Art comes in different shapes and forms. Throughout time, people have been attempting to discover new ways to express themselves, portray and shape the society and experiences around them. Performance art indeed counts as one of such attempts. Originating in early 20th century, performance art has close connection to everything avant-garde, starting with Futurism. It is a time-sensitive art form that most often is exhibited as a performance and not an artifact. It encompasses artistic expression related to poetry, painting, dancing, acting and music among many others. Its temporality adds beauty to it, however, with modern technology, it oftentimes ends up being recorded on video or in still photography.
The influence of Futurism on the emergence of performance art is truly immense. Futurism revolutionized many aspects of art – it promoted the use of alternative objects to create music, encouraged not just the writing but also the performance of poetry and abstract theatre. As a movement, it utilized the ability to shock people in the moment and that moment only, which became an intrinsic characteristic of performance art. The outrage that some performances caused can oftentimes be directly associated with social change, which assigns even more value to Futurism and performance art as a whole.
Happenings as an art form deserve their own category within the realm of performance art. The term was coined by Allan Kaprow, an American artist, back in 1950s. Defined by live action, happenings are unique in their nature because they utilize the environment in a way that can never be replicated. It includes using surrounding objects and events, such as sources of light, machines, stationary and movable objects not just as props, but as main actors. Audience plays a more crucial part in most happenings than in many other art forms that are performed for an audience. Most often, the audience becomes a part of the performance and in that way creates a truly inclusive, one-of-the-kind experience for everyone involved. To add to the temporal and unique experience of a happening, performers might choose to build upon solely of what they can find around them at that moment, without any prior organization or preparation. In that way they choose to communicate the message they were intending the audience to receive, and the success is highly individual and can be measured only by the reaction of the audience and the experience they receive.
Jackson Pollock is an interesting example. He is considered to be the father of Abstract Expressionism – a way of painting that is defined by free-associative gestures and is oftentimes called “action painting”. He used “drip” technique in most of his prominent works, splashing and splattering paint all over canvas and in that way emphasizing the process of creation as opposed to the artifact itself. Oscar Schlemmer’s “Bauhaus” abstract theater events, Antonin Artaud’s “Theatre of Cruelty” and “Theatre of Absurd” as well as simultaneous actions organized by John Cage at Black Mountain College are all worth noting and exploring for anyone interested in performance art.
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