Putting on a show: what good is performance art?
Another issue Murphy highlights is that performance has to be tested in front of an audience, so experiments and failures can be very public.
There is also the matter of personal embarrassment. It can be acutely uncomfortable to be faced with a naked man covering himself in mud, as Nigel Rolfe did, or in mustard, as Paul McCarthy did, or with a woman slowly ripping the fabric from her costume, as in the work of Amanda Coogan. But consider that heightened sense of self-awareness, and of facing things that you may otherwise tend to avoid, as part of the experience, and you’re on your way to realising what performance art uniquely has to offer.
Some of it is also great fun. Aideen Barry’s Flight Folly (2010) saw the artist attach 16 remote-control helicopters to her white silk dress. At the touch of a button, the helicopters took off, slowly raising the artist’s skirt. Escapism? Freedom? Remote-control sexism? It may have been all of these things. It was also a wonderful moment, which may not even have had a point at all, and that can be one of the best things about contemporary art, whatever form it takes.
On public view: Memorable moments in performance art
Yoko Onomakes the emerging performance art famous. In Cut Piece (1964), she asks audience members to cut her clothes off until she is naked. Bed in for Peace documents her honeymoon with John Lennon
Chris Burdenis shot in the left arm by an assistant from a distance of five metres in Shoot (1971). In Trans-fixed (1974), he is crucified on the back of a Volkswagen Beetle.
Vito Acconcimasturbates under a New York gallery floor for eight hours a day in Seedbed (1972).
Marina Abramovicperforms her first piece, Rhythm 10, in 1973, using the “game” of trying to stab between splayed fingers with a knife to explore the limits of mind and body.
Alastair MacLennanwalks the streets of Belfast clad in black, veiled in polythene, and with a dartboard hung from his neck in Target (1977).
Michael Landycatalogued and then destroyed everything he had ever owned in Break Down (2001). The event took place in a former CA department store on Oxford Street in London.
Remnants ends at Ballina Arts Centre, Co Mayo, today; ballinaartscentre.com. Dublin Live Art Festival runs from Tuesday until tomorrow week; dublinliveartfestival.blogspot.ie