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Death to Performance Art Manifestos

Last year I traveled to watch an evening of Performance Art in Los Angeles. A man climbed onto the stage and sang Glenn Fry’s The Heat is On from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. It was pitch-perfect. And I was pissed. This was the man’s idea of Performance Art? I was so disappointed.

But I wasn’t surprised. The Performance Art moniker has been endlessly appropriated by mainstream American artists who either aren’t aware that Performance Art has its own history that’s distinct from the histories of other arts, or else they just don’t give a damn and are looking for a cheap way to make bland poetry, music, dance, circus acts, and other “performing arts” sound more sexy.

Take this example—a flatulent work entitled ‘Performance Art Dance Piece’ in which three “dancers” attempt tired choreography that employs the same uninspired modern and contemporary dance vocabulary we’ve seen again and again. The men have little dance training, judging from their rickety turns, sloppy footing, poor spotting, lack of centers, Oompa Loompa groundwork, and newborn balance. But here’s the thing: if these unfortunate negatives had been taken to their extremes—if the dancers’ bad technique had been pushed to the forefront until the trio became abstract drunks trying to find their footing, or mentally challenged monks doing bizarre kung fu, or gods making an obvious attempt at reordering the dirt universe that the artists were mindlessly kicking up—this piece could’ve been transformed from bad dance into a unique Performance Art piece with its own internal structure and logic that demanded the audience “figure out” the spatial-movement-narrative language of the artists. But the movement, being so clearly Dance with a capital D, and choreographed with so many of the dance clichés we’ve all seen before, has left the “figuring out” pre-figured for us; we see the recognizable, codified movements and know instantly that this is Dance—which means the only mystery remaining for us is why anyone bothered to film the piece at all. There’s a fine line between bad art and good Performance Art, but this piece is simply proof again that the lazy fix for shitty art has become to label it Performance Art, then wait for someone to show up and clap.

Given its Dadaist, Anarchist, and anti-consumerist roots, I am all for Performance Art defying/defiling its own definitions and conventions, as it should—which is why the dilution of its name by arts that appear to be dying slow, painful deaths thanks to predictable, self-referential, and uninspired works makes me queasy.

I view definitions of Performance Art with suspicion—which is why it’s with a little self-loathing that I give you the Scotch Wichmann Performance Art manifesto, previously unpublished—and maybe it should’ve stayed that way.

3 Responses to “Death to Performance Art Manifestos”

  1. Topher On A Cross Says:

    Topher Grace on a cross already: change the fucking channel already, hos. That 70′s show has been canceled for over 5 years already, and so should this post about fucking performance art!

  2. Sty Eye Says:

    Now is this guy walkin’ around the streets in NYC with this fucked up eye I described below considered performance art?

  3. Sty Eye Says:

    I saw a guy once who’s girlfriend told him to tickle her asshole with his eyelashes while they were 69in’. Some poop particles got lodged in his eye, but rather than gettin’ normal pink eye – he got the nastiest sty I ever did see. Think about the scene in Rocky One when Rocky told his trainer to cut under his eye so he could see. “Cut me Mick”. That’s how bad this muthafuckaz eye was.

    See, you don’t need no black stud carl weathers beaten you whitties in the eye to a get a wicked ass black eye. No sir: uh-uh you just need a girlfriend that tells you to use your eye lashes to tickle her bung hole while she sucks your cock. When she says, “I won’t swallow unless you tickle my anus with your eye lashes sweety”, you bet your ass old chicken man whitey is gonna listen ta his girl. Shit – every man will most likely do anything out of the lust of the moment. But, you sure will pay for it with some nasty ass Carl Weathers-Apollo Creed Style of a Sty Eye.

    Shit: white people are fucked up!

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