Thursday, October 5, 2006
Over the course of the last 50 years, artists have investigated the aesthetic frontiers of the body. A central notion of human identity, the idea of the physical body and the human self -as stable - has eroded (think of two world wars, the Holocaust, Viet-Nam, AIDS, plus the redefinition of the body in light of the developments in psychoanalysis, philosophy, anthropology, medicine, etc). Artists have investigated the temporality, contingency and instability of the body within and beyond cultural boundaries. One can generally define several areas of investigation: 1- The gesturing body, or the performing body: A dual role of object and subject that becomes public and gets transformed by activism (here we have the FLUXUS performances of Ono, Klein, Beuys, Nauman, etc). 2- The ritualistic body, as one finds in the Viennese Actionists' use of the symbolic language of torture, slaughter and sacrifice (among them Günter Brus, Hermann Nitsch and Otto Mühl, as a way to deal with the horrors of post-War Nazi Austria). Or the self-mutilated body of Gina Pane and Mike Parr and the dying body -as bravely documented by Hannah Wilke. Also the desecrating body (as in Serrano’s Piss Christ). 3- The body as "participatory," as in Chris Burden's symbolic antics, Carolee Schneemann performances and Yayoi Kusama's staged "orgies." 4- The body as identity; whether expanding the idea of gender (the transgender phenomenon), sexuality or race, identity is characterized as a cipher in constant evolution (through the use of props, masks, costumes or any other disguises). In this category, we have the works of Pierre Moliniere, Lynda Benglis, Laura Aguilar, Paul McCarthy and others. 5- The idea of body as boundary: The artist's body is the limit between the private and the public realms and what is inflicted upon that body is inflicted somehow in the social or collective body. These artists examine issues of power, control and intimacy regarding liberties we can and cannot take within our own bodies. In this category we have the works of Dennis Oppenheim, Vito Acconci, Gina Pane, William Wegmann and Marina Abramovic -among others. To better understand the context of body art, take a look at these interesting topics: body piercing, corseting, scarification, infibulation, self-flagellation.