The Formulation of Performance Art (Or How to Take Apart Reality)

In October 2016 Fylkingen in Stockholm hosted a three-day festival of performance art. I attended the entire event and witnessed hours and hours of performance art from PALS Performance Art Links. It was so much performance that I wondered how the diverse collection could be placed together under the single title of ‘Performance Art’? Having long had an interest and active engagement with performance art, I began my investigation by writing down a list of common features of the performances I had witnessed. From this starting point I wrote the essay “The Formulation of Performance Art (Or How to Take Apart Reality)”.

Presented here is a part of the longer text and with this link you can download and read the complete essay.

The performance revolves around two bodies, a set of objects (colored balls of dough) and a set of rules:
° Two participants are seated facing each other under a light bulb in a dark room

° Eye contact may not be broken

° Red and white cookies are placed in a bowl between the participants

° Red cookie means: slap the cheek/ receive a slap on the cheek

° White cookie means: caress the cheek/ receive a caress on the cheek

° The participants feed/slap and caress each other alternatively and do not see                          which/what cookie/action they are going to perform/receive until the cookie reaches            their own/ the other participant’s mouth. (Bohm Calles/Ljuus)

When the first slap comes it sounds like an axe falling hard into a block of wood. Here again we have objects, bodies and actions that reach a level of representational effectiveness within the contexts provided by performance. The bodies respond with violence or a symbolic act of care, in the caress, but the minds occupying each body does not know, as far as we understand, which it will be. It is the objects, the colored balls of dough, which facilitate the exchange within space. The randomness of the body actions, and their violence, makes the performance a shocking insight into what human beings are capable of. “Intimation” lasted about half and hour, at the end Bohm Calles and Ljuus were visible shaken and looking nauseous. This agonizing but relatively short duration of the performance makes it a powerful work of art.

Ljuus and Bohm Calles’ “Intimation” contains elements of violent spectacle. The intention and clarity of the work come through as disturbing for the viewer, when the audience is dramatically faced with the fact that they are the spectators looking at violence. With “Intimation” we watch violence in the controlled environment of performance, a violence framed by location and mediated by objects, but at the same time that is outside the control of the artists and of the audience. The image is now real (i.e. non-symbolic) and we are its victims. Through the loss of control both audience and artists are placed on an equal level of agency. Spectatorship is thus lessened within the spatio-temporal structuring of “Intimation”. The objects as mediators (the red and white balls of dough) allow this to happen.

/ James Barrett