Hard copy including bibliography and references: The body on edge
Body art is beginning to lose the ability to have impact. Not only on a personal level for an audience member bearing witness to a piece, but more in the sense that the practicing artists have become somewhat selfish. When the practice was emerging in the 1960’s it was about creating a statement, a form of protest against a number of social and political problems occurring at the time. On the other hand, it was also being used as a reaction to the elitism of the art world. Through this essay, I intend to explore how the original idea of pushing the body on edge has morphed into what it is now, an aesthetic based medium of art which focuses more on a look than a political statement. To illustrate this point I will be studying one of the more experienced Body artists Marina Abramovic and how her work has developed over the years from being highly political into something more associated with the emotional reactions of humans. As well as this I will be studying a more recent artist, Franko-B and how his work connects with viewers with his aesthetic bases pieces, but not in the same way the practice previously has.
It may seem that the initial statement indicates a dislike towards how Body art has developed, but it is actually the opposite. The primary objective of Body art is to break this barrier between art and its audience that had been created by the painting elitism. The reality of pushing the body to its limits is that there is a risk associated with it, and this is what allowed the practise to develop and become established. People were shocked by the work. The use of this medium began in the 1960s during the art movement known as fluxes meaning fluid/flow. “When it comes to performance art, the odds are that whatever the work it will likely be controversial in some shape or form.” The desire to push the bodies’ limits to the edge by artists was seen as a statement lashing out at this discriminatory view that only painting can be a successful form of art. It was a form of protest in a way. Moreover it was a protest at a number of political issues that were occurring during the time, including sexism, homophobia, and racism as well as a number of different wars that were happening during the 60’s. This is where artists such as Abramovic began to work with her body as a medium.
“Many people think of her as the grandmother of performance art.” A statement used to describe Abramovic in the present day art world. However this has to first be established during a time when performance art was not considered a legitimate form of art. However artists were becoming sick of painting being considered the only creative outlook that gained any grand impact. Abramovic wanted to create fully immersive pieces that used more than just audience member’s sight. Her pieces focused highly on pushing the bodies’ limits in a number of different ways, but they all focus on endurance. She pushed her body physically by wounding herself in a number of pieces with razors and whips, or by endangering her life in the piece ‘Rhythm 5’ (1974) to the point where she physically passed out and nearly died to protest the Bulkan wars happening at the time. Arguably her most famous piece was ‘Rhythm 0’ (1974) which consisted of her sitting at a table with 72 objects in front of her including water, a rose, a knife and a gun. The audience were invited to use these objects in any way they desired, and they weren’t all kind. Abramovic also did time based endurance pieces like ‘Nightsea crossing’ (1982) where she sat in a chair with her partner at the time Ulay for around 19 days.
It is interesting to see a performance artist who dose not work on their own. The dynamic between Abramovic and her ex-husband Ulay was if nothing else, intense. The work that they created together was some of her most influential pieces. The body of work they did together was called ‘relation works’ and they focus on “exploring the limits of physical and psychic endurance and specific gender roles.” While there may be an underlining personal concept behind the pieces, the emphasis on sexism is what is key in the works. The couple were together between 1976 and 1988, a period when sexism was still a highly occurring issue. Even in their private life, they still had these roles in place as Abramovic completed all the house work and didn’t even have her own bank account. This was particularly evident in the piece ‘Rest Energy.’ (1980) The couple stood opposite each other with a bow and arrow and Ulay pulling it back as if it were going to be released into her heart for four minutes. Initially, the viewer would conclude that the work is a piece about trust and it is. Now, whilst this may be an element of it, there is arguably another interpretation of it. This concept of the man in control, they could literally own a life. This was making a political statement.
Despite these collaborative pieces and Abramovic’s earlier work having strong political protests behind them, the more recent pieces have a lot more of a personal influence. Does this make the practise of pushing the body to its limit redundant? “She desires to be loved, she desires to be needed.” This is arguably evident in her most recent piece ‘The artist is present’ (2012) a durational piece which occurred over 3 months. The notion of pushing her body came from the fact that she was sat in a chair for around 8 hours without moving every day for 3 months. It may not seem to have any political force behind it, but that doesn’t mean it is without its impact. People left the piece crying and overflowing with emotions, but this is all on a very personal level. It only had impact on people that took part in it. Body art is where “An energy dialogue happens and the audience and the performer make the piece together.” And started off as a way to break this barrier between art work and the viewer that painting had created. This is highlighted in Abramovic’s 2012 piece, but it does not have this grander impact on the world outside of art like some of the older pieces might have.
In contrast to the grandmother of performance art we have a younger member of the body art community, Franko-B. There may be some similarities between the ways the two artists push their bodies to the edge as blood seems to feature a great deal in their work, but in a way this is where it ends. Franko-B’s work seems highly aesthetic based there is definitely a ‘look’ that is present throughout all of his performance pieces. The artist is nearly always naked, painted head to toe in a solid block colour (normally white, but more recently black as well) and has some kind of his own blood on his body in different forms. In a slightly unusual way, he was a number of pieces with the same title ‘Oh Lover Boy’ but the one which seems most famous is the performance he did from 2001-2005. This had him placed on a sort of morgue like board with blood dripping from his arms for around 8 minutes. It is clear that unlike Abramovic, his work is not durational based, but it also seems that there is not a lot of pain element to it, it is very controlled. This is all part of the aesthetics, and while he has no control on the final piece, he has a lot more control over the actual performance, which maybe Abramovic may not have in some of her works.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of context behind his pieces from his own mouth, the concepts seem to be formed by how people respond to the work and he neither confirms nor denies the truth to people’s theories in conversations. “Everything is possible in terms of how people read it.” And it is undeniable that the work in a successful example of body art. With the fact that the movement was initially started as a way to involve the viewers more in the work, the concept behind Franko-B’s work would maybe not exist without them. The only possible solid conceptual element that is part of his work is life. He constantly emphasises that he is not trying to die, there is no risk. He also focuses on his pieces as a language on their own. He wants to touch the viewers on a personal level, rather than hitting at some kind of issue. Nevertheless there is still this highly personal influence behind the work and the fact that it was not intentionally created for a political purpose. This may leave the work open to the question of what is the point? Franko-B as well as a number of other current artists seem to want to use this practise of pushing the body to the edge, just for the art work. It could be seen that the recent artists may just be egotistical. In an interview he stated “I could not see a reason to carry on any longer.” So does that mean that his art work is simply another way for HIM to cope with the world? This is how Abramovic’s work seems to have develop as well. Earlier it was stated that body art had no impact anymore, this does not mean to say on the audience, but on the way in which artists are using their bodies. As a society we have arguably become desensitised to the kind of things some artists do to their bodies, so why do people continue to entertain it as an art form? Viewers empathise with the artist. In Franko-B’s work, and Abramovic’s later work, emotions are greatly stirred up within the viewer, whether there good or bad, they are there, but this is only evident in the recent works of these artists.
Perhaps this highlights how as a society, we have become obsessed with repressing our emotions until there is “the need of people to actually experience something different.” This is why body art continues to be a growing medium, not because of the shock factor that it was initially associated with in pushing the body to its limits. Or in another theory, looking at both artists, maybe it’s more because humans have a strong masochistic side to them, and watching other ‘professionals’ harming themselves is seen as an acceptable way to enjoy this. In particular Marina Abramovic’s piece ‘rhythm 0’ there is a clear demonstration with people physically harming her simply because they had the option to. At first, the intention of this essay was to look comparatively at Abramovic and Franko-B’s works in how they are two of the artists to have become a lot more focused on their personal emotions with pushing the bodies to the edge. However, as I am concluding, maybe this is how they are still creating social/political statements, commenting on how people are becoming obsessed with themselves and what they can do to have an impact. Despite this, it is clear that people are desensitized to the artists pushing their bodies to physical limits because of what they have been exposed to in reality.