The rise of performance art | Glenn Lowry | TEDxAthens

The rise of performance art | Glenn Lowry | TEDxAthens

Translator: Capa Girl
Reviewer: Ariana Bleau Lugo Hello everyone!
What I want to talk about today is the idea of disruption
from the perspective of art museums
and artists in general. And I wanna try
and lay out a few big ideas and use a couple of examples. And the examples I want to use,
really have to do with how artists, who are the most creative people of our society,
deal with the problem of disruption, and deal with their own inner feelings,
fears and anxieties. But I’m an historian by training, so I have this terrible tendency
to try and put things in context, to try and look at
how things happen, the antithesis
that give rise to the present. So you have to forgive me
if I move back and forth between the immediate past
and the present. But what I’ve been thinking about lately is how a number of enormously
powerful social events that are underscored
by tremendous political changes, whether they’re the Arab bump rising
in the Arab Spring in the Middle East, whether it is
Occupy Wall Street in New York, or the riots in London,
and in Rome, or the protest here in Athens. How these events, actually,
are fundamentally disruptive and they’re disruptive,
not because they deal with issues of disenfranchisement, and disillusion,
and disengagement, because that’s too simple. That would simply be
an outpouring of anger. And anger leads to violence,
and I think there’s something much more interesting
and much more fundamental, that is underneath these events. And that is that it’s actually
about aspirations, it’s about change, it’s about a desire
to see the world differently, about a desire
to deal with social justice, it’s about a desire to move
off of the status quo and to take charge. And even though many
who are involved in this protest may not know how to do that, their energy is something
we need to pay attention to. And it’s a kind of energy
that artists often know how to channel. And it’s not infrequent
that artists even anticipate this kind of social
and political change, and give voice
to how to deal with it. And I’m particularly interested
in how performance art, something that was
really popular in the ’60s and early ’70s,
has become really important again. And how certain performance artists
have created conditions in which we as individuals can actually engage and change our lives. Think about Yoko Ono
and her Voice Piece for Soprano, a work that she conceived
early in the 1960s, but which was only recently
performed at the Museum Of Modern Art, a year or so ago. And what she did
was to give instructions to people, to scream against the wind,
to scream against the wall, to scream against the sky, she invited people, anyone,
to step up to a microphone and to vent. To say what they had to say,
to say it loudly, to actually disrupt that hollow
quiet space of the museum. If you think about
how transgressive that is, then you begin to realize the importance
of what Yoko was trying to do. She was trying to build a kind
of constituency of people who understood that power
could be leveraged away from institutions
and back to people, that each of us, individually,
has a responsibility to act on our own, that she was giving us licence
to interrupt in the normal flow of events, within the more sacred space
of a cultural institution. And I think there is a connection, between this kind of performance, that engages a really broad audience in what might on the surface
seem like a transgressive act and the kind of energy
that is coming off the street as people want to deal with
something different in their lives. And the difference between
what Yoko was trying to do and what a traditional work of art
tries to do is really clear. A great painting like the
“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” by Picasso or a kind of conceptual object like the urinal called “The Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp They exist in space,
but their meaning is derived by our looking at them,
and thinking about them. What Yoko did, and what
other performance artists do, is they invite us to be the art, not to look at it,
but for us to invest our meaning in a piece that others can share. There’s nothing more interesting
than growing up and Roman Ondák,
for instance, took the idea of time and space measured
by parents who marked the height of their children on a wall. If you think about it,
we all had that kind of experience, and that’s when we first learned
that we were growing, because we could measure ourselves
against the previous mark. What Roman does
is to invite literally anyone who enters the gallery,
to have their name, their height, and the date,
marked on the wall. And what you get overtime, is this kind of
kaleidoscopic series of markings, that trace the pattern
of everyone who was in the room. But what’s important about this work,
from my perspective, is that it actually transfers
the art away from the museum, to the individuals
who actually made it. Each and everyone of us
who stood for a little while, and had our height
inscribed on the wall. Eeach of us who sat there
and participated in a kind of communal exercise
with lots of other people. And what that does, is it inscribes the
individual into the space of the institution. It moves the work of art into something
that we all make, that we share. And in doing that,
it creates a very diffrent kind of community and a very
different kind of experience. I was talking about this recently
with Paul Chan, an American artist. I was asking him if he saw
any kind of connection between this new interest in performance
and all these social and political events that are rippling through
our society. And he said that actually
when he went down to New Orleans in 2007, two years after Hurricane Katrina
destroyed large parts of the city two years after many attempts
to rebuild the city, it’s still left in a shambles. The Lower Ninth Ward,
one of the poorest parts of the city, still didn’t have electricity,
still didn’t have water. People were literally
without hope. When he went down there,
what he said was that he began by talking to
different community groups, school groups, church groups,
theather groups, artists, about what they felt
and what they needed. He developed the idea that he could produce
with them a play “Waiting for Godot”, Beckett’s masterpiece, that
would be more real than reality. That he could create a condition
that was more real than the reality these people were constantly told about, a reality that was reinforced to them
by the media and by politicians, but which they knew wasn’t true. The result of that was actually
an extraordinary event in which the entire Lower Ninth Ward
came together to see a performance of “Godot.” And “Godot” of course
is the classic play that deals with the existential
condition of waiting. But waiting is both about hope and anxiety. It’s about the way in which
we anticipate and are frustrated. And in fact,
the two protagonists of “Godot” sit around talking about all
the important issues of the world, waiting for Godot who
of course never arrives. They don’t even know if they’re
waiting for him in the right spot. And what Chan was able to do was
to present this play in a way that its reality,
its sense of time and space became for the community
of the Lower Ninth Ward more real than the reality they were living. I think the classic example of this
is a piece that Marina Abramović, legendary performance artist did,
over a year ago at the Museum of Modern Art, called “The Artist is Present”, where she created in the center
of our museum a kind of charismatic zone, almost like an arena,
maybe even a sporting arena, where she sat with someone else
while other people looked. People were invited to sit with her for
as little or as long as they wanted to. Some people sat for 8 hours,
other people sat for a few minutes. When she proposed this piece
my initial thought was, “You’re out of your mind! Why would
anyone come in and just sit with you? And even more, why would other people
want to watch other people sitting?” Think about it.
It’s a really strange thing. And she said, “You don’t understand!
What you don’t understand is that we’re going to transform the museum,
we’re going to make it into an experience, we’re going to move away from
that object on the wall to everyone who’s in the museum
being part of the art. And everyone who’s there is going to have
a relationship to me and to each other.” And by doing that she catalized
a fundamentally different way about thinking about the institution. Now, what was amazing is that some people
showed up and they brought her flowers, other people showed up and
they proposed marriage. (Laughter) Some people showed up
and they took their clothes off. We have a lot of guards at the museum
and they were quickly moved off site. One woman showed up with
a cryogenically frozen rat to give her as an offering
as if she were some kind of oracle at one of the great Greek Temples here. But, what each one of those people did
was to bring to that experience, to bring to the museum their deeply
held personal feelings and emotions. And she was a way of releasing
and catalyzing that kind of feeling and in doing so the thousands of people
who got to sit with her and the hundreds of thousands of people
who got to watch the sitting and who often engaged in their
own relationships, all participated in something deeply
and inherently disruptive that I think is one of those lessons
we can all learn from. ‘Cause what they did was to
collectively say, “Art is important, art is meaningful and we,
we can make art. We don’t need it
to be received from others. That she he gave licence to individual
action, to individual responsibility to move into that arena with her,
to sit with her, to share their feelings, to expose themselves. And the result of that was literally
online and instantaneously, so people around the world could see
a kind of portrait of everyone who came to the museum
and wanted to be with her. Now, I think about this issues a lot
because I know that these are difficult times that we live at a moment,
when the status quo can’t hold, when we go about our daily existence
and if we think it’s fine we are wrong. We need to take action,
we need to be engaged, we need to think like artists,
we need to recognize that to be complaisant
is not to live. We have to be responsible and
that responsibility means taking risks. That’s what artists do
everyday of their life. They wake up and they push
themselves to new limits. They are unsatisfied
with knowing what to do. They want to be in that space,
in that zone where they are creative, where they’re nervous and anxious,
and they can be creative. And that creative process
is something we have to nurture, something that is actually all
of our collective responsibility. We have to create the environment
in which change can occur. And that’s what brings me back to the protest
in New York or the protest here in Athens. These are opportunities.
We can look at them and say, “Well, they’ll all just pass. Nothing really
meaningful will happen. Life goes on.” If we do that and if we simply think that these are events that
other people are participating in, they are not our events, we will have
missed the fundamental lesson that they have to offer. Because the people who are acting
are acting not for themselves alone, but they are acting for thousands
and tens of thousands of other people. And we have to find a way,
like artists do, to channel that energy, to move into another space
and to recognize that one of the the most powerful
and meaningful ways that that can happen is to nurture artists. I wanna leave you with a quote
from a much earlier time, from another revolution as it were,
the Soviet Revolution, and from a writer who had it right that current social circumstances
dictate new forms of art. We cannot be satisfied with the present.
We cannot let others act for us. And that’s the lesson of disruption.
Disruption is about change. It’s about not fearing change. It’s about recognizing that new
opportunities exist at every corner and if we let things go by there will
never be the kind of creative ferment that is what is at the heart
of our creativity in our society. Thank you very much. (Applause)

2 thoughts on “The rise of performance art | Glenn Lowry | TEDxAthens”

  1. Love this! So inspiring for me as a performance artist. Appreciate the thoughtful and passionate exploration of this important living form of art!

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