Performance Art as the medium of the oppressed

Performance art has been a preferred form of expression for female artists, since it wasn’t an already marked, already established medium by the male artists . Especially in the 60’s and 70’s with the rise of second-wave feminism, performance art has been a genre that answered to these artists’ need for a new apparatus which permitted them to create their own ‘spectacles’ or ‘situations’ to speak in Debord’s terms that were the outcome of the social injustice they wanted to critique. The artists created their own settings that enabled them to question the dichotomy of the performer and the viewer as well as the male and the female, being active and remaining passive, and that gave them new ways of re/presenting oneself, and interacting with the other.

Yoko Ono – Cut Piece: First performed in 1964 at the Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo. She sat on the floor and the “viewers” were asked to come up on the stage and cut her dress until she was naked.

Marina Abramović – Rhythm 0, 1974:





In this performance, she reserved the role of the performer and the audience by choosing to stay passive as the audience members were provided with various objects such as a rose, a feather, honey, a whip, scissors, a scalpel, a gun and a single bullet. She remained passive for 6 hours to test whether the audience members would  choose to give her pleasure or pain.

Valie Export – Tap and Touch Cinema: performed in ten European cities in 1968-1971 which could be seen as guerilla-type interventions. She attached  a box around her naked upper body, so that her body could not be seen but could be touched by the viweres through “the curtained front of the theater.”


Here are two recent examples from the artists that were present at the Activist Technology Demo day, that are challenging the definition of performance art:

Wafaa Bilal –Domestic Tension – 2007: The Iraqi born artist Wafaa Bilal started living in a gallery space in Chicago for 30 days where he was under the surveillance of a webcam. The online viewers of the projects were able to shoot at him with a paintball gun.“He attempts to keep in mind the relationship of the viewer to the artwork, one of his main objectives being to transform the normally passive experience of viewing art into an active participation. …Bilal’s self imposed confinement is designed to raise awareness about the life of the Iraqi people and the home confinement they face due to the both the violent and the virtual war they face on a daily basis. This sensational approach to the war is meant to engage people who may not be willing to engage in political dialogue through conventional means.”

Ava Ansari and Andrew Quitmeyer – The Subway Project. See my previous post here.



Categories: Case Studies


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

2 Comments on “Performance Art as the medium of the oppressed”

  1. February 7, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    I remember reading on Wikipedia about Abramović’s Rhythm 0, where at the end, when she finished being passive and moved, some of the audience members were startled and ran away. Also it was amazing what people were willing to do to her in that state. Here’s the quote:

    “What I learned was that… if you leave it up to the audience, they can kill you.” … “I felt really violated: they cut up my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the audience. Everyone ran away, to escape an actual confrontation.”

    Thanks for this, very interesting stuff.

  2. Piril Gunduz
    February 8, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    Hey Nathanael, thank you for the contribution.

    This performance, I think, in the end became a great example questioning the relationship between being ‘agent’, being active/passive and all other things that are being tested on the audience side which I will call the “human nature” for now. I really like the part “After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the audience. Everyone ran away, to escape an actual confrontation.”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: