performance art

performance art
   As a category, performance art is hard to define, as it has referred to an extremely wide range of practices. If most have involved artists acting in real time and space in a planned event, there has been enormous variation in the duration of the event, choice of site, number of participants, ancillary equipment and intent.
   The widespread use of the term in Britain dates from the early 1970s, and the general acceptance of live performance in art schools, museums and galleries dates from the same time. If British performance art was late to develop, it has nevertheless gone on to have an international impact, and it continues to do so. However its audience is small, in comparison with New York, where performance art has enjoyed genuine popularity.
   A well-known early work of British performance art is Underneath the Arches by Gilbert and George (1969), in which the pair, their faces painted gold and dressed in their trademark identical suits, one carrying a walking stick, the other a glove, stood on a table and moved around stiffly to a recording of the Flanagan and Alan song of the same title. The piece was performed a number of times internationally. The early 1970s saw considerable activity in the field. Bruce McLean and the Nice Style Pose Band (1972–5) developed 999 proposals for ‘poses’, performed by the group at assorted locations over the three years of its existence. Meanwhile Stuart Brisley was staging far more confrontational works, including And For Today, Nothing in which Brisley spent two weeks motionless in a detritus-filled bathtub. Other important artists of the 1970s include the Ting Theatre of Mistakes, and Genesis P.Orridge and Cosi Fanni Tutti, who alternated between performances as COUM Transmissions, and the punk band Throbbing Gristle.
   Since the 1970s, performances have often featured the artist motionless in a gallery or museum, in work sometimes known as live art. Examples include Stephen Taylor Woodrow’s Living Paintings (1986), Tilda Swinton’s Matilda Swinton (1960–) (1996), the latter presenting the sleeping artist in a glass case for the duration of an exhibition. By contrast, the group Index have staged events which recall New York happenings in their manipulation of the general public and the urban environment. Performance art remains an important strand of British art, if somewhat overshadowed by painting and sculpture. See also: ballet; modern dance; opera; performing arts on television; physical theatre
   Further reading
    Goldberg, R. (1979) Performance Art, London: Thames & Hudson.
   RICHARD J. WILLIAMS

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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