Reactor

Is the Internet the Death of Performance Art?

by Liza Eliano on August 22, 2011

The artist is present, but only online

Did video kill the performance art star? The New York Times asks this question in a post that claims that the constant spectacle of YouTube and social media have trumped performance art’s shock value. James Westcott, author of the biography, When Marina Abramovic Dies, writes:

The ubiquity of digital spectacles and curiosities today is one reason performance art has had its thunder stolen. Another is more insidious — a new form of subjectivity prompted by platforms like Facebook: the constant need to Perform Yourself (which could be YouTube’s slogan, rather than “Broadcast Yourself”). It’s not surprising, then, that many people were blasé about the nudity on Wall Street.

But were people really unfazed by Zefrey Throwell’s strip tease in downtown Manhattan? Sure, some busy bankers might have rushed on by, but seeing boobs on Wall Street usually doesn’t constitute an ordinary day even for the most jaded of New Yorkers. Westcott also argues that the online palooza surrounding Marina Abramovic’s “The Artist is Present” (2010) turned her intimate performance into a Where’s Waldo for celebrity visitors.

There’s no doubt that much of the hype for her show was generated on Flickr and Tumblr, which became just as much a part of the experience as sitting before the high priestess of performance art. But, as someone who participated in both the virtual and IRL versions of “The Artist is Present,” I don’t think the internet had any diminishing effect whatsoever on the power of the work. Rather, the egalitarian possibilities of the internet and its penchant for sharing was exactly what drew even more curious visitors to the event. Watching others take part in the performance, whether in person or on the computer, only elevated the interaction that Abramovic set out to create. While it may seem that the internet has turned performance art into publicity art, the increased digital visibility of performance art has not replaced the value of the real life experience. As an art form that already doesn’t have a clear set of boundaries, whatever gets sucked into performance art in terms of its distribution and reception becomes a part of the performance.

Pronouncing art forms dead in the art world is also as trendy as a Damien Hirst, but let’s get a little perspective on the matter. I have to agree with one NYT reader, Edmund Mooney, who wrote in the comments:

Did the phonograph kill live music? Did tv kill the theater? No it just made them that much more special to experience, and human beings above all else want to feel like there experiencing something special.

While I’m certainly not ready to hold a funeral for performance art, where do you stand on this debate?

 

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  • http://twitter.com/anxiaostudio an xiao 4.5

    Quick comment but I think you hit on two important points here:

    “Rather, the egalitarian possibilities of the internet and its penchant
    for sharing was exactly what drew even more curious visitors to the
    event.”

    “While it may seem that the internet has turned performance
    art into publicity art, the increased digital visibility of performance
    art has not replaced the value of the real life experience.”

    This seems right.  On the one hand, Internet video has made performance art accessible and egalitarian, so it’s no longer limited to just those who live in or near the most expensive city in the US and can afford to pay $20 for a ticket to MoMA.  On the other hand, it also feeds a hunger for in-person experience of art.  It’s not a zero-sum game; the in-person experience is no less rich or interesting because it also happens to be broadcast/publicized online.  I don’t have data, but it’s likely that there’s *more* interest in witnessing performance art in person than there had been before.

    Both are good things.

  • Den Hickey

    It will probably kill lots of the boring, trite, and cliched performance art out there… one can only hope… but if anything it gives performance a new dynamic to work with… not technology itself (please… can we please not let this field of art get subsumed into being about the latest technology making it basically a commercial for technology, too?) but the impact of these technologies on what viewers are accustomed to, which can hopefully be pushed towards more interesting and meaningful performance art… that doesn’t rely solely on shock value.

  • http://twitter.com/chromatichouse Clay Rodery
  • Paul Williams

    Is stuff like the “Jackass” movies performance art? Or since those a**holes are only in it for the money, is it just considered pop-crap (which is what I think those type of movies are. same category as dane cook).

      But also, what about that smart-a**, Martin Spurloch, who ate nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days for his documentary: is that performance art? I can’t stand that guy, but he makes a good point about things.
     
    Stuff performed in galleries can seem pretentious, and it is a barrier to viewing it. Now that there is so much reality TV, docu-ramas, and of course the internet, performance artists have their innovative work cut out for them, but I don;t think it should or will die.

    Painting dies at least every five years, and people still paint stuff. Except for painters that don’t paint.

    I agree with an xiao 4.5 , I think the internet helps publicize it more and create more interest. The only way for me to know about M. Abramovic’s performance was the Flickr photos and stuff written about it online.

  • http://hereisafantasy.com Here is a Fantasy

    Performance art isn’t dead. The immediacy of performance art in the 1960s originated in the immediacy of the body. Now the immediacy is less localized through the immediacy of the body as mediated throughtechnology. 

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