The artist’s body Part 2 – The body that makes

Attention, during the whole series « The body of the artist », it’s recommended to the sensitive souls to abstain from such a reading. Note that the images will remain visible all the same.

We saw last month that some artists have chosen to give more importance in their works to the action of painting than to the painting as a result. What counts is no longer the production itself, the concrete, palpable creation, but rather the action of doing, the action of creating, so the action. This is how the first happenings were born, which can be awkwardly translated as « event ».

The work becomes the action of the artist himself. It’s no longer possible to keep a trace of what has been created other than by another medium, such as photography or video for example. What the artists emphasize through this movement is the performance, and thus the link created in the moment with the spectator, whether he is voluntary or « undergoes » the work.

© Warhol Co

From there, everything can become a work, everything can be Art. Everyday life becomes the favorite subject of some artists. Even today it’s possible to find photographs of Dick Higgins and Alison Knowles’ performances, « Danger Music » during which Alison shaves Dick’s head in a particularly conscientious way. You can also go to the famous online video platform to see Andy Warhol eating his cheeseburger again and again with unparalleled care. In the same vein, we can also see Bonnie Sherk eating her meal in a cage reserved for animals, while eating a meal prepared in a restaurant. There is also a whole series of photographs on the performances of Mierle Laderman Ukeles who works to clean the streets and the ground around and inside several museums. Ben Vautier chose to « enter the water with an umbrella » and to make a work of it (on several occasions).

But the artist’s body sometimes acts in a way that is out of the ordinary. This is the case of Yves Klein’s numerous attempts at levitation, who, after injuring himself several times, finally decided, with the complicity of a friend who developed photographs, to produce forgeries supposed to represent him in full flight, or between life and death, depending on the themes they decided to put forward. Or the numerous photographs of Bruce Nauman who represents him « as a fountain », spouting water from his mouth. In « Parallel Stress », Dennis Oppenheim suspended himself between two walls in a precarious balance, spread out just enough for him to cling on as best he could between the two (at least for the few minutes that the performance lasted).

Other artists have chosen to go even further and include the spectators in their works. The body that makes is no longer entirely that of the artist this time. Yoko Ono, in « Cut Piece », which must have inspired Marina Abramovic, is simply sitting on the stage, and it’s the spectator who has the task of coming on stage and cutting up her clothes. The spectator and the artist are thus in a duality where the control of the situation and of what happens is at stake. The spectator is the one who acts, in front of a submissive artist, but who remains nevertheless the one by whom everything happens. As for Giuseppe Penone, with « Rovesciare i propri occhi » during which he wears mirrored lenses, sends the viewer back to his own image, to his own contemplation. It’s then up to the spectator to establish what he does with it.

© Volker Gleaser

With the project « Manifestation for all the senses » of Milan Knizak, the artist is only the organizer of a kind of amusement park in which the spectator has only to walk around to live an extraordinary experience. Olfactory because they are almost sprayed with perfume, musicians play, and the organizers then crowd around the spectators to shout, scream, etc.. Here the work has become a place and an experience to be lived by the spectator who « lives » the work. More recently (in the 2010’s), the Russian director Ilya Khrzhanovksy, for his project « Dau », built an architectural complex in the style of the USSR of the 30s and 40s and proposed to hundreds of people to come and live there, exactly as the habitants of the USSR of that time would have done. The experiment-work lasted two years and was carefully filmed by the artist, proud of his creation. He then offered to visit the places in question. But to do this, you have to proceed as in the former USSR, with a visa application and a visit that lasts at least 6 hours (up to unlimited time). The work here is more of an experience for the spectator, who is no longer so passive…

The artist’s body is extended into the viewer’s body.


Thank you and see you soon for the next part of this series!


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