To quote that famous line: and now for something completely different!
If you have looked at the art that I have produced over the last year and a half of my studies with regards my degree requirements, you will have taken note that my area of focus has been on feminism, and more specifically feminist performance artists. Yes, I have taken flack because of my sex and race and all that that brings with it: to make comment on something you have no way of ever experiencing is a daunting task and opens you up to a lot of criticism and attack. My lecturers on the whole though have been very excited with my explorations, and have in fact been very supportive, and have encouraged me to explore my gaze and are keen for me to step into that same realm of performance art. However, if, sadly, art plays a very minor role in the average person’s life then performance art is something totally foreign and unexperienced. So I have decided to help you, dear reader, to perhaps at least approach performance art from an informed point of view. Here are a couple of quotes that I hope will at least get you in the frame of mind of the viewer of performance art (the viewer actually becomes part of the art work) as well as perhaps the artist’s.
[Performance] really is an attempt at synthesizing communication. It’s an attempt at a new communication. But the only people this art exists for are the people who are there. And it’s the only time the art exists.—TERRY FOX
Our body is not in space like things; it inhabits or haunts space. It applies itself to space like a hand to an instrument; and when we wish to move about we do not move the body as we move an object. We transport it without instruments as if by magic, since it is ours and because through it we have direct access to space. For us the body is much more than an instrument or a means; it is our expression in the world, the visible form of our intentions. Even our most secret affective movements, those most deeply tied to the humoral infrastructure, help to shape our perception of things. —MAURICE MERLEAU-PONTY
I dream of the day when I shall create sculptures that breathe, perspire, cough, laugh, yawn, smirk, wink, pant, dance, walk, crawl… and move among people as shadows move along people.—DAVID MEDALLA
Before man was aware of art he was aware of himself. Awareness of the person is, then, the first art. In performance art the figure of the artist is the tool for the art. It is the art.—GREGORY BATTCOCK
So I hope that those quotes, which are a couple of my favourites, have given you an indication of what performance art is. At the end of this year (2012), in November, I will perform my work at a local gallery in Durban for my Third Year practical final mark. Yikes!!! It is a daunting prospect to say the least!! Already I am terrified but I have to say that my recent trauma has kind of put into perspective what should be feared and what is merely a challenge, and that this body I inhabit is merely that: a shell and of no real importance. It is the soul, the spirit that is…well…is! Despite my unbearable agony and angst, my heart kept beating (though it felt as though it were being crushed within my chest). Think of the Moon and how it glows when reflecting the Sun, in the same way our bodies reflect our souls.
My name is Andrew Peter Swanepoel (Swany) and I am a white, middle-aged South African male of European descent. This is a question answered but not asked. The question that will inevitably asked is: what does Andrew Peter Swanepoel (Swany) know about being a woman and what gives him the right to present anything to do with feminine and/or feminist issues? This is why I have decided to address this from the outset so it does not stick, like some sexist burr, in the minds of the viewer when confronted with my work.
This is my intent: to pay some sort of homage to those female artists whom I refer to as mythical warrior-artists and to reflect my thoughts, perceptions and emotional reaction to them. Certainly the main issue raised by my investigation and representation of the female artist and the feminist struggle would then be the question of my White male eye, and how it colours and interprets what I perceive. I am after all a White male and this is my reaction and interpretation to encountered and experienced stimuli as a result of me inserting myself into that environment and my presentation of these experiences to my intended viewer.
I echo Paul O’ Kane’s words and feelings when I say that there is single image that sticks in my mind, an image he says is “nothing if not serious”.It is a grainy black and white photograph of a naked Carolee Schneemann (see my galleries: Influences for picture). She is in a wide stance, legs akimbo, knees bent, leaning forward as if birthing in some primal manner. From her womb she pulls a “scroll” and, like some ancient decree, she reads the words from it. When coming upon this image I was mesmerised, it appeared to “transgress certain taboos relating to the body, what we do with our bodies, what we do in public” and demands to be taken seriously, demanding attention and then asking questions of the viewer.
With the creation of such an iconic image, from a groundbreaking performance piece, and in my opinion in the mould of Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ or Picasso’s Demoiselles, why did I not know of it or her? With that act Schneemann reclaimed the female body and as O’ Kane says of it, “this image then might present a moment of rupture, desperation, exasperation, pointing to the fact that, in a modern world, where reason, logic, rights, laws and justice…the physical differences which render one sex primary and another secondary, find no adequate representation in media, in culture, in everyday life” and obviously not in the world of art!
My initial interest had been piqued when I discovered Ana Mendieta’s work while in my first year at UNISA when doing research for land/earth art. Researching her lead me to ask the question that Linda Nochlin asked back in 1971, “why are there no great women artists?”. My interest became an obsession as I discovered one after another of these mythical warrior-artists: Carolee Schneemann and the reclamation of the female body and sexuality, Ana Mendieta and her worship of the Earth as goddess, Judy Chicago’s honouring of the feminine with her Dinner Party, Cindy Sherman and her investigation of the female roles, Hannah Wilkes’ documentation of her heartbreaking death to cancer, Mary Beth Edelson’s goddesses, Marina Ambromovic’s essentialist exploration of her stamina and pain thresholds and Frida Kahlo’s depiction of her physical and emotional torments.
(end of introduction to my artist’s statement)
As I mentioned in my statement above, I am in awe of these artists who have received little recognition for their groundbreaking work, not just because it is performance art but because they are women! They are true warrior-artists, and in my end-of-year piece I am hoping to pay homage to them, show my respect and to hopefully share them with people who have probably never heard of them before.
So stay tuned, friends! I will keep you updated.It should be, at the very, very least, interesting!