such as a gallery? Make sure to also know your town’s rules about public art and think about any triggering aspects of your performance.
Time: How long your performance is, changes its meaning. The Red Room was three hours, with people coming in and out of the room. However, a short 3-minute performance could also make a huge impact. One of my favorite performance artists, Chris Burden, did a performance where he was in a locker for FIVE DAYS. Check out more info on him here.
Space: Where you are doing your performance makes a difference. Whether your setting is an art gallery or a warehouse, it changes how your audience perceives it. Also, think about how your space is outfitted. What objects are you using and why. For example, in my Red Room performance, I chose to include objects such as chocolate and strawberries, well-known aphrodisiacs, to try and tempt my audience with. The room was covered in red fabric and candles. Remember your five senses and how they can be used to manifest your idea.
Your actions: The performance itself! What are you doing? Why? To further make my audience feel uncomfortable, I created a candle-lit dinner for one audience member to sit down at a time. I would offer them strawberries, over and over. Sometimes they would take one, sometimes they wouldn’t, but as soon as they refused, I would keep begging them to take one without saying a word. Begging them, pushing the food at them, hoping they would take this strawberry that was representative of myself….am I sexy enough, am I pretty enough, am I exciting enough? What actions can you do to convey your ideas?
How you present your performance:
There are different ways that your audience is able to interact with your performance.
A live performance: This is just what it sounds like. You are performing live, sometimes unrecorded. There are performances that only live on in articles and write-ups after.
Video & Photo: You can perform alone and video it to present later at a gallery or public space, or you can have a live performance that is taped and then displayed later.
A relic: You do the performance but it is unrecorded. Some type of object, from fabric that was used in the performance or object that was created during, is kept and then presented later. Oftentimes there will be an artist statement describing the performance.
“The number 3” Performance by Maura Housley
Can you sell performance art?
The main idea of performance is to create an experience as an art piece. By its nature, it can not really be sold or bought. Obviously, there have been artists that have sold their work to be in galleries or collectors in the form of video or relics. I am not passing any judgment on those artists, however, the vast majority of performance art is intended to be experienced rather than collected.
Do I need to be an established artist to create performance art?
No! Anyone can create a performance. You can create elaborate performances with tons of props, or just create one with you and a partner.
I urge anyone who wants to try performance art, to try. Even if you just try an idea and record it using your camera phone, OR DON’T RECORD IT AT ALL. Try selecting an everyday activity and doing it differently, for a specific period of time and then title it. There is an entire group of performance artists that specialize in working with turning the every day into a performance. It’s called Fluxus!
There is so much info about performance art and I love it so. Have you done a performance before or are you thinking of doing one? Email me or write in the comments below!
Here are some of my favorite performances for inspiration:
- Art Must Be Beautiful
- Vito Acconci (artist)
- Corner Time (Trigger warning)
- One person at a time.
- The Artist Is Present
- Cut Piece
and I have to stop or I will list pages and pages of them 🙂 What are your favorites?