Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

In the latest Art Talk presentation SG curator Olexander Wlasenko explored artists who have taken their art to the extreme. Titled Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! the distress signal used for mariners and aviators in a life or death emergency reflects a sense of emergency and danger these artists have endured.

Many of the artists discussed in this talk risked their lives or safety in the name of performance art. Performance art is also referred to as endurance art, according to Olex. It involves some form of hardship, pain, solitude, or exhaustion, and can last for very long periods. Their bodies are the medium, their performances the art. “They will use their performance art as a protest,” he says.

Serbian artist Marina Abramović is widely considered to be the grandmother of performance art. In her 1974 performance titled Rhythm 0, she sat in a gallery surrounded by 72 objects and asked the audience to do whatever they wished to her for six hours. One-by-one audience members poked, prodded, attached things to her body, and took off her clothes in a humiliating and dangerous display of personal violation. “One man even cut her throat with a razor blade, but it didn’t end there,” says Olex. “Somebody ended up pointing a pistol at her with [a] live bullet.” Some rushed to protect her; others argued it was what she had asked them to do. “She was really testing the boundary between herself and the audience, and what could potentially be illegalities,” he says.

Much is the same for the Oshawa artist Olex explored named Ilija Blanusa, who happened to be in attendance at his talk. In 1993 Blanusa staged a boxing match, inspired by German performance artist Joseph Beuys, as his thesis project at Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art. Ilija pretended to have no agenda in his take on Beuys’s politically symbolic fight. “I was quote-on-quote boxing for boxing’s sake,” says Ilija. He claimed to be an inexperienced boxer in practices leading up to the big fight. On the day of his performance, however, his opponent was unavailable to fight in the final round. The heavy weight trainer stepped into the ring to take his place. According to Ilija, the trainer fought full force, having claimed to be unaware of the artist’s lack of experience, and knocked him unconscious. The blow rendered him half blind in both eyes and with permanent brain injuries.

Tehching Hsieh is a performance artist who utilized time as a form of endurance. He punched a time clock every hour on the hour for 365 days in his One Year Performance (Time Clock Piece) from 1980 to 1981. He had an hour to sleep, eat, and leave his studio before returning in time to punch the clock, according to Olex. Tehching performed a total of five of these One Year Performances. 

“The artists are really emphatic,” says Olex. “There’s a sense of urgency, and often times they’re protesting things in society that are happening.” Despite their pain, exhaustion or near death experiences, the artists continued to create and endure for their art to leave impactful impressions.

Jessica Stoiku is a Communications Intern from Durham College’s journalism program, where she enjoyed writing about arts and culture for The Chronicle.


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