Performance Art

In his book Relational Aesthetics (1998) Nicolas Bourriaud describes art as from the 1990’s to take it’s theoretical framework from “the realm of human interactions and it’s social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space.” Bourriaud condemns everything from traditional painting to installation as it is an obsession with surface and objects. He says meaning is created and elaborated on collabrotory (between artists and medium and artist and audience).

What I think this means is that art is no longer a 2D object that is framed and bought to hang in your house. It is no longer a private, intimate object this evokes pleasing feelings. Art from the 1990’s onwards is an interaction between artist and the public on social matters. This blog will elaborate on this statement by giving examples from the works of Marina Abromovic as well as Anthea Moys. Firstly by explaining participatory art as a medium and a genre in fine arts with reference to the practice of Anthea Moys and Marina Abromovic. The blog will also comment on the different approaches to performance which is followed by these two artists and to what extent the idea of participation reveal meaning in their work.

What is Performance Art?

Basically, it is a combination of visual/fine arts with dramatic arts, not limiting one from the other. What makes a performance artwork different from a staged dramatic performance is that there is no knowing of the outcome of the artwork. The artist has no idea how the audience will influence or take over the artwork. The artist has an outline of how they will do the artwork but not of the outcome thereof.

What Marina says is performance is; “mental and physical construction in a specific time space, in front of an audience where an energy dialogue happens- audience and performer make the piece together. The difference between performance and theatre is huge; in the theatre the knife is not a knife and the blood is just ketchup, in the performance the blood is the material and the knife is the tool. It is all about being there in the real time and you can’t rehearse performance because you can not do many of these things twice, ever. ”

Why performing arts is a fine art?

Performance art has turned into a way of reshaping ones mindset on certain aspects. For example, Moys says, that owners of public spaces should consider what their public space is really for. For example a pavement, is the soul purpose of the pavement to walk on? Therefore artists are constantly trying to reshape the use of public spaces as well as the onlookers perception of what a specific public space can be used as. Just as fine artists of thousands of years have tried to reshape the views of people.

Performance challenges the notion of a valuable art object which can be bought and such a setting – the body of the artist cannot be sold. Performance art challenges the notion of the valuable, lasting art object as well as the commodity value thereof. The body within contemporary art has become an important medium of expression, concerning aspects of identity, sexuality and corporeality. The wound, according to Jones (2009:53), through its inscription onto the body, is what makes the body a “representational field”.

Fiona Siebenthaler says that Anthea Moys is amongst a few artists who comment on the (in)visibility that is within our society. Performance art opens a space for artists to comment on the (in)visible lines between social barriers of class, race and previous apartheid tension. Moys does so in her artwork Nessun Dorma where she physically brought together two different social groups to watch the performance; the northern suburbs, richer, traditionally white people together with the local urban, poorer, black people in the area, in Joubert Park opposite the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Moys joins two extremely separate spaces: the no-go-zone of Joubert Park and the highly secured homes of wealthy people in the northern suburbs, who hire private security companies to protect them. In this piece she has blurred the (in)visible lines that exist between social barriers.

Figure 1 : Anthea Moys, Nessun Dorman (None Shall Sleep Tonight), 2008.

Kinds of Participatory art within performance Art

Performance art specifically participatory art, creates a relationship between people and a social space, as well as people and groups of people, then finally blurring the relationship between artist and viewer. The audience becomes integrated into the artwork. The scope extends beyond the artwork and addresses larger social issues. The everyday context of the viewers become important. The artist involves more than just art viewers into the artwork, but also general public.


Types of participatory art within performance art; re-repersetation, (Jones) who felt feelings of unenergizing, unpersonal, or in untransformative (feelings one should feel when looking at art?) re-doing of own work. Her argument here is that the re-enactment actually establishes itself from the get-go as simultaneously representational and live (it is a live re-doing of something already done in the past — it is a reiteration, a performative re-doing — and one that itself becomes instantaneously “past,” raising questions about its own existence in time and in history) (Jones, 2009).

Marina reenacted Seven Easy Pieces (2005) where she reenacted other artists performance pieces, amongst Joseph Beueys How to explain Pictures to a Dead Hare another one was her own previous work, Lips of Thomas.  This kind of reenactment is based on subjectivity and previous experiences if the ciders to create their own interpretation.


Figure 2: Marina Abramovic, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, 2005

Anthea Moys, South African artist, looks into performance specifically into play, sports and games. She herself has a work titled The Artist is Arm Wrestling (2015) which is taken from Abramovic’s piece, The Artist is Present. The artwork focuses on the same principle of trying to have the audience and artists within the same presence in order to create the same atmosphere where an artwork can be born.

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Figure 3: Anthea Moys and Marina Abramovic’s posters for their performances. 

Her brief for the artwork is : For this year’s Art Fair I will challenge artists, security guards, curators, cleaners, volunteers, organizers and members of the general public to a test of strength, as I take on all-comers in the ancient discipline of arm wrestling. “The Artist is Arm Wrestling” is a playful re-imagining of the Marina Abramović work “The Artist is Present” (2010) – a 736-hour and 30-minute performance piece during which the artist sat immobile in MOMA’s atrium while members of the public were invited to take turns sitting opposite her. Some participants wept, others fled, whilst others stood their ground and held her gaze. By inserting an arm-wrestling contest into the space between the artist and the public, I introduce the rules and create a completely different game. ‘The Artist is Arm Wrestling’ explores how rules paradoxically encourage play, and reveal true character. How and why do we compete, and for what?

Figure 3: Anthea Moys, The Artist is Arm Wrestling, 2014.

Frozen/ live art

Both art forms claim to destroy presence. Theories say that the artwork is always already in passing and the body already in action, as in the expression itself is thus representational. The body becomes ‘frozen art’. Experienced artists know this and use it in a self-reflective way. ‘If you are not performing the performance it is dead’- Abromovic, this is true as it the artwork only lasts while the artists is doing it. The performance is only alive at the very moment that it starts. The documentation of the performance is what fixes  the artwork in history. The Now is already over and the present is always already the future. Reenactment is seen as trying to secure the original. But the artwork is always already gone. Abromovic does not aim to commoditise the reenactments, but they always end up being so.

Documentation as Reincation

Moys takes the role of a temporary playful leader, directing diverse groups into a space that is charged and unknown to them to create a shared, communal space—even if it is only for a moment. Moys tries to overcome this somewhat self-imposed exclusion by bringing certain target groups into areas that they normally ignore, avoid, or even fear for different reasons, but mostly because of crime, neglect, or simply out of habit and everyday routine. She does this predominantly with interactive interventions. This is important as it gives evidence to why performance art is important in the fine art world, as just like in ‘traditional fine arts’ the artists are constantly trying to push boundaries as well as alter mindsets.

Participation gives meaning to the works

In Anthea Moys works, ‘play’ forms a central meaning in her works. Through play her viewers momentarily forget the roles prescribed to us by society. The onlookers are the players in her performances. Play is a very post-modern idea as it is ambiguous.
The work is a continuation of two performance cycles Moys has staged over the last year – Anthea Moys vs. The City of Grahamstown (2013) and Anthea Moys vs. The City of Geneva (2014), and also represents the continuation of her long-standing engagement with participatory performance practice in contemporary art, and her interest in play, risk, and failure.
Figure 4: Anthea Moys, Anthea Moys vs The City of Grahamstown, 2013.

In Abramovic’s work Role Exchange (1975) the artist exchanges roles with a prostitude in The Red Light District. The prostitute attends Abramovic’s gallery opening, while she is in the Red Light District. The artwork comments on, amongst other things, the expectation the viewer has that they will see the artwork in the gallery. In this case the participation comes from the prostitute and her acceptance to the the role. In this work the element of play is also central to the performance.

Figure 5: Marina Abramovic, Role Exchange, 1975. Image of the prostitute in the gallery and the artist in The Red Light District.


Reference list

Youtube, 2015. An Art Made of Trust, Vulnerability and Connection | Marina Abramović | TED Talks. [Online] available from – [Accessed on 11 June 2016].  

Youtube, 2008. Anthea Moys: Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep Tonight). [Online] Available from [Accessed on 16 June 2016].

Figure 1:, 2008. Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep Tonight) 2008. [Online] Available from [Accessed on 16 June 2016].

Figure 2: ImagesArtNet, 2005. Weekend Update by Walter Robertson. [Online]. Available from [Accessed on 16 June 2016].

Figure 3:, 2014. The Artist is Arm Wrestling. [Online] Available from – [Accessed on 16 June 2016].

Figure 4:, 2013. Anthea Moys vs The City of Grahamstown. [Online] Available from [Accessed on 16 June 2016].

Figure 5: MossArtOnline, 2010. Marina Abramovic. [Online] Available from [Accessed on 16 June 2016].