Not just for laughs

“After a close examination of the existing literature on performance art, it is remarkable to see how much of the emphasis has been placed on the grim, the intense, and the masochistic. Indeed, performance audiences have come to expect to be shocked, to witness artists being covered with bodily fluids, pierced, hung, confined, and/or mutilated. Transgressive, taboo expression gets the lion’s share of attention from both the press and the academy, and fuels both the curiosity and outrage of the public . . .

“The images of women’s performances from the 70s, in particular, which have received the most attention in art history are those of women stuffed, bound, and naked. One cannot deny the power of these images. Ana Mendieta’s raped and bloodied body, Adrian Piper’s stuffed mouth, Angelika Festa’s bound body, or Gina Pane’s scarred body are images that still have the potential to provoke strong reactions . . .

“Is the legacy of performance art as austere body art – a medium that canonizes self-inflicted pain – so all encompassing that there is no room for other strategies? Where are the strong, positive, celebratory images of women in performance art history? I do not intend to disavow the extreme work wholesale; rather, I hope to demonstrate how humour is as serious a performance strategy, and that those artists who employed it in the 70s and early 80s were not held in as high esteem as those who performed trauma.”

– Tanya Mars
Caught in the act: an anthology of performance art
by Canadian Women

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