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Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts
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Taking Apart the Body
Rina Arya
Published online: 13 Jun 2014.

To cite this article: Rina Arya (2014) Taking Apart the Body, Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts, 19:1, 5-14,
DOI: 10.1080/13528165.2014.908079

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908079 © 2014 TAYLOR & FRANCIS . intact and PERFORMANCE RESEARCH 19·1 : pp. In turn. Artists such as Chaim Soutine abjection in performance practice. technically. abjection in the study of performance practice with the twentieth-century impulse to (taken inclusively). where the its customary wholeness and unity’. the body artists’ body was disclosed as a valid art material tested our own sense of stability. came into prominence in the visual (Warr. body art body was not necessarily featured as ‘a whole. as theorized by Julia but also as canvas. and Goldberg 1999: 153). In its fragmented state. which is the phenomenological the boundaries of representation and expressed state of the lived body that is defined by the corporeal and psychological states that situation of both being and having a body. as a branch or category of return to the body’ (Ross 2003: 281). transgressed the boundaries of social propriety. dislocation. the 1980s and 1990s. This [was] in its own right. in and Francis Bacon had already attempted body art. and this article takes us undo the body to show what lies behind the back to one of the earlier manifestations of external surface. concentrates on the integrated entity but as something evoked by the body itself was very much the tool of artist’s body as material or the use of the body in corporeal fragments and physical residues’ experimentation for artists to explore other ways to make (Hopkins 2000: 225). with ‘[t]he postmodernist mediate the body and the bodily through the although. brush.1080/13528165. that work of bodies – of becoming a body in social challenged their assumptions about art and space’ (Turner 1996: xiii). BODY ART AND ABJECTION thus exploring questions of identity.1 Increasingly Downloaded by [The University of Manchester Library] at 05:59 21 June 2014 1 ‘Body art’ is often used interchangeably with arts in the late twentieth century. but in the beginnings of body art. Taking Apart the Body Abjection and body art RINA ARYA The concept of abjection. sexuality Body artists of the 1960s and 1970s used their and death. evisceration and other ways of by which they could question social strictures Performance art itself started much earlier than breaking up its unity and revealing its relentless imposed on art and society. particularly in in the 1980s and 1990s. their concerns as a way of empowering their whereas ‘embodiment’ more adequately minority status. technologies. we have a new the United States in the the increasing importance of the concept of understanding of the body that is in keeping 1940s. for instance. Bodies were presented opened a new realm of experience. in Warr and Jones 2000: 11).org/10. With the presence of the actual as opposed Dadaists and the arrival of the European war exiles in This special issue ‘On Abjection’ testifies to to the represented body. viewers experienced captures the notions of making and doing the sights. and participated in actions. By subjecting their bodies to a range to articulate a sense of the condition of of often extreme experiences. frame and platform’ Kristeva. ‘lacking bodies as the medium of expression. body artists started to Performance Art. sexuality and community. subject to a number of processes that involved identity. fragmentation and dissolution. The body was also philosophical and socio-political notions about ‘human sculptural forms in space’ (see. ‘as the “content” of the work. namely. gender.5-14 ISSN 1352-8165 print/1469-9990 online 5 http: //dx. artists pushed embodiment. where the use video installation works and other Performance Art. not as static entities that could be preserved by representation but instead as prone to breakdown. not the healthy normal body. the 1960s with the materialism and uncontrollability. Bryan Turner defines what is distinct about Abjection became a tool of social critique in embodiment as follows: ‘[t]he concept of the which marginalized groups could articulate “body” suggests a reified object of analysis.2014.doi.

that involved social critiques about a host of ingesting and expelling were commonly used different things. male and female. but the body as damaged and personal and social homogeneity and of sundered. and natural and rethinking identity and social mores. including cultural ‘traumas’ methods. of rupturing and consumerist society. life and of the rupture of social homogeneity and of death. involves possible explanations for to push the body and mind beyond the pain such extreme behaviour. in its outsider these actions she is polluting her body. the human abjection and anarchy. of a busy Los Angeles boulevard.… The closer to breathing was halted by the police who arrested him for life the material is the worse it seems’ endangering his own and others’ lives and thus (McGinn 2011: 103). In Shoot order to become autonomous. the waste was unable to be objectified it up to infection (by eating uncooked meat and and lingered on the threshold between self blistering her feet) and is violating norms about and not-self. Many artists Pane subjected her body to a series of brutal employed bodily functions like urinating and activities. She then paintings in the 1970s and actual act of expulsion. Being of the body. The artists were 6 PERFORMANCE RESEARCH 19·1 : ON ABJECTION .2 What needs to rotten mince while watching television in an 2 Examples include Andy Warhol’s oxidations be emphasized is that what was abject was the intentionally uncomfortable position. put a stop to his actions. artificial. which often left pieces’ (McGinn 2011: 16). Colin McGinn This. signalled the vulnerability of the body bare feet until the pain forced her to stop. dirt. excrement. dead animals and Gina Pane’s Nourriture / Actualités télévisées / putrefying food substances) to confuse the Feu [Food / News Television / Fire] (1971) boundaries between different states and to conveys some of the different pressures that impart a sense of the vulnerability of the subject body artists inflicted on themselves. in the 1960s and 70s. Why do these artists barrier in order to explore human endurance subject themselves and often others to danger and the boundaries of the self. which were employed examples. Artists put their and violence? One possible explanation is that bodies in potentially dangerous situations the work should be viewed as a provocation by embracing the abject. opening state. Pain became a symbol and the machine. Piercing. through it’ (Kristeva 1982: 108). alterations. functioning. was not the outcome. This work and spurting blood. Another example from a body in a state of permanent loss in of extreme action is by Chris Burden. with reference to these and other a sado-masochistic kind. the running nose. and flesh comments on this in-between status by saying was torn from his arm. it accordingly prompt[ed] the shudder distorting the normal parameters of bodily we feel when the body is otherwise falling to expression and sensation. A year later in Deadman that ‘bodily waste is at its most appalling when (1972) he carried out a death-defying act in in the very act of leaving the body’s interior which he lay in a canvas bag in the middle – as with the dangling turd. however. Another strategy of undoing the body One of the main questions that need to be involved the use of extreme actions. As Kristeva observed. health and disease. In boundaries. They did this by IDENTITY POLITICS employing abject materials (such as bodily Downloaded by [The University of Manchester Library] at 05:59 21 June 2014 fluids. where the excreta put out fires that were burning on sand with her Hermann Nitsch in his OMT works in the 1960s. and in doing so they gave rise to an experience of the abject. cutting. the artist in a state of stupor or ecstasy at Body artists explored embodiment by which point they were able to escape beyond interrogating the boundaries between opposing their culturally determined body to a state of states: the subject and the object. In this work experiencing corporeal turmoil. ‘[f]ecal the sanctity of the body by deliberately putting matter signifies … what never ceases to separate her body into a state of risk. distinct from the (1971) Burden asked an assistant to shoot him mixtures. including consuming half a pound of defecation to protest and shock. often of addressed. and decay that run in his left arm without seriously injuring him.

266). the vagina and tendency of women artists how the construction of subjects operates associated menses become foregrounded. The sado-masochistic urge interpretation of the gendered body took the to cut. to act in unregulated ways enabled them to th[e] space of the feminine [was] defined as explore new spaces and sensations in order to “terrifying. for example. Iris Young language breaks down’ (Warr and Jones 2000: 24. menstrual blood was marginalized in religious 3 This use of their body as the platform and locus of In mapping out new spaces of articulation. and in the 1970s to take the body as their ‘starting through exclusionary means. In to undergo specific rites of purity. followed by a “repulsion” that founds and This was often against US political conservatism consolidates culturally hegemonic identities that condemns any art that addresses issues of along sex/race/sexuality axes of differentiation’ multiculturalism. sexuality and/or colour is an “expulsion” society. disability – as a way of so we have a transformation of meaning. But now they were have been construed in terms of the other. such as (lack of the phallus) and the place where reducing women to their ethnicity and race. Body art was contestation where their excluded position(s) a new mode of expression that enabled artists became the mechanism for action. which meant that women were made with reservation in some quarters. which are on the outside of the signifying boundary. sexuality. destabilizing Western notions of otherness. Judith Butler discusses context of avant-garde practices. the shift in exciting aesthetic. Lisa Tickner reconfigure subjectivity and meaning. others. gesture’. in Jones 1993: 33). The turn subjectivity and meaning. crotch and indecorously squatted over the qualitatively different Important work in resignification needs to be canvas in a parody of Pollock’s painterly experiences (Tickner 1987: 263. open and rupture their bodies and following form. oriental. ‘Within a patriarchal system. monstrous … mad. Some used to reinvent aesthetics and to challenge the their art to critique American society in general sanctity of museum spaces. politically motivated and wanted to make argues that ‘the repudiation of bodies for their visible the plight of disenfranchised groups in sex. ritual traditions because of its alleged polluting self-expression was met they were able to turn to their bodies to properties. women and the pathologizing of gay men and Artists used their bodies as the site of lesbians’ (Ben-Levi et al. for overpowering position of to be maintained. non-sensical. but there is a danger that it can be Butler’s insights about social abjection can be [thus] inverting the Western cultural viewed as a debasing applied to other variables of identity that have designation of female genitalia as a site of ‘lack’ gesture that enforces biological determinism by been (or continue to be) pathologized. Many women used their often turned to the very site of repulsion and mark of ‘defilement’ – menstrual blood – as stigmatization that they embodied – their a symbol of empowerment and feminism. ‘the reproductive rights of (Salih 2003: 108). Vaginal done for homosexuality to gain legitimacy. bodies. And gender. A RYA : TA K I N G A PA RT T H E B O DY 7 . able to use precisely these aspects in order to In the process of recovery. Abjection provided ‘a powerful means and women artists in the past ‘were forced to of transgression and reinvention’ (Connelly deny the presence of sexual/gendered imagery 2003: 10) for artists who had been denied in their work if they wanted to be taken autonomy to speak for themselves and who seriously’ (Jones 1993: 35). thus promoting their identity politics. politically. In move away from the exhausted representational mapping out new spaces of articulation. arguing for the are normative positions of sexuality and abject ultimate expressions of female autonomy is importance of making a distinction between the inverted versions of this. unconscious. unclean. in which there blood becomes a symbol of power. 1993: 8). they Downloaded by [The University of Manchester Library] at 05:59 21 June 2014 space of the canvas and to discover their bodies were able to turn to their bodies to reconfigure through the economy of sensation. In order for control Shigeko Kubota’s Vagina Painting (1965). In the terrain of to the body-as-canvas signaled a new and feminism.3 One of the point’. these artists reframe their positions. critical terms instead of being spoken for by profane’ (Jardine 1985: 72–3. In her performance she ‘[activates] the iconography may be used viability and affiliation (Butler 1993: passim). Building on this. the excluded need to remain which ‘the artist attached a paintbrush to her ‘living in’ and ‘looking at’ a female body. race. but in the comments on the Bodies that Matter. articulate their identity and issues in their own improper. vagina as a source of inscription and language. Artists were able to with its emphasis on consumer culture.

Dressed entirely in white and facing where “nature” confronts “culture”’ (Jardine away from the audience. Arts in Los Angeles. In other This ‘public’ aspect of the body concerns what is violation and was making us culpable in the words. liberating practice that means also had consequences for viewers. vulvic spaces. mutilated and dying body on show. especially bodily from the artist is not safeguarded and instead 6 What is interesting about fluids. there are aspects that belong to ourselves on the outside. no. this time moving the blade to the face. In her because these activities are taking place in students of the Feminist Art Programme at the installation we see a white. She started by cutting her back before bold instantiation of womanhood. a sense of abjection – anything from anxiety we mop up after our leaky insides but prefer not to the physical feeling of needing to vomit. Consider Gina Pane’s Lait Chaud [Hot Milk] cannot be covered up and conveys ‘a threshold (1972). Body art puts the alien. in this case.5 on some faces that were frozen with shock. sight and stench of the blood. The distrust of the Watching Pane cutting her face induces body we harbour also applies to rituals of care. the nature of the work and what it products stacked on a shelf. Taboo subjects were explored in explicit ways installation and performance space created who only a year before had waved the Red Flag that disturbed the equanimity of viewers. to be shared with others. now presented viewers with level of discomfort is increased precisely Schapiro and their another uncensored portrayal. Social convention dictates that we are the audience is tested to see how far they can contamination is that it is not solely brought about generally privy only to the external and outer be pushed. veil and that contains boxes of feminine hygiene Moreover. It where we have the gaze turned on ourselves. a sequence of gruesome acts that increase contamination and disruption to both body In fact. in Jones 1993: 34) thereby disturbing alternate the actions of cutting herself with identity. red against white. The overpowering and our subjectivity is put into crisis. hidden from public view. In this example we are made to watch that may cause envelope of skin is veiled from the public gaze. no!’ (Pane. to dwell on them. Pane began to 1985: 89. This represented the ultimate audience lingering on the passive expressions 5 L’écriture féminine expression of écriture féminine. Miriam of female solidarity. she before unraveling a scroll from her vagina and picked up a video camera and starts filming the reading it. 63). not the face. overflow from the waste bin and the saturated where we fear contamination of the boundary6 Downloaded by [The University of Manchester Library] at 05:59 21 June 2014 tampons that lie on the floor. The neat and asks of us means that the boundaries of viewing sanitized presentation of the paraphernalia are annihilated and that we are taken into the cannot mask the bloodied sanitary towels that space of the artist and ultimately to abjection. We are compelled and mind. clean and public spaces within the presence of others that California Institute of the deodorized bathroom that is covered with gauze makes the possibility of flight or cover difficult. the insides of the body are not meant their actions. [women’s writing] is a concept that was coined by This process conveys the intimacy between French feminist Hélène artist and viewer in performance art. in Warr and Schneemann discarded a book in her hands Jones 2000: 121). as in the case of are encouraged to think of body-image as to witness both the operation of abjection a tumour. which resulted in moving beyond menstrual blood to focus on mounting tension and pleas to stop by viewers. 4 Womanhouse was an installation Womanhouse (1972). Her actions are now more shocking than her 8 PERFORMANCE RESEARCH 19·1 : ON ABJECTION . Standing before an audience ‘No. it is not wide of the mark to say that we in their level of violence. After cutting her face. 4 Judy Chicago. consisting only of the external. we are Cixous in 1975 and was ABJECT VIEWING implicated in the performance in various ways used in feminist literary practice to promote a The undoing of the body through transgressive through audience participation or. By reversing the direction of the by the other but also by body of other people in our dealings with them. Pane was subjecting viewers to acts of the self-as-other. system and order. In Menstruation Bathroom from the diseased. emphasized women’s experiences and the drives meant the exposure of sights that were normally The boundary then separating the audience of the libido. camera. When we do to which the artist subjects the body and the conceive of the body in terms of the inner and abject condition of the artist brought about by the outer. Carolee a razor blade and bouncing a tennis ball against Schneemann’s Interior Scroll (1975) is another a wall. while what lies inside the actions. The by Chicago.

the performance we get a shift of focal point: the body further. a bullet. the attention bestowed is not of the against her head (Warr and Jones 2000: 125). which gives her the right to cut offers herself to viewers. The demand that artists place So the impact of allowing others to violate on the viewers here brings us to the question her while she remained passive in the face of of the roles undertaken by the audience in this adds to the impact of the actions. bread and newspaper. and passivity. which may or may not spur subjectivity. Rhythm O and the performance does not occur. sense. At one end of the scale. The following example. thorns and had had the loaded gun pressed However. such as video cameras as a way of including such as lipstick. but. L. and by is problematized: we cannot talk about discrete the end all her clothes had been sliced off her subjects or objects but about degrees of activity body with razor blades. She had been cut. to take part. Without group – which influences the series of actions that participation the objectives cannot be achieved occur. and the array of objects available invited of the viewer.7 7 Artists working in the field of Conceptualism and Pane is playing a cruel trick. self-harming other parts of her body because Rhythm O articulates an instantiation of the of the social and cultural status of a face. which reads ‘There are the movement of the abject: at the beginning seventy-two objects on the table that can be we are faced with an ‘ordinary’ body which used on me as desired – I am the object’ (Warr becomes abject (which abjects itself) in the and Jones 2000: 125) and by the matching performance and the viewers bear testimony silence of the artist. audience by virtue of allowing such desecration so cutting it open adds to the vulnerability to take place. where they become involved in the participants to explore her as a plaything. a verbal exchange or dialogue with the artist – The artist is relegated to object-status and who acts as interlocutor (Goldberg 1999: 153) becomes other to herself. The audience is forced to Downloaded by [The University of Manchester Library] at 05:59 21 June 2014 to that transition. The intense actions performance into completely submitting to the that occur cause the viewer to maintain a stance participants. who determine the course of events. we go from victim to torturer as the than that of actions that would disgust and camera moves onto us as we collude in Pane’s offend if done by another’ (Miller 1997: 51). she is making us culpable in her actions. Those who chose not to participate A RYA : TA K I N G A PA RT T H E B O DY 9 . William Miller points out subject becomes object and. The objects varied used language performatively and herself up. In the West it is during the course of events and so does the also a part of the body that is always exposed. self-mutilation. Some performances demand more a thing. The influence of the linguistic philosopher J. a saw and knives merely in a descriptive Other artists also used recording equipment – to others that were seemingly innocuous. in the above that ‘the set of self-violating actions is smaller example. which abject. Throughout which could nonetheless be used to objectify acts’ is apparent here. crowned with are passive and do not intervene in anyway. performance practice. decorated. The dynamic of viewing The performance lasted for six hours. In the work audience participation of the action. While the (1974) by Marina Abramović shows how the individuals in the audience were not obliged to artist relinquishes control during the act of participate. including a gun. Abramović had turned herself into on action. cleaned. This is conveyed in the written and the duration of the performance traces instruction issued. she is reinforcing Abramović stands by a table and passively Performance Art often her autonomy. same degree of passivity in the way that we At the outset Abramović transformed herself might casually watch a television programme or from being the agent and author of her the view outside a window. whereby the artist becomes abject is a signifier of individuality. there was an expectation for them the performance. the instigators of action separation between herself and the audience. viewers painted. but Austin’s notion of ‘speech the audience in the performance. The viewer’s reactions and is invited and in some ways could be seen to be reflections become the subject of the work. By ensuring a physical become the makers. by then turning the camera on from those that could be used as weapons – instructively instead of us. obligatory. Furthermore by renouncing her of attentive viewing.

The staging of performance representation becomes real. The audience at the end of Abramović’s process of making abject in a literal sense takes Downloaded by [The University of Manchester Library] at 05:59 21 June 2014 performance. thus becomes traumatic for the viewer who is the subject is evacuated interrupting our personal space and right to accustomed to seeing a different type of and elevated at once’ (Foster 1996a: 168). there was an element of brutality of the actions. death. generated an atmosphere of great was poised between safety and danger. happen. mob mentality that increased during the The abjection that often results from the performance. At the and sentiments became collectively experienced beginning of the performance. In Warm Milk Pane turns because it is wounding. but. and what we are seeing is a blurring boundaries of the aesthetic so that one’s own morality. especially the fight that unpredictability in that the audience was often broke out between someone who levelled the unaware of what might occur in the duration of gun to her head and his interceptor who took the performance. life and uneasiness in the audience who. thus causing a blurring of usually clothed. This explains the scattering of the down barriers and render the artist abject. not in pain and boundaries between the individual and the invulnerable. they just walked off. The need to see and experience the provoked questions about the function of wounding of the body in different outlets viewing. the audience mentality was may be involved causes a sense of recoil in the individualistic. What designated seating areas that are apart from the happens to the body during the course of central stage. The audience’s ignorance and fans of his work anticipate this as part of his about the course of events was unsettling and routine. which limits their that occurred and thereby contributing to the privacy and adds to the intensity of the actions. the artist is by the group. especially as leaking and wounded the tension experienced by individuals increased bodies are brought into social visibility. Exercizes like this are as much about addresses a deeper need in the audience about human psychology as artistic action in that they the stakes of art. This is addressed by Hal Foster test the urges and limits of human behaviour in his statement about contemporary art (prompting the question. ‘How far will you go?’) effecting a ‘general shift in conceptions of the and echo psychological studies of the 1970s. The responses in the viewers. increased work Incision (1978) she was attacked by awareness of the expectations of what might a performer. Greater familiarity with the art form has. often prompting ethical the performance. In the case of certain artists.8 representation to the real understood as an event Milgram devised an experiment that explored In live performances interaction between the of trauma’ (Foster 1996b: 106). which is meant in works is arguably less hierarchical than theatre a Lacanian sense of moving beyond the viewing. At the beginning of the actions of the artist in which the participants performance. real: from the real understood as an effect of 8 The psychologist Stanley such as the Milgram experiment. but the actions carried out break group. for example. and this in turn 9 Hal Foster stated that ‘[i]n trauma discourse … the camera squarely on her audience. exited at the end of the performance. privacy. Here the artist can dictate the actions in the performance is traumatic position of the audience and impose some (involving the loss and recuperation of self) separation. Performance art the relationship between artist and the audience is more intimate and from the 1960s onwards redefined the the orders of authority and immediate.9 10 PERFORMANCE RESEARCH 19·1 : ON ABJECTION . unscathed. or at least the types of action that may Abramović was aware that she was going to be be seen. where the audience is confined to symbolic into the realm of trauma. when she got up and us beyond social conventionality and tests the walked towards the audience to signal the end of limits of acceptability. who was planted in the audience. bloodletting is a typical occurrence. this would occur. directly were involved in witnessing the actions audience encircling the artist. between art and life. In the early years of emotional buildup of violence caused by the body art. But it is not unusual to have the aesthetic representation. and in extreme cases the body the gun away. viewer. if desired. as actions were carried out. such as subject to a karate kick but was not sure when Franko B. fearing a riot. In another without eliminating spontaneity.

Fantasy role of the interpreter. It needs to be qualified that not all the In many of the above examples. and conversely to the viewers or audience who responded as if the artist does not have authorial authority. but they are still able of abjection conveyed the instability of the to incite feelings of utter horror as well as irony. The ambiguous boundaries representational (and not actual) violence or between artist and viewer allow the viewer injury. and I would argue that the in between. The that it is always in process (Kristeva 1984: 22). along with thinkers of violence and simulated body parts – the such as Michel Foucault. Rosie Goldberg states that the ritualized pain A RYA : TA K I N G A PA RT T H E B O DY 11 . we are able to and a host of other emotions. danger from the source of the horror. Greeks the cathartic benefits offered by tragic but this distancing is less achievable when in drama were thought to be socially beneficial. such as the performances and two parties. and yet the suspension of disbelief. What is so troubling about the visceral display of grotesque actions and examples of performance or body art cited is substances is potent enough to create exactly this inability to maintain the boundaries a tumultuous state of abjection in the viewer. 10 This is not applicable in the case of bad horror applying the same reasoning in this context. the actions were real and felt horrified by the The meaning of the work is constructed scenes that unfolded in front of them. In Barthes’s essay ‘The death of the author’ (1967). where the set-up author was the topic of discussion in Roland is artificial. which are creations of McCarthy and other artists are action or not. undergoes because it affects our sense of self. There are in the interaction that occurs between the some other cases. fear. The dethroning of the artist or video work of Paul McCarthy.10 By and identity can be reconfigured. theatrical and even comical. In these instances the graphic realism of greater autonomy in the determination of the actions meant that they appeared authentic meaning or interpretation. ‘to destabilize bourgeois liberal as ketchup (blood) are splashed across walls. a fearful state while watching. capable of eliciting horror from viewers that is public domain) forced people to think about sustained in the viewing of the artwork. Away human psychology – violence. and there are many cases conventional viewing positions of the subject– in which artists have opted to use object are thwarted. Jacques Derrida and penis-as-hotdog – are mutilated and fluids such Julia Kristeva. the given performances are live. David Hopkins discusses characters in grotesque attire. a Disneyesque paradise and makes the The inherent instability of the subject means encounter with degradation even starker. question is whether their unreality lessens the One is neither subject nor object but hovers feelings of abjection. are the perpetrators of horrific acts Structuralist thought’. of the self. performances (on stage or in the unconvincing and uncompelling. We are undone by the violent actions This unreality creates parallels with cinema. such as Father how Barthes ‘followed a trend in French Christmas. which overturned the uncritical belief in the staging it with props. belief in an essential unchanging “human These obviously exaggerated actions do not nature”’ (Hopkins 2000: 82). means that it not contamination by what we have seen and only is entirely reasonable but is expected that experienced and need to go through a process of viewers should be scared and threatened by the catharsis or collapse of meaning before meaning unreal characters that inhabit the screen. which is the and ultimately we become abject through ideal aesthetic sensibility. and then proceeds to intentionality of the author in favour of the violate it in a host of transgressions. Downloaded by [The University of Manchester Library] at 05:59 21 June 2014 childlike fashion McCarthy invents a world. conception of the self or subject. which is In fact the hyperreality of fantasy characters under the perpetual threat of invasion by the heightens the viewers’ expectations of object and hence unable to maintain the self. For the ancient reflect on the fictional nature of the monster. the Whether politics was a motivating force of films. Kristeva’s notion always involve real bodies. that we witness and cannot dispassionately People watch horror films that are about view the process of abjection that the artist monsters that do not exist in the outside world.

When thinking about the motivations formless mass of viscera from which we are of the artists to violate their bodies. because in many cases the performances are where the artist was elevated to the role of not scripted and the artist often halts the shaman. which penetrates different orifices – were drawn to look under the veneer of of her body. I want to examine Mona THE PERVASIVENESS OF ABJECTION Hatoum’s Corps étranger (1994). Does it and humans. as present participant and to suspend social conventions in Burden’s Shoot. of different orders of viewing. we delve into ‘the world beneath 12 PERFORMANCE RESEARCH 19·1 : ON ABJECTION . The rationale offered Hatoum’s body. The presentation a threshold and becomes unequivocally horror. social conservatism or politics technology. which was A S A S T RAT E G Y O F R E A L I S M shown at the Rites of Passage exhibition (Tate The abject has become a central aspect of 1995) and consolidates all the main art from the twentieth century onwards and characteristics of art that is classified as abject it continues to occupy contemporary artists for the following reasons: it transgresses the because of its ongoing relevance to questions of boundaries of the body. A comparison may be that involved ritualized sacrifice and torture made between viewing a horror film and these in order to attain abreaction and catharsis. show the depraved nature of humanity? In other the mimetic violence was reminiscent of the arenas of life the abject is kept in abeyance. in which the former is carried religious traditions ritual was used to safeguard out in an artificial and safe environment where the sacred from everyday life. but Dionysian rites of the Bacchanal. it becomes the purpose of art to unveil what is normally hidden from us – the unrepresentable. of such practices as entertainment in the stage Downloaded by [The University of Manchester Library] at 05:59 21 June 2014 inducing. But one could argue that catharsis demands on the viewer to watch someone was only achieved in the cases of ritualized self-harming. The Actionists. for example. to witness the invitation to harm violence. it confronts us with the identity. This claim can be used to frame the shows of Franko B and live screenings of the performances of the 1960s group the Viennese multimedia artist Orlan (who carried out bodily Actionists. The viewer is thus reducing the work to nothing more than invited to watch a moving image of the inside of gratuitous provocation. The sceptic may of one into a scientific experiment thus argue for the sensationalist interpretation. and it turns the known body possibilities are opened up. several unable to escape. To conclude. in the sense the artist undertaken by a fellow viewer and of the actual infliction of violence. we can speak the performance feeling uplifted and purged. Doused in blood and eviscerated. being motivated by room that contains a viewing screen on the critique – whether of the prevailing aesthetic floor. takes us over of propriety and normalcy. the actors are not physically harmed. The experiential which would make them more productive and aspects of actual viewing made various moral wholesome. People would emerge from In thinking about abject viewing. In Orgien Mysterien Theater [Orgies performance only when the pain becomes Mysteries Theatre] (OMT) he staged a number unbearable. experienced in performances had a purifying representation to depict the underside of reality effect on an anaestheticized society and and to animate the senses of the viewer to bring awakened their perception and sensation about an intensity of emotion. In performances. This then raises the question of of performances that involved mock-violence what the enduring nature of performance art carrying out sacrificial rites using dead animals tells us about society and our psyches. Using endoscopic and colonoscopic ideologies. while in particular Hermann Nitsch. (Goldberg 1999: 165). reversed this the latter invites an element of the unknown principle to unleash the force of the sacred. who were influenced by pagan and modification) convey the disturbing voyeuristic early-Christian rites and staged spectacles sensibilities of people. whereas real violence. We enter a small cylindrical earlier was that the artists. depersonalizing the individual.

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