1 Truth and Illusion: The Importance of Authenticity and Sincerity in Performance Art In 1872 the German philosopher Friedrich

Nietzsche wrote ‘The Birth of Tragedy’

which examined truth within art. His work was founded within existentialism2 and

nihilism3 which he examined through comparisons between art, theatre and tragedy. In order to determine the importance of truth and illusion Nietzsche employs Apollonian and Dionysian4 analogies, which suggest that dream, rationality and experience are intrinsically linked; and together aid our understanding of the arts. Nietzsche argues that ‘just as the philosopher behaves in relation to the reality of existence, the artistic excitable man behaves in relation to illusions’ (Nietzsche, F. ch.2) and it is from these illusions or untruths that he fashions his interpretation which he is able to share with his audience. Nietzsche describes art and theatre as being a way of depicting truth without being true itself. He means they cannot give us true experience but the illusion is sufficient for our understanding and appreciation of it. In his book, ‘Nietzsche and the fate of art’ Philip Pothen (2002) identifies many aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy of art; three of which I have chosen to address. The first is that illusion is more appropriate for art than the real. The second is that art which claims illusion is far more successful than art which makes exorbitant claims to truth. And lastly, art performed with true action can have the same strength of effect as illusion. I have found that performance art which employs theatre can have the same effect on my audience as a true act performed, however the sincerity of my emotions and reactions is often compromised. By focusing on performances by Hermann Nitsch, Marina Abramovic and Franko B- work which has spanned over 50 years- I am able to address Nietzsche’s philosophy of art. By applying his theories on ‘illusion’ to body art I can analyze whether real or fake action is more appropriate for this genre . ‘Illusion’ in art describes a fake action, or theatre, as Nietzsche describes actors and artists as performing the same function in society. The work I have chosen manifests itself as extreme body art which pushes the body to its limits. In this sub1 2

Nietzsche, F. 1967 The Birth of Tragedy Translated by Kaufmann, W. New York: Random house Existentialism is a term which applies to a number of philosophers who since the 19th century have focused on the meaning of life, emotion and the term of the human condition. 3 Nihilism is a philosophy that argues that life is without meaning. 4 Apollo and Dionysus are two sons of Zeus, Apollo is the God of reason and plastic visual arts, Dionysus was the god of ecstacy and experience.

2 genre of performance art a question often asked is why the artist deems it necessary to go to such extremes when the audience expects metaphors within painting and sculpture, and imitation in performance. In ‘Body Art and Performance’5 Lea Vergine (2002) asks ‘are we faced with so many blatant sadists and masochists who find their excitement in anguished vice and their persuasion of art’ (Vergine, L. 2002 p.23). Do these artists truly believe it is necessary to manipulate their flesh for greater effect on their audience, or is it a self-indulgent fetish, which claims to be true expression?

In Pothen’s chapter ‘Beyond the birth of tragedy’ (pp. 30-43) he addresses Nietzsche’s theory about illusion within art. Nietzsche wrote that ‘man’s longing to be completely truthful in the midst of mendacious [world] is something noble and heroic…[but] art now requires an entirely new dignity’ (Pothen, P. 2002 p.33). In a world where human behavior is often fake or insincere attempting to act truthfully is an admirable feat, however although noble it is perhaps naïve. I believe this also means human behaviour, which is perhaps fake, does not necessarily have to be bad. People are often dishonest to save hurting another’s feelings, and perhaps when recalling truth in history, those involved review it with a small amount of dishonesty in order to be dignified. Pothen furthers this argument stating that actors create a ‘falseness with a good conscience’(Pothen, P.2002 p.26). They create illusions to convey ideas and emotions, but are able to do this sensitively. For example, in many Greek tragedies the hero dies, were this to be ‘real’, an actor would have to kill another performer, and although this would create emotion and sadness it would in fact be less appropriate than creating the illusion of murder. Marina Abramovic publicly announced her dislike of fakery in theatre; ‘theatre is fake…the knife is not real, the blood is not real, and the emotions are not real. Performance art is the opposite: the knife is real, the blood is real, and the emotions are real’(Abramovic, M. 2010 interview). In many of her performances she deals with endurance, limitation of the body and psychology, a clear expression of her influences from the Fluxus6 movement in New York which emphasized artist-centered practice
5 6

Vergine, L.2000. Body art and Performance: The body as language Milan: Skira Editor Fluxus- the name given to an art movement that blended artistic disciplines in the 1960s.

3 like Dadaism7 before it. She has allowed members of the public to cut and hurt her (Rhythm 0 1974)8. This enabled her to examine the consequences of giving total freedom to her audience to manipulate her body. Abramovic also stabbed the spaces in between her fingers, cutting regularly and forcing her to repeat the same injuries in order to demonstrate the merging of past and present, pain endured and lessons learnt (Rhythm 10 1973)9. Both of these pieces cause sincere pain through real action which conflicts with Nietzsche’s belief that an artistic solution to expressing truth was illusion, and not truth itself. Many would say these actions could be considered masochistic but although she invites pain it is not a prescribed element of her work. In response to the Balkan waran event in history of great tragedy Abramovic opted for a more theatrical performance. ‘Balkan baroque’ (1997)10 lasted for six days, six hours a day. Abramovic sat amongst and cleaned 500 large beef bones- symbolizing human remains- carefully and methodically. It was her attempt at describing the tragedies of war containing themes of vulnerability and aggression. She washed the blood and flesh from each bone with a wet white cloth. One reason for this may have been that the red pigment would have been most visible on white cloth as this piece was an illusion so she considered what tools would best convince her audience. Another reason for this decision may have been one suggested by Brigid Doherty in her discussion with Hal Foster , ‘On Body and Performance’11. She suggested that by using blood and wiping it on white cloth artists are citing when Jesus wiped his face on the veil he was handed by Veronica. The blood and sweat on his skin left an impression of his face on the fabric. Doherty suggests that this is one example of how we may justify illusions within art and the question ‘why we make art’ (Doherty to Foster, 2005. 30:42) may be answered by this lasting impression in the fabric which

Daddaism is a cultural movement that started after 1st World War across the arts which concentrated on anti war politics by rejecting prevailing standards in art. 8 Rhythm 0 by Marina Abramovic. Performed first at studio Morra in Naples in 1974 9 Rhythm 10 by Marina Abramovic. Performed first at a festival in Edinburgh in 1973 10 Balkan Baroque by Marina Abramovic. Performed first at the Venice Biennale in 1997. 11 Brigid Doherty & Hal Foster (2005) Interview. Slought Foundation. 3rd March 2005. [Internet] available at:< http://slought.org/content/11264/> [Accessed 26th March 2011]

4 many view as evidence for a ‘true’ event. To use human skeletons would have been perverse. The animal bones symbolized people who died in the war; it was a sensitive performance for which a theatrical set emphasized the gesture of mourning with dignity and Christian connotations of sacrifice.

Marina Abramovic ‘Balkan baroque 1997’

The paintings of Franko B and Hermann Nitsch represent blood. In comparison one seems to have been created through duration of pain, and the other through violent action performed impulsively; however I would not question the medium used to paint with. Both could have easily been created with human blood; it has instead come down to the preferences of the artists. Franko B uses his own blood from his performances to create garments; mostly from the work ‘I miss you’ (2003) which consists of the artist dropping blood from tubes inserted in his forearms on a long white catwalk. The Viennese Actionists12 used real excrement and real sexual intercourse in their performances however Nitsch uses red paint for his ‘Splatter paintings’13 which simulate blood. His work aims to shock an audience who suffered from post war repression however perhaps, as art historian Sarah Wilson believes, ‘after the second world war atrocities’ (Wilson, S. 2001.p.54) cutting, blood and real violence should be greatly considered before being carried out. Nitsch created an illusion of violence and freedom, through a controlled real occasion. Nitsch aimed to respond to events, which were truly awful with dignity and sensitivity when real
12 13

A violent movement in the 20th century responding to Fluxus ‘Splatter paintings’ by Hermann Nitsch made through the 1980s.

5 blood and true pain might have been inappropriate. The red blood on the white canvas still offers the metaphor of Veronica’s veil, as well as sacrifice and ritualistic behaviour. In this case it was dependant on the conscience or ethics of the performer and whether they deemed illusion to be more appropriate subjectively when applied to each work individually.

Franko B ‘I miss you’ 2003 (left) and Hermann Nitsch ‘Splatter Painting’ 1986

Pothen describes Nietzsche’s theory which is that art viewed as ‘illusion’ or theatre, is far more successful than work which claims to be real action or reaction. Nietzsche claims that ‘illusion we enjoy as illusion’(Pothen, P. 2002 p.34) is more successful than work which makes ‘exorbitant claims to truth’(Pothen, P. 2002 p.33). If a piece of art claims to be a representation of an object or emotion then it will succeed, a performance can portray sadness and will perhaps evoke sadness from its audience, however if it claims to ‘be’ sad, then its reaction from the audience is prescribed and every member of the audience should feel sad; if they do not, then the work has failed. In his essay ‘Art and Objecthood’14 Michael Fried says that theatricality in art is a falsehood that casts it from the arena of art. However I believe that theatricality is an intrinsic part of a lot of performance art as it depends on audience spectatorship and/ or participation for its completion. In ‘Rhythm 0’(1974) Abramovic’s audience were invited to, and accepted the task of inflicting pleasure or pain on her. The theatrical

Fried, M. 1967. ‘Art and Objecthood’ in Art Forum 5 (June) pp.12-23

6 nature of this piece was carefully constructed by Abramovic in her own choosing of the 72 objects. A gun obviously has huge dramatic effect and can transmit terror, but although theatrical, it was not theatre. All the objects were real, all effects would be real too. She was sliced with a knife, and scratched with a rose thorn, but the piece came to climax when the gun was held to her head. Hypothetically if the gun had of been a fake there would not have been a need for an intervention and perhaps the gun would have been fired. This would have been disastrous, as it would have shown that although Abramovic wanted to push the limitations of her audience, she was not prepared to endure the same test. Abramovic could easily have ordered a security guard to intervene if the ‘fake’ gun was held to her (in order to continue the illusion). Nietzsche wrote that ‘artists’ illusions are to be taken as truths for that is how they have their strength-effect on us’, however if this were the case her work could be criticized as being ‘compromised by exorbitant claims to truth’ (Pothen, P. 2002 p.33) and her emotions would not have been sincere.

Marina Abramovic ‘Rhythm 0’ 1974

I feel that although Abramovic’s performance was true to her intentions the same cannot be said for ‘Cut Piece’ performed first in 1964 at the Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo by Yoko Ono. After she walked onto the stage and knelt down, audience members were requested to cut away pieces of her clothing until she was naked. Unaware of her reactions to their participation they remained apprehensive about

7 removing the fabric as they couldn’t have known whether she would remain motionless. She was in fact completely still for an hour, objectifying herself much in the same way as Abramovic does in ‘Rhythm 0’; acting as a mirror for the audience to reflect on their actions. ‘Cut piece’ was performed again and although the audience was different they knew that during the cutting of her clothes Ono would remain still. Therefore I see its success diminished as the piece attempted to reveal caution in the participants. Instead, in London due to the success of the performance in Tokyo, the audience cut the clothing aggressively and fought for fabric as a souvenir. To claim this piece portrays true caution would only be fair in regards to the first performance. I would however claim that the work is a true representation of very different behaviour, that instead of showing caution it shows competitiveness and aggression. Ono was not treated as a human being but rather violently manipulated in order to retrieve something of value.

Nietzsche states that art is successful when it has an effect on the audience; and that illusion could stimulate this as easily as a true act when interpreted by the audience as reality. Thus ‘when one considers…the value of [truth] and, on the other hand, a beautiful illusion which has exactly the same value as an item of [truth]…’ (Nietzsche, F. ch.2) they achieve the same, and the action performed authentically or metaphorically is a means to the same end. If we are watching a horror film and someone is stabbed, we see the blood on their skin and the pain on their face. This is fake and we know it is fake because the characters are actors. However, for the duration of the film we accept these actions to be true, in order to allow ourselves to be convinced and entertained. An allegory described by Don DeLillo in his book ‘The Body Artist’(2001) states that if you see a dead and decapitated squirrel in the driveway, and it turns out to be something else it does not change the fact that you approached it with ‘terror and pity’ (Doherty to Foster, 2005 20:30). If you believe, and are convinced that something is real, then the illusion can have the same strength of effect on you. If someone tells us a fact, and we believe them, then we will consider it true until we find out otherwise.

8 In 1962 Hermann Nitsch performed his ‘Orgien Mysterien Theater’ (Vienna) for the first time, which consisted of ritualistic animal crucifixions, the drinking and extraction of blood, intoxication, sex and nudity. The ‘human blood’ used was in fact animal blood, however all violent connotations and portrayals of human defilement were upheld due to the acceptance of the audience in an ‘…illusion in which one believes’ (Pothen, P. 2002 p.36) Had the lamb been real, and the audience witnessed a real crucifixion it is likely that one would have intervened; however the experience was celebrated and instead ‘believed’ for the purpose of the performance. What life does require is belief in truth ‘… but illusion is sufficient for this. That is to say, ‘truths’ do not establish themselves by means of logical proofs, but by means of their effects’(Pothen, P.2002 p.35). If the audience believe that the performance is real then the effect it has on them it great, they feel as though their experience was real; and therefore the art has been successful. Brigid Doherty compares Nitsch’s performance of this ritual to Don DeLillo’s allegory about the squirrel(Doherty to Foster, 2005 20:30). In Nitsch’s ‘Theater’ (1962) the audience believed that the animal had been sacrificed in the performance because that was the illusion created by the artist; the disgust, surprise and behaviour that followed were real reactions to the effects of the illusion.

Hermann Nitsch ‘Orgien Mysterien Theater’ 1962

9 In his essay, ‘Art, Expression and Emotion’ Derek Matravers analyses expression theories within art. He states that each artist feels an emotion that he or she transmits to the audience by way of the work. He cites Russian writer Tolstoy, ‘art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them’ (Tolstoy 1930:123). Matravers goes on to say that ‘there must be a vehicle for artist’s expressions’(Gaut, B &Lopes, D.2001 p.445) a way to convey emotion and feelings through art, but ‘a sad face might be caused by slicing onions’(Gaut, B &Lopes, D.2001 p.446). By this he means that the claim that someone looks sad, is not the same as the claim that they are sad. In the arousal theory Matravers states that these expressive properties are response dependant- ‘I can deduct ‘that the work is sad, because it makes me sad’(Gaut, B & Lopes, D.2001 p.446) . If a sad face caused by chopping onions can make an audience feel sad, then there seems to be no reason why the performer should feel real sadness at the time of the performance but this could be deemed insincere. In her essay ‘Image as Icon’ Tracey Warr disagrees with Nietzsche stating that real action has greater effect than illusion or secondary experience (which could be film, or theatre). She states that ‘we might still have a gut reaction…but we can’t intervene. We don’t have to respond publicly’(Grunenburg, C 2003, pp.34-35) When considering extreme performance artists, like Abramovic and Franko B we feel as an audience that we have a moral obligation to interfere if the performance looks like it will place the artist in real danger. This of course makes the audience more aware of the actions of the artist as they try to decipher how far they are willing to go. Warr goes on to say that ‘the responsibility for other’s actions is a contract between audience and performer [which] is absent for the viewer of a [fake]’(Grunenburg, C 2003, p.36). I believe this contract to be one of understanding, when we ‘believe what we are looking at might be fictional’(Grunenburg, C 2003, p.35), so too might the sincerity or message of the artist. In an interview with Franko B15 I asked if he considered using fake blood in ‘Oh lover boy’ 2001. He replied‘ I am a performance artist; it is time based… what I did in ‘Oh

Interview of Franko B by Victoria Hunt. London. 23rd March 2011

10 Lover Boy’ was dangerous, and there is only so much blood I can lose before I will die which means there is a prescribed time limit, which my audience accepts. What I do is theatrical and dramatic but not theatre, I like it when my audience panics, they appreciate the work more’ (Franko B 2011 to Hunt). He believes that the response he gets from ‘real’ blood is far greater than what could be achieved with fake blood not only because of the immediate effect it has on the audience but because of their understanding of the consequence of his actions. He also believes that if the body is your canvas then your blood must be the paint. To use fake blood, and to pretend that he was becoming exhausted would still convey the same message to his audience however their concern and his intention would not have been sincere. Therefore the vehicle to Franko B’s expression must be true action.

Nietzsche’s first point was that ‘illusion’ is more appropriate for art. This is indeed the case for theatre, dance, painting and sculpture as it is very difficult in these genres to show true expression without showing the effect of, or an interpretation of true expression. Nitsch and Abramovic use theatricality to describe social atrocities and sad events in history because this is a more appropriate and inoffensive way to work. However, in general, body art deals with putting the body under extreme circumstances, and not politics. Therefore using the body as subject and object is appropriate and illusion would not suffice in demonstrating true expression, which is possible through real action. My second area of discussion was Nietzsche’s claim that illusion is just as successful as real action. Although this is true for theatre, dance, and even some performance art ( for example Nitsch’s ‘theatre’ in which the illusion was performed by all participants). Although this is a valid point I feel that the importance of body art is founded in its integrity to be sincere. It reveals real consequences through real action; psychologically or physically; thus only by real actions can it be analyzed as being successful. Nietzsche stated that illusion and truth could achieve the same effect so why do these artists put themselves in danger? It is not because they are masochists but because they are searching for a form of art that allows them to be truly expressive about their bodies, with their bodies. I do not believe this is, as Vergine (2000) suggested a forum for masochists to present their actions as art. I do however see some merit in her

11 point. In order to successfully convince an audience that an act is real, an artist is required to use great skill and creativity to convey the illusion. It is perhaps easier to satisfy the audience if the act is performed for real because no skill is often required in body art other than the endurance of pain; the body simply reacts involuntarily, resulting in a perfect outcome of expression every time. This is an achievement that the artist can take no real creative credit for. However body art not only pushes the body to extreme limits but it tests us psychologically as well. I do not for one instant think it would have been an easy choice for Abramovic to allow a gun to be pointed at her head; however to discover the extent the human being would go to when allowed to objectify her it was a necessary tool. The effect on the audience was so strong that someone considered killing another human being during a piece of performance art. This is absolutely obscene, and I am pretty sure that a painting or a sculpture has never had this strong an effect on its audience. Illusion may be capable of having the same effect on an audience as a real action for as long as belief in the illusion is sustained; however when a real and true action is carried out, its effect can never wither.


Bibliography Books Biesenbach, K, Iles, C & Stiles,2008 K Marina Abramovic: Contemporary Artists London: Phaidon Bois, Y., Buchloch, B., Foster, H & Krauss, R, 2007ART SINCE 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism. 2nd ed. London: Thames and Hudson Brus, G, Nitsch, H, Muehl, O & Schwarzkogler, R 1999. Brus, Muehl, Nitsch, Schwarzkogler: Writings of the Vienna Actionists (Atlas Arkhive): Writings of the Vienna Activists . London: Atlas Press Foster, H. 1985 Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics Washington: Bay Press Goldberg, R 2001 Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present London: Thames and Hudson Grunenberg, C, 2003 Art, Lies and Videotape: exposing performance. London: Tate Matravers, D 2005. Art, Expression and Emotion In Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. London: Routledge. Ch. 34 Nietzsche, F. 1967 The Birth of Tragedy Translated by Kaufmann, W. New York: Random house Plato, 427-347 BC The Republic. Translated and with notes from Robin Waterfield. 1993 Oxford: University Press Pothen, P, 2002 Nietzsche and the Fate of Art. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing House Rockwell, J 2003 The Idiots London: bfi Publishing Schneider, R, 2001. The explicit Body in Performance London: Routledge Vergine, L.2000. Body art and Performance: The body as language Milan: Skira Editor Watson, G & Wilson, S. 2001 Franko B: Oh Lover Boy London: Black Dog Publishing


Magazine Fried, M. 1967. ‘Art and Objecthood’ in Art Forum 5 (June) pp.12-23

Websites O’Hagan, S. 2010. ‘Marina Abramovic: Interview’ [Internet] Available from :< http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/oct/03/interview-marina-abramovicperformance-artist> [accessed 2nd March 2011] Sparknotes 2011 ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ [Internet] Available from :< http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/nietzsche/section1.html> [accessed 11th February 2011] Stock, M.2009. ‘The Illusion of the Audience’ [Internet] Available from :<http://www.matthewstock.com/assets/The%20Illusion%20of %20The%20Audience_M_Stock%20RP_2009.pdf> [accessed 3rd March 2011] Unknown author ‘Nietzsche and metaphysics’ [Internet] Available from :< http://www.translatum.gr/etexts/moart.htm> [accessed 20th March 2011] E-mails Bosisio, F (2011) E-mail assisting. 15th March 2011. Personal e-mail to Hunt, V (vixattrix@hotmail.com) from Bosisio, F (frankob2000@yahoo.co.uk) Bosisio, F (2011) E-mail assisting. 15th March 2011. Personal e-mail to Hunt, V (vixattrix@hotmail.com) from Bosisio, F (frankob2000@yahoo.co.uk) Bosisio, F (2011) E-mail assisting 16th March 2011. Personal e-mail to Hunt, V (vixattrix@hotmail.com) from Bosisio, F (frankob2000@yahoo.co.uk) Bossisio, F (2011) E-mail essay 18th March 2011. Personal e-mail to Hunt, V (vixattrix@hotmail.com) from Bosisio, F (frankob2000@yahoo.co.uk) Stock, M (2011) E-mail dissertation 16th March 2011. Personal e-mail to Hunt, V (vixattrix@hotmail.com) from Stock, M (info@matthewstock.com) Stock, M (2011) E-mail dissertation 17th March 2011. Personal e-mail to Hunt, V (vixattrix@hotmail.com) from Stock, M (info@matthewstock.com Interviews

14 Franko B, (2011) Interviewed by Victoria Hunt. London, Bethnal Green, Studio. 23rd March 2011 Brigid Doherty & Hal Foster (2005) Interview. Slought Foundation. 3rd March 2005. [Internet] available at:< http://slought.org/content/11264/> [Accessed 26th March 2011]

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