99. RoseLee Goldberg, Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present

by breavman99


RoseLee Goldberg’s Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present was first published in 1979; this edition, the third, brings the story of performance art up to the end of the first decade of the 21st century. In the forward, she notes that the 1970s were an important time in the history of performance:

Performance became accepted as a medium of artistic expression in its own right in the 1970s. At that time, conceptual art—which insisted on an art of ideas over product, and on an art that could not be bought and sold—was in its heyday and performance was often a demonstration, or an execution, of those ideas. Performance thus became the most tangible art form of the period. Art spaces devoted to performance sprang up in the major international art centres, museums sponsored festivals, art colleges introduced performance courses, and specialist magazines appeared. (7)

When the first edition of this book was published—the first history of performance art—it showed “that there was a long tradition of artists turning to live performance as one means among many of expressing their ideas,” even though up to that point performance “had been consistently left out in the process of evaluating artistic development . . . more on account of the difficulty of placing it in the history of art than of any deliberate omission” (7). “The extent and richness of this history made the question of omission an even more insistent one,” Goldberg continues (7).

Artists have considered performance to be “a way of bringing to life the many formal and conceptual ideas on which the making of art is based. Live gestures have constantly been used as a weapon against the conventions of established art” (7). This “radical stance has made performance a catalyst in the history of twentieth-century art; whenever a certain school, be it Cubism, Minimalism or conceptual art, seemed to have reached an impasse, artists have turned to performance as a way of breaking down categories and indicating new directions” (7). Moreover, performance was at the forefront of every twentieth-century avant garde (7). Movements like Futurism, Constructivism, Dadaism and Surrealism “found their roots and attempted to resolve problematic issues in performance” (7). The manifestos about performance produced by these groups, Goldberg writes, “have been the expression of dissidents who have attempted to find other means to evaluate art experience in everyday life” (8). That reference to “everyday life” is an important part of her argument:

Performance has been a way of appealing directly to a large public, as well as shocking audiences into reassessing their own notions of art and its relation to culture. Conversely, public interest in the medium, especially in the 1980s, stems from an apparent desire of that public to gain access to the art world, to be a spectator of its ritual and its distinct community, and to be surprised by the unexpected, always unorthodox presentations that the artists devise. (8)

Performance spaces can be art galleries or museums, or an “alternative space” such as a theatre, café, or street corner (8). However, unlike theatre, in performance “the performer is the artist, seldom a character like an actor, and the content rarely follows a traditional plot or narrative” (8). The presence of the artist in a performance “can be esoteric, shamanistic, instructive, provocative or entertaining” (8). All of this suggests the importance of audiences to performance work, something I’m going to come back to at the conclusion of this lengthy summary.

Examples of performance art range from “tribal ritual” to medieval passion play, Renaissance spectacle, or the “soirées” organized by Parisian artists in their studios in the 1920s (8). “Renaissance examples even show the artist in the role of creator and director of public spectacles, fantastic triumphal parades that often required the construction of elaborate temporary architecture, or allegorical events that utilized the multi-media abilities attributed to Renaissance Man,” Goldberg writes (8). Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Bernini staged large spectacles (8-9). I had no idea of this history; in fact, I had no idea that so many 20th century avant-garde movements relied so heavily on performance, although I knew a little about Dada and Surrealist performance. According to Goldberg,

The history of performance art in the twentieth century is the history of a permissive, open-ended medium with endless variables, executed by artists impatient with the limitations of more established forms, and determined to take their art directly to the public. For this reason its base has always been anarchic. By its very nature, performance defies precise or easy definition beyond the simple declaration that it is live art by artists. . . . No other artistic form of expression has such a boundless manifesto, since each performer makes his or her own definition in the very process and manner of execution. (9)

This book, she continues,

describes the huge increase in the number of twenty-first century artists around the globe turning to performance as a medium for articulating “difference”—of their own cultures and ethnicities—and for entering the larger discourse of international culture in our highly mediated times. It indicates the extent to which academia has focused on performance art—whether in philosophy, architecture or anthropology—examining its impact on intellectual history, and how museums, which once were the targets of the artists’ protests, now have performance art departments that fully embrace ‘the live’ as a serious artistic medium. (9)

However, Goldberg provides us with a disclaimer: this book “does not pretend to be a record of every performer of the past century”; instead, “this account pursues the development of a sensibility” (9). The word “sensibility” is a little vague, and perhaps a little old-fashioned, but Goldberg is interested in a relatively brief, general history of performance and the impulses that lead artists to engage in performance work. There’s no question that if this book were to be a catalogue of performance artists, it would be much longer than 250 pages.

The first five chapters of the book focus on performance in avant-garde movements before the Second World War. In the first chapter, Goldberg discusses Futurism. “Early Futurist performance was more manifesto than practice, more propaganda than actual production,” she writes, noting that the first Futurist manifesto was published in Le Figaro on 20 February 1909 (11). Its author, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, was a poet; he had been in Paris the year that Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi was produced (11). Ubu Roi’s use of profanity led to a violent response from its audience (12). According to Goldberg, given Marinetti’s desire to shock his audience it was not surprising that, in April 1909, he presented his own play, Roi Bombance, at the same theatre where Ubu Roi had been performed. Marinetti’s play “caused no less of a scandal than Jarry’s pataphysician. Crowds stormed the theatre to see how the self-proclaimed Futurist author put into practice the ideals of his manifesto” (13). However, Roi Bombance “only hinted at the kind of performances for which Futurism would become notorious” (13).

Marinetti then returned to his native Italy, where he produced his play Poupées électriques in Turin; it “firmly established Marinetti as a curiosity in the Italian art world” and the founder of a new form of theatre, “declamation” (13). Then, in January 1910, in Austrian-occupied Trieste, Marinetti and his companions presented the first Futurist evening, “singing the praises of patriotic militarism and war,” upsetting the Austrian police and gaining reputations as troublemakers (13). Marinetti gathered painters from Milan into the Futurist movement; they organized another Evening in Turin in March 1910; the painters later published a manifesto of Futurist painting and a year later had their first group showing of paintings as Futurists; the work they presented “illustrated how a theoretical manifesto could actually be applied to painting” (13-14). “Futurist painters turned to performance as the most direct means of forcing an audience to take note of their ideas,” which consisted of an “ill-defined insistence on ‘activity’ and ‘change’ and an art ‘which finds its components in its surroundings’” (14). “Performance was the surest means of disrupting a complacent public. It gave artists licence to be both ‘creators’ in developing a new form of artists’ theatre, and ‘art objects’ in that they made no separation between their art as poets, as painters or as performers,” Goldberg continues (14-16).  “Subsequent manifestos made these intentions very clear: they instructed painters to ‘go out into the street, launch assaults from theatres and introduce the fisticuff into the artistic battle,’” and the responses of audiences were violent: they threw “missiles of potatoes, oranges, and whatever else the enthusiastic public could lay their hands on from nearby markets” (16). “Arrests, convictions, a day or two in jail and free publicity in the next days followed many Evenings” (16).

Marinetti believed that the audience should be despised; applause merely meant the performance had been mediocre, while booing suggested that the audience was alive (16). He “admired variety theatre for one reason above all others: because it ‘is lucky in having no tradition, no masters, no dogma’” (17). Theatre’s mixture of elements, including ‘“the whole gamut of stupidity, imbecility, doltishness, and absurdity, insensibly pushing the intelligence to the very border of madness,’” “made it an ideal model for Futurist performances” (17). In addition, variety theatre or cabaret—the kind he liked—had no story-line (17). Its actors and authors and technicians only existed “‘to invent new elements of astonishment’” (17). Also, its audiences collaborated with its performers (17). It explained problems and political events “‘quickly and incisively’” to its audiences as well (17). “[A]nother aspect of this cabaret form which appealed to Marinetti was the fact that it was ‘anti-academic, primitive and naive, hence the more significant for the unexpectedness of its discoveries and the simplicity of its means’” (17). In other words, it destroyed the solemnity and seriousness of Art “‘with a capital A’” (17).

Futurism’s declamation technique was a kind of performance (18). Marinetti wrote that the Futurist declaimer “‘should declaim as much with his legs as with his arms,’” and stated that declaimers should hold “different noise-making instruments” in their hands (18). Futurist performances in 1914 included noise music and mechanical movements (20-21). The noise music was primarily used as background music; it used special instruments to generate mechanical sounds (21). Another Futurist manifesto, Dynamic and Synoptic Declamation, “outlined rules for body actions based on the staccato movements of machines” (21). Other Futurist performances used life-sized puppets that “performed” together with live actors (24). Futurist ballets also attempted to incorporate mechanical movements (24). However, the dancers themselves “remained only one component of the overall performance. Obsessively, the numerous manifestos on scenography, pantomime, dance or theatre, insisted on merging actor and scenography in a specially designed space” (24). 

This “‘synchronism’ had been outlined in detail in the manifesto Futurist Synthetic Theatre of 1915”: it meant the compression of “‘innumerable situations, sensibilities, ideas, sensations, facts and symbols’” into just “a few minutes, int a few words and gestures” (26). “The Futurists refused to explain the meaning of these Syntheses,” Goldberg writes. “It was ‘stupid to pander to the primitivism of the crowd,’ they wrote, ‘which in the last analysis wants to see the bad guy lose and the good guy win.’ There was no reason, the manifesto went on, that the public should always completely understand the whys and wherefores of every scenic action” (27). Nevertheless, many of the Syntheses “revolved around recognisable gags on artistic life,” and they were “timed very much like brief variety theatre sequences, with introductory scene, punchline, and quick exit” (27). 

Simultaneity was an essential aspect of Synthetic theatre:

A section of the Synthetic theatre manifesto was devoted to explaining the idea of simultaneity. Simultaneity “is born of improvisation, lightning-like intuition, from suggestive and revealing actuality,” it explained. They believed that a work was valuable only “to the extent that it was improvised (hours, minutes, seconds), not extensively prepared (months, years, centuries).” This was the only way to capture the confused ‘fragments of inter-connected events’ encountered in everyday life, which to them were far superior to any attempts at realistic theatre. (27-28)

Marinetti’s 1915 play Simultaneity attempted to “give form to this section of the manifesto” (28). “The logic of simultaneity led also to scripts written in two columns” (28). “Some Syntheses could be described as ‘play-as-image,’” and others “described sensations,” while still others “dealt with colours” (28).

“By the mid-twenties the Futurists had fully established performance as an art medium in its own right,” Goldberg contends:

In Moscow and Petrograd, Paris, Zurich, New York and London, artists used it as a means to break through the boundaries of the various art genres, applying, to a greater or lesser extent, the provocative and alogical tactics suggested by the various Futurist manifestos. Although in its formative years Futurism had seemed to consist mostly of theoretical treatises, ten years later the total number of performances in these various centres was considerable. (29)

One sign of their success was the fact that “companies of Futurist performers toured throughout Italian cities, venturing to Paris on several occasions” (29). “With their limited budgets the companies were forced to bring even more of their genius for improvisation into play, and resort to even more forceful measures to ‘provoke absolutely improvised words and acts’ from the spectators” (29). There was a Futurist film, Vita futurista (29). There was also a manifesto of Futurist Aerial Theatre, the text of which was scattered from the sky in the middle of an aerial ballet that used a device that controlled the sound of the aircraft’s engine (30). Futurism thus “attacked all possible outlets of art, applying its genius to the technological innovations of the time. It spanned the years between the First and Second World Wars, with its last significant contribution taking place around 1933” (30). At that time, Marinetti recognized that radio was “a formidable instrument of propaganda in a changing political climate” and wrote five radio Syntheses in the early 1930s (30). “Futurist theories and presentations covered almost every area of performance,” Goldberg concludes.” This was Marinetti’s dream, for he had called for an art that ‘must be an alcohol, not a balm’ and it was precisely this drunkenness that characterized the rising circles of art groups who were turning to performance as a means of spreading their radical art propositions” (30). Marinetti looked to a future when life itself would become a work of art: “This was a premise that was to underlie many subsequent performances” (30).

In her second chapter Goldberg discusses performance in Russian Futurism and Constructivism. “Two factors marked the beginnings of performance in Russia,” she writes: 

on the one hand the artists’ reaction against the old order—both the Tzarist régime and the imported painting styles of Impressionism and early Cubism; on the other, the fact that Italian Futurism—suspiciously foreign but more acceptable since it echoed this call to abandon old art forms—was reinterpreted in the Russian context, providing a general weapon against art of the past. (31)

Like Marinetti’s Futurists, the Russian Futurists began with a manifesto:

Such attacks on previously held art values were now expressed in the quasi-Futurist manifesto of 1912 by the young poets and painters Burlyuk, Mayakovsky, Livshits and Khlebnikov, entitled A Slap in the Face to Public Taste. In the same year, the “Donkey’s Tail” exhibition was also organized as a protest against “Paris and Munich decadence,” asserting the younger artists’ commitment to developing an essentially Russian art following in the footsteps of the Russian avant garde of the 1890s. . . . [T]he new generation promised . . . to make their impact on European art from an entirely new Russian viewpoint” (31).

These activities met with widespread interest: “Groups of writers and artists sprang up throughout the major cultural centres of St Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and Odessa. They began to arrange exhibitions and public debates, confronting audiences with their provocative declarations. The meetings soon gathered momentum and an enthusiastic following” (31). Audiences were interested as well: “The Futurists were a guaranteed evening’s entertainment, drawing crowds in St Petersburg and Moscow. Soon tired of the predictable café audience, they took their ‘Futurism’ to the public: they walked the streets in outrageous attired, their faces painted, sporting top hats, velvet jackets, earrings, and radishes or spoons in their buttonholes” (32). The Russian Futurists, Goldberg continues, “set the stage for art performance, declaring that life and art were to be freed from conventions, allowing for the limitless application of these ideas to all the realms of culture” (33).

Mayakovsky’s tragedy, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and the Futurist poet Alexei Kruchenykh’s “opera,” Victory Over the Sun, were produced in 1913 (34). “The two productions were an enormous success,” Goldberg writes. “Police stood in large numbers outside the theatre. Crowds attended the more than forty lectures, discussions, and debates organized in the weeks following. Yet the St Petersburg press remained in a state of complete ignorance and perplexity about the importance of these events” (36-37). “The changes that many found so indigestible included a complete displacement of visual relationships, the introduction of new concepts of relief and weight, certain new ideas of form and colour, of harmony and melody and a breakaway form the traditional use of words” (37). The “non-sense and non-realism” of the opera’s libretto had led to the use of 

puppet-like figures and geometric stage sets. In turn, the figurines determined the nature of the movements and therefore the entire style of the production. In later performances mechanical figures appeared, developing the ideals of speed and mechanization expressed by the . . . Futurists’ paintings. The figures were visually broken by blades of lights, alternately deprived of hands, legs and torso, even subjected to total dissolution. (37)

This abstraction had a considerable influence on artist Kasimir Malevich’s later work:

It was to Victory Over the Sun that Malevich attributed the origins of his Suprematist paintings, with their characteristic features of white and black squares and trapezoid forms. Victory Over the Sun represented a comprehensive collaboration by the poet, the musician and the artist, setting a precedent for the years to come. Yet its complete breakaway from the traditional theatre or opera did not ultimately define a new genre. . . . In retrospect, it was a transitional event: it had succeeded in suggesting new directions. (37)

According to Goldberg, “Victory Over the Sun and Vladimir Mayakovsky had clinched the close relationship between painters and poets. Encouraged by their success, writers went on to plan new productions which would incorporate the newly established artists as designers, and the painters organized new exhibitions” (37).

These collaborations “saw the gradual adaptation of Futurist and Constructivist ideas to theatre in the name of ‘production art’” (38). “Production art was virtually an ethical proclamation by the Constructivists,” Goldberg writes. “[T]hey believed that in order to oust the reigning academicism, speculative activities such as painting and the ‘outmoded tools of brushes and paint’ must be put aside. Moreover they insisted that artists use ‘real space and real materials’” (38). They also insisted that the work contain “news of social and political events, ideology and the new spirit of Communism” (38). Forms like circus, music hall, puppet shows, and variety theatre “seemed the perfect vehicles for communicating the new art as much as the new ideology to a wide public” (38). Nikolai Foregger, a theatre artist who searched for “physical means by which to mirror the stylized designs of the pre-Revolutionary avant garde,” was important in this new art (38). Foregger’s productions brought together music hall, “cinefication” (the use of spotlights that were projected onto spinning disks, producing cinematic effects), circus, dance and theatre (38-39). He also invented “tafiatrenage,” a combination of dance and physical training that saw the dancer’s body as a machine (39):

Foregger’s Mechanical Dances were first performed in February 1923. One of the dances imitated a transmission: two men stood about ten feet apart and several women, holding onto each other’s ankles, moved in a chain around them. Another dance represented a saw: two men holding the hands and feet of a woman, swinging her in curved movements. Sound effects, including the smashing of glass and the striking of different metal objects backstage, were provided by a lively noise orchestra. (40)

“While Foregger was developing a purely mechanistic art form, which was appreciated more for its aesthetic than ethical inspiration,” Goldberg continues, “other artists, playwrights and actors favoured the new propaganda machine, for it made immediate and comprehensible the new policies and new life styles of the revolution” (40-41).

Mayakovsky, for example, believed that propaganda was crucial, and he was among the many artists who joined ROSTA, the Russian Telegraph Agency, which translated news into posters and degrees into slogans, creating a new form of communication (41). “Soon, the success of the windows and billboard posters led to live events. Posters were projected in sequence in a series of images,” Goldberg writes. “Travelling productions began with the filming of a title such as ‘All Power to The People!’ This was followed by static images demonstrating and elaborating the idea of the slogan” (41). “Agit-trains and ships, ROSTA and agit-street theatre were only some of the outlets available for the young artists intent on abandoning purely ‘speculative activities’ for socially utilitarian art” (41). In this political context, performance took on a new importance and meaning, “far from the art experiments of the earlier years. Artists masterminded May the First pageants depicting the Revolutionary takeover, decorating the streets and involving thousands of citizens in dramatic reconstructions of highlights from 1917” (41). These productions “brought just about every possible technique and style of painting, theatre, circus and film into play,” Goldberg continues. “As such the limits of performance were endless: nowhere was there an attempt to classify or restrict the different disciplines. Constructivist artists committed to production art worked continuously on developing their notions of an art in real space, announcing the death of painting” (44).

Theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold “sensed that Constructivism led the way to militating against the worked out aesthetic tradition of theatre, enabling him to realise his dream of extra-theatrical productions removed from the box-like auditorium, to any place: the market, the foundry of a metal plant, the deck of a battleship” (45). His 1922 production of Crommelynck’s The Magnificent Cuckold used a set which 

consisted of frames of conventional theatre flats, platforms joined by steps, chutes and catwalks, windmill sails, two wheels and a large disc bearing the letters CR-ML-NCK (standing for Crommelynck). The characters wore loose-fitting overalls, but even with their comfortable dress would need acrobatic skills to ‘work’ the set. Thus the production became the ideal forum for Meyerhold’s system of biomechanics . . . which he had developed shortly before. (45)

“The success of The Magnificent Cuckold established the Constructivists as the leaders in stage design,” Goldberg writes. “This work was the culmination of an exchange between the arts, for in this production, the artist not only responded to the theatrical needs of an innovative director, but actually transformed the nature of acting and the very intent of the play through devising such complex ‘acting machines’” (46).

The Blue Blouse Group formed in 1923. It was, Goldberg writes, 

overtly political, it employed avant-garde as well as popular techniques, specifically intended for a mass audience. At its height, it probably involved more than 100,000 people, with its numerous clubs in cities throughout the country. Using agit-prop, ‘living newspapers’ and the tradition of the club theatre, their repertory was essentially made up of film, dance and animated posters. In many ways it was the ultimate realisation, on a grand scale, of Marinetti’s variety theatre. (46)

“Another source for these extravaganzas was Eisenstein’s staging of Ostrovsky’s Diary of a Scoundrel, which included a montage of twenty-five different attractions: film, clown acts, sketches, farcical scenes, choral agit-song and circus acts,” Goldberg continues (46). In 1930, Mayakovsky prepared a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the attempted 1905 Revolution, entitled Moscow is Burning, “an entirely new phenomenon in the field of circus pantomime” (48). “A sharp political satire, it told the story of the first days of the Revolution, in motion-picture style,” with 500 performers (circus artistes, theatre students, and cavalry units) involved (48). The events of 1905 had triggered “a theatrical and artistic revolution in Russia,” Goldberg writes, but the year 1934 “dramatically marked a second turning-point in theatre and artists’ performance, putting a stop to almost thirty years of extraordinary productions” (48). That’s because in that year, “at the Writers Congress in Moscow . . . Zhdanov, the party spokesman for matters affecting the arts, delivered the first definitive statement on socialist realism, outlining an official and enforceable code for cultural activity” (49). It was the end of Russian Futurism, Constructivism, and any other form of avant-garde art in the Soviet Union.

Goldberg begins her third chapter, on Dada, with a discussion of the importance of cabaret theatre in Europe around the time of the First World War. “Long before Dada’s activities began at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1916,” she writes, “cabaret theatre was already a popular night-life entertainment in German cities” (50). “[O]n small platform stages, dancers and singers, poets and magicians played out their satirical sketches” (50). In Munich, in “these so-called ‘intimate theatres,’ eccentric figures flourished, among them Benjamin Franklin Wedekind, better known as Frank Wedekind” (50). A provocateur, Wedekind would often masturbate or urinate on stage, and his plays were no less controversial: “each play was censored by Kaiser Wilhelm’s Prussian officials, and often abridged by his publishers. Financially drained by prison sentences and generally ostracized by nervous publishers, he was to work again the popular cabaret circuit . . . in order to earn a living” (50-51). “These irreverent performances, bordering on the obscene, endeared Wedekind to the artistic community in Munich, while the censorship trials which inevitably followed guaranteed his prominence in the city” (51). Hugo Ball was a fan of Wedekind’s work (51). “Wedekind’s performances revelled in the licence given the artist to be a mad outsider, exempt from society’s normal behaviour,” Goldberg writes. “But he knew that such licence was given only because the role of the artist was considered utterly insignificant, more tolerated than accepted. Taking up the cause of the artist against the complacent public at large, Wedekind was soon joined by others in Munich and elsewhere who began to use performance as a cutting edge against society” (52).

Wedekind’s notoriety spread beyond Munich, but he rejected any attempts to align his work with Expressionism (52). “[T]he prototypical Expressionist production, Kokoschka’s Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen (‘Murderer, Hope of Women’)” was presented in Vienna in 1909, to public outrage (52-53). “By 1912, the year in which Sorge’s Der Bettler, generally regarded as the first Expressionist play, was published, Kokoschka’s production was the centre of conversation in Munich,” Goldberg continues. “Although few explicitly Expressionist plays had actually yet been performed, the new notions of performance were already being seen as a possible means of destroying earlier realistic traditions by such people as the twenty-six-year-old Hugo Ball, who was by then deeply involved in the planning of performances of his own. To Ball, the Munich years meant plant to initiate a collaborative Küunstlertheater” (54). Ball teamed up with Kandinsky and they published in Expressionist periodicals in Munich (54). “It was a period according to Ball when common sense had to be opposed at all times”:

Within this disturbing milieu Ball imagined that the “regeneration of society” would come about through the “union of all artistic media and forces.” Only the theatre was capable of creating the new society, he believed, But his notion of theatre was not a traditional one: on the one hand, he had studied with the innovative director Max Reinhardt, and sought new dramatic techniques; on the other, the concept of a total artwork, or Gesamtkunstwerk, put forward over half a century earlier by Wagner, involving artists from all disciplines in large-scale productions, still held a fascination for him. (54)

If Ball had had his way, his theatre would have involved many collaborators, including Kandinsky (54). Although he brought together these artists later in Zurich, his plans did not materialize in Munich, because he did not find sponsors and failed in his bid for the directorship of the Staatstheater in Dresden; he left Germany for Switzerland (54). According to Ball, “‘The importance of the theatre is always inversely proportionate to the importance of social morality and civil freedom.’ For him social morality and civil freedom were at odds and in Russia as well as Germany, theatre was crushed by the war” (54).

Ball and Emmy Hennings arrived in Zurich in the summer of 1915 (55). Ball joined a touring nightclub troupe and “wrote endless texts on the philosophical and spiritual malaise of the time” (55). “However, the cabaret performances and his writings conflicted with each other,” Goldberg writes. “Ball was writing about a kind of art that he was increasingly impatient to implement,” an art that would be “‘irrational, primitive, complex,’” and “‘speak a secret language and leave behind documents not of edification but of paradox’” (55). Early in 1916 Ball and Hennings decided to start their own café-cabaret (55). Cabaret Voltaire began on 5 February 1916; it became a nightly affair featuring poetry and music; contributors included Arp, Tristan Tzara Georges Janco, Hennings, Richard Huelsenbeck, among many others (56). “Under pressure to entertain a varied audience, they were forced to ‘be incessantly lively, new and naive. It is a race with the expectations of the audience and this race calls on all our forces of invention and debate’” (58). Ball believed “there was something specially pleasurable in cabaret. . . . Live reading and performance was the key to rediscovering pleasure in art” (58). Each evening was built around a particular theme (58), and performers wore strange costumes (60-61). Ball invented sound poetry for the cabaret; he hoped to renounce the language “‘devastated and made impossible by journalism’” with his sound poetry (60-61). By the end of March the cabaret was a roaring success, but Ball was exhausted (58). 

The core group of performers was divided on whether or not to publish an anthology of work presented at the Cabaret Voltaire (62). Those divisions helped to bring Cabaret Voltaire to an end after just five months in operation. The owner of the space was disturbed by the goings-on, Ball was tired, and Tzara was interested in moving on to either Rome or Pairs, while Arp wanted to revolutionize art by doing away with painting and sculpture entirely (63). On 14 July 1916, Dada moved to the Waag Hall in Zurich; Ball saw the event as the end of his involvement with Dada. The evening involved the reading of various Dada manifestos; that same month a magazine Collection Dada, appeared, and plans were afoot for a Dada gallery (64). “While Tzara was creating a literary movement out of the Dada idea, he was slowly alienating Ball,” Goldberg writes. “Huelsenbeck collaborated for a while, but he shared Ball’s reservations about what Dada was becoming, but for different reasons. Huelsenbeck saw the move [to publish a magazine] as codifying Dada, while Ball merely wanted to get away from it all to concentrate on his own writing” (64). The Dada gallery opened in January 1917: “The nature of the work had changed, however, from spontaneous performances to a more organized, didactic gallery program” (65). “The Galerie Dada lasted just eleven weeks. It had been calculated and educative in intent with three large-scale exhibitions, numerous lectures (including one by Ball on Kandinsky), soirées and demonstrations” (66). Before the gallery had officially closed down, Ball had left for the Alps, and Huelsenbeck had departed for Berlin (66).

Dada performances began in Berlin, but that city’s “literary bohemians had little in common with Zurich’s pacifist exiles,” and “they were soon to influence Dada towards a political stance that it had not known before” (67). “Dada was determined to conquer Berlin, to banish Expressionism from the city limits and to establish itself as an adversary to abstract art,” Goldberg states (69). “Manifestos appeared in quick succession. But the mood had changed; Berlin had transformed Dada, adding a more aggressive spirit than before” (70). However, by 1920 the scene was exhausted and coming to an end (70). Visiting foreign Dadaists and local groups began holding performances in German, Dutch, Rumanian and Czechoslovakian cities; Kurt Schwitters helped to organize a “‘Holland Dada’” in 1923; in Cologne, Marx Ernst organized a Dada exhibition (71). “Chained to an object of Ernst’s was an axe, providing an open invitation to any willing passer-by to destroy the object” (72). Meanwhile, “Dada’s last years in Zurich were in the hands of Tristan Tzara. There he had transformed Dada from a haphazard series of mostly improvised events into a movement with its own mouthpiece, the magazine Dada (first issued in July 1917), which he would soon take with him to Paris” (72). The last Dada event in Zurich took place in April 1919 (73); Tzara moved to Paris that year (74).

The fourth chapter, “Surrealism,” begins with Tzara’s arrival in the French capital. There, “he soon became the focus of attention of the avant-garde circles, just as he had anticipated” (75). At the first Dada event in Paris, in January 1920, Tzara upset the audience by reading a “‘vulgar’ newspaper article” that he called a poem, “accompanied by ‘an inferno of bells and rattles’” shaken by two collaborators and by large chalk drawings on a blackboard by Francis Picabia (75).  The event ended in an uproar, which the Dadaists described as “‘an extremely fruitful experiment,’” according to Ribemont-Dessaignes, who stated: 

The destructive aspect of Dada appeared to them more clearly; the resultant indignation of the public which had come to beg for an artistic pittance, no matter what, as long as it was art, the effect produced by the presentation of the pictures and particularly of the manifesto, showed them how useless it was, by comparison, to have Max Jacob’s poems read by Jean Cocteau. (qtd. in Goldberg 75)

According to Goldberg, “[o]nce again, Dada had ‘triumphed.’ Although the Zurich and Paris ingredients were the same—provocations against a respectful audience—it was clear that the transplant had been successful” (75). The following month, another Dada event, this one advertised as an appearance by Charlie Chaplin (75). The crowd instead reacted to “thirty-eight people reading various manifestos” by throwing garbage at the stage (75-76). 

“Despite the apparent outrage of the Parisian public, the audience of the twenties was not entirely unfamiliar with such provocative events,” Goldberg notes:

For example. Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi of twenty-five years earlier still retained a special place in the history of performance scandals and, needless to say, Jarry was somewhat of a hero to the Parisian Dadaists. The music of the eccentric French composer Erik Satie, for example the one-act comedy  Le Piège de Méduse and his concept of “furniture music” . . . contained many anticipations of Dada. (76-77)

The 1917 ballet Parade was a collaboration between Satie, Picasso, Cocteau and Léonide Massine had “come in for its own noisy opposition from press and public alike. Indirectly employing Jarry-style tactics, Parade provided the Parisian public, just recovering from the long crises of the war, with a taste of what Guillaume Apollinaire described as the ‘New Spirit’” (77). Parade “set the tone for performance of the postwar years” (77). The ballet’s scenario “revolves around the idea of a travelling troupe whose ‘parade’ is mistaken by the crowd for the real circus act,” and the 1917 production featured one dancer in a ten-foot-high Cubist costume by Picasso, another dressed as a skyscraper, and a third “who mimed the actions of catching a train, driving a car, and foiling a bank robbery,” along with acrobats “who tumbled to a fast waltz of xylophones” (77). “Parade was greeted with outrage,” Goldberg writes. “Conservative critics dismissed the entire production” as “‘unacceptable noise’” because Satie employed mechanical sound effects in the orchestration (78). Critics also objected “to the enormous costumes which they felt made nonsense of traditional ballet movements” (78). Nevertheless the scandal confirmed Satie’s reputation (78). 

Parade was important for another reason:

Apollinaire’s preface to Parade had correctly anticipated the emergence of the New Spirit; moreover, it suggested that the New Spirit contained a notion of ‘surrealism [surréalisme].’ There was, in Parade, he wrote, ‘a sort of surrealism in which I see the point of departure for a series of manifestations of the New Spirit.’” (78)

Apollinaire presented his own play Les Mamelles de Tirésias the following month; in his introduction, he expanded on his notion of surrealism: “‘I have invented the adjective surrealist . . . which defines fairly well a tendency in art, which if not the newest thing under the sun, at least has never been formulated as a credo, an artistic and literary faith’” (80). The idea, he continued, was that surrealism was a protest against realism in theatre (80). Four years later, in 1921, Cocteau “elaborated this new aesthetic in his first solo production, Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel,” which used many of the same techniques as Parade and Les Mamelles de Tirésias, “particularly the habit of representing crowds in one person, as though this were the most basic and effective means to counteract traditional realist theatre. It also employed the vaudeville habit of a master and mistress of ceremonies announcing each new sequence and explaining the action to the audience” (80). “Typically the action was accompanied by noise music,” Goldberg writes. “But Cocteau had anticipated a new mixed media genre in French performance which would remain on the edges of theatre, ballet, light opera, dance and art” (81). According to Cocteau, it would allow the “‘new generation to continue its experiments in which the fantastic, the dance, acrobatics, mime, drama, satire, music and the spoken word combine’” (81). “Les Mariés, with its mix of music hall and absurdity, seemed to have taken the irrationality of Jarry’s Pataphysics as far as it could go,” Goldberg continues. “Yet at the same time, the profusion of such performances provided an excellent excuse for the Dadaists to devise entirely new strategies” (81).

The Parisian Dadaists were interested in tearing down what existed rather than devising alternatives; they “refused to provide . . . a blueprint for anything better than what had gone before” (82). Nevertheless, the question of what would arise from the ashes of the past “did cause a rift in the new Dada contingent” (82). For that reason, 

they decided to stage a demonstration before a less homogenous crowd, at the Salle Berliosz in the famed Maison de l’Oeuvre; on 27 March 1920 they  presented a carefully planned performance which according to Ribemont-Dessaignes was arranged in a mood of collective enthusiasm. “The attitude of the public was one of amazing and unprecedented violence,” he wrote, “which would have seemed mild beside Mme Lara’s performance of Apollinaire’s Mamelles de Ti[r]ésias.” The Dada-Surrealist group of Breton, Soupault, Aragon, Eluard, Ribemont-Dessaignes, Tzara and others, presented their own plays in what was, in many ways, not unlike a grand variety show. (82)

“The Salle Berliosz performance had been an attempt to give a new direction to Dada activities,” Goldberg notes. “But it did nothing to placate those of the group strongly resisting the inevitable standardization of Dada performances” (82). 

The next event was the Dada Festival, “held at the plush Salle Gavreau on 26 May 1920,” where a large crowd, 

lured by past performances and the advertisement that the Dadaists would have their hair shaved on stage, gathered at the hall. Although the hair cutting did not take place, a varied programme and curious costumes had been prepared beforehand for their amusement. Breton appeared with a revolver tied to each temple, Eluard in a ballerina’s tutu, Fraenkel in an apron, and all the Dadaists word funnel-shaped “hats” on their heads. Despite these preparations, the performances themselves were unrehearsed, so that many of the events were delayed and broken up by shouts from the audience as performers attempted to straighten out their ideas. (84)

“Nevertheless the madness that manifested itself that night in the elegant hall created an enormous scandal, which of course was regarded as a great achievement by the somewhat disenchanted group, despite the fact that they were by the considerably at odds with one another,” Goldberg writes (84).

“The performers were slow to recover from the Salle Gaveau festival,” she continues:

They met at Picabia’s home or in the cafés to discuss a way out of the impasse of regular soirées. It had become obvious that the public was by then ready to accept “a thousand repeat performances” of the evening at the Salle Gaveau, but Ribemont-Dessaignes instisted that “at all costs, they must be prevented from accepting a shock as a work of art.” (85)

This sense of a dead end was the context of the first example of walking art: 

they organized a Dada excursion to the little-known, deserted church of St Julien le Pauvre on 14 April 1921. The guides were to be Buffet, Aragon, Breton, Eluard, Fraenkel, Huszar, Péret, Picabia, Ribemont-Dessaignes, Rigaut, Soupault and Tzara. However, Picabia, long dissatisfied with the course of Dada’s activities, withdrew from the excursion on the actual day. Posters advertised the event throughout the city. They promised that the Dadaists would remedy the “incompetence of suspect guides and cicerones,” offering instead a series of visits to selected site, “particularly those which really have no reason for existing.” Participants in these events, they assured, would immediately ‘become aware of human progress in possible works of destruction.’ In addition the posters contained such aphorisms as “cleanliness is the luxury of the poor, be dirty” and “cut your nose as you cut your hair.” (85)

“Despite the promise of an unusual excursion led by Paris’s youthful celebrities, the lack of an audience, partly attributed to the rain, was not encouraging,” Goldberg writes. “‘The result was what followed every Dada demonstration; collective nervous depression,’ commented Ribemont-Dessaignes” (85). 

That depression was short-lived, and they abandoned the idea of future tours, “and turned instead to their second alternative to soirées, arranging the Trial and Sentencing of M. Maurice Barrès by Dada on 13 May 1921 at the Salle des Sociétés Savantes” (85). Barrès, the object of their attack, was an eminent writer who, just a few years before, “had been somewhat of an ideal for the French Dadaists,” but apparently he “had turned traitor when he became the mouthpiece of the reactionary newspaper L’Echo de Paris” (85-86). At the event, all the court officials and witnesses wore scarlet caps, and Barrès was represented by “a wooden tailor’s dummy” (86). “The trial gave a public airing to the deep-rooted enmities that had been slowly brewing between Tzara and Breton, Picabia, and the Dadaists,” Goldberg suggests. “In fact, Dada itself was on trial. It was also a signal for those for and against Dada to state their positions” (86). “Following the trial, relations were strained between Picabia, Tzara and Breton,” she continues. “Those on the sidelines of this battle, Soupault, Ribemont-Dessaignes, Aragon, Eluard and Péret, organised a Dada Salon and exhibition at the Galerie Montaigne, which opened in June 1921. Breton and Picabia refused to have anything to do with it. Duchamp, who had been invited to contribute from New York, replied by telegram: ‘peau de balle’ [balls to you!]” (87). Tzara presented his work Le Coeur à gaz (“The Gas Heart”) at this show, a performance that Tzara described as “‘the only and greatest three-act hoax of the century’” (87). The “characters” chanted monotonously a series of unrelated sentences, “always at cross-purposes,” and ended with the cast chanting “go lie down” (87). “Typically this verbal event ended in a brawl, with Breton and Eluard leading the attack against Tzara” (87). 

Meanwhile, Breton was planning something called the Congress of Paris, which would bring together 

all the various tendencies in Paris and elsewhere, with various groups represented by the artist-editors of the new magazines. . . . But the failure of the congress also marked the final break of Breton, Eluard, Aragon and Péret with the Dadaists. For Tzara contested the whole day, finding it a contradiction in terms of Dada attitudes, to be presented on a comparative platform with Purists, Orphists and so on. Even before the event was finally cancelled, magazines published the various arguments for and against the congress. Breton made the mistake of using a “common newspaper” in which to describe Tzara as an “interloper from Zurich” and a “publicity-seeking imposter.” This brought about the Dada contingent’s resignation. (87-88)

A soirée held under the name Le Coeur à barbe (“The Bearded Heart”) in July 1923 “provided the ideal platform for the antagonisms that had brought about the failure of the congress to be aired once more” (88). It included the second performance of Tzara’s Le Coeur à gaz, and the play “became the focus of a nasty scene. Breton and Péret protested loudly from the stalls, before climbing onto the stage to engage in a physical battle with the performers” (88). Afterwards, “Tzara stood firmly for the rescue and preservation of Dada,” while “Breton announced its death” (88).

However, 1925 marked the official foundation of the Surrealist movement with the publication of the Surrealist Manifesto, and by December of that year, the group had published the first issue of La Révolution Surrealiste, its magazine (88). They had their own premises, the Bureau of Surrealist Research (88). “Press releases were issued carrying the address of the bureau, and newspaper advertisements specified that the research bureau, ‘nourished by life itself,’ would receive all bearers of secrets: ‘inventors, madmen, revolutionaries, misfits, dreamers’” (89). “Automatism” formed the basis of Breton’s early definition of Surrealism (89). Surrealism, for Breton, was “‘pure psychic automatism,’” and it “rested on the belief in the ‘higher reality of certain hitherto neglected forms of association, in the omnipotence of the dream, in the disinterested play of thought” (89). “Indirectly, these definitions provided for the first time a key to understanding some of the motives behind the seemingly nonsensical performances of the preceding years,” Goldberg suggests:

With the Surrealist Manifesto those works could be seen as an attempt to give free rein in words and actions to the oddly juxtaposed images of the dream. Actually, Breton had already by 1919 become “obsessed with Freud” and the examination of the unconscious. By 1921 Breton and Soupault had written the first “automatic” Surrealist poem, Les Champs magnétiques (“Magnetic Fields”). So although the Parisians accepted the term ‘Dada’ as a description of their works, many of the performances during the early twenties already had a definitely Surrealist flavour and could in retrospect be considered as Surrealist works. (89)

However, even if some Dadaist performances followed that movement’s “principles of simultaneity and chance as much as they did the Surrealist dream notions, some had fairly straightforward plots” (89). Other performances, however, “directly interpreted Surrealist notions of irrationality and the unconscious,” such as Roger Gilbert-Lecomte’s The Odyssey of Ulysses the Palimped (1924), which “defied all performance possibilities by inserting into the script long passages ‘to be read silently’” (89). “While such Surrealist principles became more strongly asserted in the performances of the mid-twenties, the conflicts between Surrealists, Dadaists and anti-Dadaists continued” (90). 

One tremendous success was Erik Satie’s ballet Relâche, which Goldberg describes as “a dazzling spectacle” (90). The music was “affectedly plain orchestration” and the dancing was a  “burlesque ‘ballet’” (90). The performance included a film, Picabia’s Entr’acte, which was projected during the interval (92). “The evening ended inevitably in tumult,” and the press attacked Satie; the resulting scandal “was to remain with him until his death less than a year later” (95). Nevertheless, Picabia was delighted, as was Fernand Léger, who declared it “‘a break, a rupture with traditional ballet’”: “’To hell with the scenario and all literature! Relâche is a lot of kicks in a lot of backsides whether hallowed or not’” (95). Léger also “celebrated the fact that Relâche had broken the watertight compartment separating ballet from music hall”: “‘The author, the dancer, the acrobat, the screen, the stage, all these means of “presenting a performance” are integrated and organized to achieve a total effect’” (95). “The success of Relâche did nothing to deter the Surrealists’ own directions,” Goldberg writes:

Although Entr’acte, more than the “ballet” itself, had contained elements of the nightmare farces that Surrealists would develop in subsequent performances and films, the unstageable Surrealist “plays for reading” by Salacrou, Daumal and Gilbert-Lecomte were leading to a dead end. Antonin Artaud was soon to provide a way out of that impasse: he and Roger Vitrac founded the Théâtre Alfred Jarry in 1927, dedicated to that innovator, to ‘return to theatre that total liberty which exists in music, poetry, or painting, and of which it has been curiously bereft up to now. (95)

Artaud’s 1927 play Le Jet de sang (“The Jet of Blood”) “only barely escaped the classification ‘play for reading’” because it relied on cinematic and unstageable images: “Despite the brevity and virtually unrealisable images of the play, the work reflected the Surrealist dream world and its obsession with memory” (95-96). Roger Vitrac’s Les Mystères de l’amour (“The Mysteries of Love”) ended with a character firing a shot into the audience, pretending to kill a spectator; this play “was perfectly consistent with Surrealism’s ‘automatic writing’ and its own brand of lucidity” (96). “Such lucidity was to dominate the extensive writings of Breton and the numerous Surrealist writers, painters and film makers,” Goldberg continues. “But by 1938 when Surrealism had showed its ability to dominate political, artistic and philosophical life, the Second World War was to put a stop to further group activities and performances” (96). The last gesture was the 1938 International Exhibition of Surrealism in Paris (96). 

“Despite this exhibition and subsequent shows in London and New York, Surrealist performance had itself already marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new one,” Goldberg contends: 

In Paris, from the 1890s on, Jarry’s and Satie’s inventions had radically altered the course of “theatrical” developments as well as providing the breeding-ground for the New Spirit, punctuated through the years by Roussel, Apollinaire, Cocteau, the “imported” and local Dadaists and Surrealists, to name only a few of the extraordinary figures who made Paris a thriving cultural capital for so many years. Surrealism had introduced psychological studies into art so that the vast realms of the mind literally became material for new explorations in performance. 

“Actually Surrealist performance was to affect most strongly the world of the theatre with its concentration on language, rather than subsequent performance art,” she concludes. “For it was to the basic tenets of Dada and Futurism—chance, simultaneity and surprise—that artists, indirectly or even directly, turned following the Second World War” (96).

In the book’s fifth chapter, Goldberg writes about Bauhaus performance. “The development of performance in the twenties in Germany was due largely to the pioneering work of Oskar Schlemmer at the Bauhaus,” she argues (97). The Bauhaus, an art school, opened in April 1919. “Unlike the rebellious Futurist or Dada provocations, Gropius’s Romantic Bauhaus manifesto had called for the unification of all the arts in a ‘cathedral of Socialism,’” Goldberg states. “The cautious optimism expressed in the manifesto provided a hopeful yardstick for cultural recovery in a divided and impoverished postwar Germany” (97). “A stage workshop, the first ever course on performance in an art school, had been discussed from the first months as an essential aspect of the interdisciplinary curriculum” (97). That workshop was established under its first teacher, Lothar Schreyer, an Expressionist painter and dramatist (97). “Schreyer’s workshop introduced few innovations: essentially these early productions were an extension of Expressionist theatre of the previous five years in Munich and Berlin,” Goldberg writes (98). “Subsequently feelings became the significant form of theatrical communication, which was at odds with the Bauhaus goal of achieving a synthesis of art and technology in ‘pure’ forms” (98). Not surprisingly, given these different perspectives, “opposition to Schreyer caused severe ideological battles and, under constant fire from students and staff alike, Schreyer’s resignation was inevitable” (98).

“The direction of the Bauhaus Stage was immediately transferred to Oskar Schlemmer, who had been invited to the school on the basis of his reputation as a painter and sculptor as much as on that of his early dance productions in his native Stuttgart,” Goldberg continues (98). Schlemmer’s first performance, The Figural Cabinet I, used “cabaret techniques to parody the ‘faith in progress’ so prevalent at the time,” and it was “a great success precisely because its mechanical devices and overall pictorial design reflected both the art and technology sensibilities of the Bauhaus,” Goldberg writes. “Schlemmer’s ability to translate his painterly talents . . . into innovative performances was much appreciated within a school which specifically aimed at attracting artists who would work beyond the boundaries of their own disciplines” (99). Because of “Schlemmer’s refusal to accept the limits of art categories,” his performances “quickly became the focus of Bauhaus activities, while his position as overall director of the Bauhaus Stage became firmly established” (99). “The ‘Bauhaus Festivities’ soon became famous and drew party-goers from the local communities of Weimar (and later Dessau), as well as from surrounding cities such as Berlin” (99). Parties were organized around themes and everyone attending was instructed to appear in a costume typically devised by Schlemmer and his students (99). According to Goldberg,

Schlemmer’s theory of performance was a unique contribution to the Bauhaus. In it he obsessively analysed the problem of theory and practice that was central to such an educational programme. Schlemmer expressed this questioning in the form of the classical mythological opposition between Apollo and Dionysius: theory pertained to Apollo, the god of intellect, while practice was symbolized by the wild festivities of Dionysus. (103)

Schlemmer considered theatre and painting “as complementary activities”: he described painting as “theoretical research,” and performance as practice (103). 

Schlemmer also considered space to be “the common denominator of the mixed interests of the Bauhaus staff (104). Space was “‘felt volume’” to Schlemmer, and he believed that each of his dance productions originated from this “‘sensation of space’” (104). The “‘stereometry of space’” evolved, according to Schlemmer, “‘by the moving vertical line of the dancing figure’” (104). “The relationship of the ‘geometry of the plane’ to the ‘stereometry of the space’ could be felt if one were to imagine ‘a space filled with a soft pliable substance in which the figures of the sequence of the dancer’s movements were to harden as a negative form,’” Goldberg suggests, quoting Schlemmer (104):

In a lecture-demonstration given at the Bauhaus in 1927, Schlemmer and students illustrated these abstract theories: first the square surface of the floor was divided into bisecting axes and diagonals, completed by a circle. Then taut wires crossed the empty stage, defining the “volume” or cubic dimensions of the space. Following these guidelines, the dancers moved within the “spatial linear web,” their movements dictated by the already geometrically divided stage. Phase two added costumes emphasizing various parts of the body, leading to gestures, characterization, and abstract colour harmonies provided by the coloured attire. Thus the demonstration led the viewers through the “mathematical dance” to the “space dance” to the “gesture dance,” culminating in the combination of elements of variety theatre and circus suggested by the masks and props of the final sequence. (104)

In contrast to Schlemmer’s theories, “the students Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack and Kurt Schwerdtfeger, independently of the Stage workshop, experimented with ‘flattening’ space in their Reflected Light Compositions” (106). They experimented with “light plays,” originally shadow-shows, by multiplying the sources of light, adding colour, and projecting the images on the back of a transparent screen, “producing kinetic, abstract designs” (106).

In addition, “Schlemmer emphasized the ‘object’ quality of the dancers and each performance achieved his desired ‘mechanical effect,’ not unlike that of puppets,” Goldberg writes (107). “By 1923 puppets and mechanically operated figures, masks and geometrical costumes had become central features of many Bauhaus performances. Kurt Schmidt designed a Mechanical Ballet in which abstract, moveable figures, identified by the letters A, B, C, D, E, were carried by ‘invisible’ dancers, creating an illusion of dancing automatons” (108-09). In 1924, Xanti Schawinsky used animal puppets in his performance of Circus: 

dressed in black leotard, Schawinsky invisibly played the lion-tamer to von Fritsch’s cardboard lion (with a traffic signal for the tail). Performed for the Bauhaus community and guests on the stage of a dance hall about a half-hour’s walk form the institute, the work was “essentially of a formal and pictorial concept. It was visual theatre, a realisation of painting and constructions in motions, ideas in colour, form and space and their dramatic inter-action,” Schawinsky wrote. (109)

The notion of visual theatre suggests the way that the relationship between painting and performance “was a constant preoccupation in the development of Bauhaus performance” (110).

No theatre facility existed at the school during its Weimar period, so Schlemmer and his students developed performances in their studios, “considering each experiment a search for the ‘elements of movement and space’” (113). However, when the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925, the situation changed. There Gropius had designed the campus, and 

the theatre workshop had become important enough to warrant a specially designed theatre. Even that remained a simple elevated stage in a cubelike auditorium, constructed in such a way as to accommodate the various lighting, screens and steplike structures which Schlemmer, Kandinsky, Xanti Schawinsky, and Joost Schmidt, among others, needed to realise their work. (113-14)

Another member of the Bauhaus faculty, Moholy-Nagy, “was describing ‘a theatre of totality’ as a ‘great dynamic-rhythmic process, which can compress the greatest clashing masses or accumulations of media—as qualitative and quantitative tensions—into elemental form’” (116). Moholy-Nagy believed that performances could use complex devices, including film, automobiles, elevators, aircraft, along with other machinery, optical instruments, and reflecting equipment (116-17). He wrote, “‘It is time to produce a kind of stage activity which will no longer permit the masses to be silent spectators which will allow them to fuse with the action on the stage’” (117).

After 1926, during the Dessau years, 

Bauhaus performance gained an international reputation. This was made possible because Gropius strongly supported the Bauhaus theatre, and the students were enthusiastic participants. So much importance and encouragement were given the theatre experiment that Schlemmer announced in his lecture demonstration of 1927: “the point of our endeavour: to become a travelling company of actors which will perform its works wherever there is a desire to see them.” (117-18)

Schlemmer and his company toured numerous European cities; their repertory was a summary of three years of Bauhaus performance (118). They met with favourable responses. However, the Dessau Bauhaus was finally closed down in 1932: 

Its then director, Mies van der Rohe, attempted to run the school as a private institution in a disused telephone factory in Berlin. But by then, the Bauhaus stage had firmly established its significance in the history of performance. Performance had been a means for extending the Bauhaus principle of a “total art work,” resulting in carefully choreographed and designed productions. It had directly translated aesthetic and artistic preoccupations into live art and “real space.” (120)

 Although its performance work was often playful and satirical, the Bauhaus “was never intentionally provocative or overtly political as the Futurists, Dadaists or Surrealists had been,” Goldberg concludes. “Nevertheless, like them, the Bauhaus reinforced the importance of performance as a medium in its own right and with the approach of the Second World War there was a marked decrease in performance activities, not only in Germany but also in many other European centres” (120).

Goldberg’s sixth chapter, “Living Art c. 1933 to the 1970s,” shifts locations, from Europe to the United States. “Performance in the United States began to emerge in the late thirties with the arrival of European war exiles in New York,” she writes. “By 1945 it had become an activity in its own right, recognised as such by artists and going beyond the provocations of earlier performances” (121). One focal point in the development of performance in America was Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Established 1933, it was very small, with 22 students and just nine faculty members. Director John Rice invited Josef and Anni Albers to join the school; Josef had taught at the Bauhaus and he “provided just that necessary combination of discipline and inventiveness that had characterized his years at the Bauhaus” (121). Albers argued that art was concerned with form rather than content: “‘The performance—how it is done—that is the content of art,’” he stated in a lecture to students (121). In 1936, Albers invited Xanti Schawinsky to join the faculty; Schawinsky started a “stage studies” program that was “largely an extension of earlier Bauhaus experiments” (121). Schawinsky’s course would be “a general study of fundamental phenomena: ‘space, form, colour, light, sound, movement, music, time, etc.’” (121).

Meanwhile, also in the 1930s, musician John Cage and dancer Merce Cunningham “were beginning to make their own ideas felt in small circles in New York and on the West Coast” (123). In 1937, Cage, who had studied composition with Schoenberg, wrote “‘wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. . . . Whether the sound of a truck at 50 mph, rain, or static between radio stations, we find noise fascinating.’ Cage intended to ‘capture and control these sounds, to use them, not as sound effects but as musical instruments’” (123). In 1943, Cage was invited to give a concert at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the instruments used in the performance included jawbones, Chinese soup bowls, and oxbells; the audience, according to Life magazine, “‘listened intently without seeming to be disturbed by the noisy results’” (123). It seems that New York audiences “were far more tolerant of these experimental concerts than the audiences of almost thirty years earlier that had angrily attacked the Futurist ‘noise musicians,’” Goldberg notes. “Indeed, Cage’s concerts soon produced a serious body of analysis of his and earlier experimental music, and Cage himself wrote prolifically on the subject” (123-24).

“On a theoretical level, Cage pointed out that composers who chose to be faced with the ‘entire field of sound’ necessarily had to devise entirely new methods of notation for such music,” Goldberg writes:

He found models in oriental music for the ‘improvised rhythmic structures’ proposed in his manifesto, and although largely “unwritten” the philosophy on which they were based led Cage to insist on the notions of chance and indeterminacy. “An indeterminate piece,” he wrote, “even though it might sound like a totally determined one, is made essentially without intention so that, in opposition to music of results, two performances of it will be different.” Essentially, indeterminacy allowed for “flexibility, changeability, fluency and so forth,” and it also led to Cage’s notion of “non-intentional music.” Such music, he explained, would make it clear to the listener that “the hearing of the piece is his own action—that the music, so to speak, is his, rather, rather than the composer’s.” (124)

Cage’s theories and attitudes reflected his interest in Zen Buddhism, and they “found a parallel in the work of Merce Cunningham who, like Cage, had by 1950 introduced chance procedures and indeterminacy as a means of arriving at a new dance practice,” Goldberg writes. “Just as Cage found music in the everyday sounds of our environment, So too Cunningham proposed that walking, standing, leaping and the full range of natural movement possibilities could be considered as dance” (124). However, “[w]hile Cage had noted that ‘every smaller unit of a larger composition reflected as a microcosm the features of the whole,’ Cunningham emphasized ‘each element in the spectacle.’ It was necessary, he said, to take each circumstance for what it was, so that each movement was something in itself” (124).

By 1948 Cage and Cunningham had been collaborating on several projects for almost a decade and both were invited to join the summer school at Black Mountain College that year (125). Cage experimented with what he called “prepared piano”: its strings were “jammed with odd materials—rubber bands, wooden spoons, bits of paper and metal—creating the sounds of a compact ‘percussion orchestra’” (125). “In 1952, Cage took these experiments even further, Goldberg writes,

arriving at his famous silent work. 4’ 33” was a “piece in three movements during which no sounds are intentionally produced”: it abandoned intervention by the musician altogether. The work’s first interpreter, David Tudo, sat at the piano for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, silently moving his arms three times; and within that time the spectators were to understand that everything they heard was “music.” “My favorite piece,” Cage had written, “is the one we hear all the time if we are quiet.” (126)

At a performance event at Black Mountain College in 1952, Cage read a text about the relationship between music and Buddhism and performed a “‘composition with radio’” while “Rauschenberg played old records on a hand-wound gramophone and David Tudor played a ‘prepared piano’” (126). Later, 

Tudor turned to two buckets, pouring water from one to the other while, planted in the audience, Charles Olsen and Mary Caroline Richards read poetry. Cunningham and others danced through the aisles chased by an excited dog, Rauschenberg flashed “abstract” slides (created by coloured gelatine sandwiched between the glass) and film clips projected onto the ceiling showed first the school cook, and then, as they gradually moved from the ceiling down the wall, the setting sun. In a corner, the composer Jay Watt played exotic instrumental instruments and “whistles blew, babies screamed and coffee was served by four boys dressed in white.” (126-27)

“The country audience was delighted. Only the composer Stefan Wolpe walked out in protest, and Cage proclaimed the evening a success” (127). The evening was “‘anarchic’” and “‘purposeless,’” for Cage, and “it suggested endless possibilities for future collaborations” (127), It also introduced Cunningham to his new scenographer and costume designer, Rauschenberg (127).

“Despite its remote location and limited audience, news of the untitled event spread to New York, where it became the talking-point of Cage and the students who were pursuing his course on the composition of experimental music, begun in 1956 at the New School for Social Research,” Goldberg writes (127). Cage’s small classes included painters and filmmakers, musicians and poets: “Each in their different ways had already absorbed Dada and Surrealist-like notions of chance and ‘non-intentional’ actions in their work. . . . Most were to be deeply influenced by Cage’s classes and by reports of the Black Mountain event” (127). Live art, she continues,

was the next logical step from environments and assemblages. And most of these events would directly reflect contemporary painting. For [Allan] Kaprow, environments were “spatial representations of a multileveled attitude to painting,” and a means to “act out dramas of tin-soldiers, stories and musical structures that I once had tried to embody in paint alone.” Claes Oldenburg’s performances mirrored the sculptural objects and paintings he made at the same time, providing a means for him to transform those inanimate but real objects—typewriters, ping-pong tables, articles of clothing, ice-cream cones, hamburgers, cakes, etc.—into objects of motion. Jim Dine’s performances were for him an extension of everyday life rather than of his paintings, even if he acknowledged that they were actually about “what I was painting.” Red Grooms found inspiration for his paintings and performances in the circus and amusement arcades, and Robert Whitman, despite his painterly origins, considered his performances essentially as theatrical events. . . .  Al Hansen, on the other hand, turned to performance in revolt against “the complete absence of anything interesting in the more conventional forms of theater.” The artwork that interested him most, he said, was one that “enclosed the observer [and] that overlapped and interpenetrated different art forms.”  Acknowledging that these ideas stemmed from the Futurists, Dadaists and Surrealists, he proposed a form of theatre in which “one puts parts together in the manner of making a collage.” (128)

Cynically, one might suggest that this was one of those rare times when a university course actually meant something to the participating students. It was, one might also add, the beginning of performance in the United States.

Certainly it led to Kaprow’s 1959 performance event, 18 Happenings in 6 Parts at the Reuben Gallery in New York. This event “was one of the earliest opportunities for a wider public to attend the live events that several artists had performed more privately for various friends”: 

Having decided that it was time to “increase the ‘responsibility’ of the observer,” Kaprow issued invitations that included the statement “you will become a part of the happenings; you will simultaneously experience them.” Shortly after this first announcement, some of the same people who had been invited received mysterious plastic envelopes containing bits of paper, photographs, wood, painted fragments and cut-out figures. They were also given a vague idea of what to expect: “there are three rooms for this work, each different in size and feeling. . . . Some guests will also act.” (128)

This was the first “happening.” “The audience was left to make what it could of the fragmented events, for Kaprow had warned that ‘the actions will mean nothing clearly formulable so far as the artist is concerned,’” Goldberg continues. “Equally, the term ‘happening’ was meaningless: it was intended to indicate ‘something spontaneous, something that just happens to happen.’” However, “the entire piece was carefully rehearsed for two weeks before the opening, and daily during the week’s programme. Moreover, performers had memorized stick drawings and time scores precisely indicated by Kaprow so that each movement sequence was carefully controlled” (130). 

“The apparent lack of meaning in 18 Happenings was reflected in many other performances of the time,” Goldberg writes. “Most artists developed their own private ‘iconography’ for the objects and actions of their work” (130). Performances followed each other in quick succession (131). “Despite the very different sensibilities and structures of these works,” Goldberg continues,

they were all thrown together by the press under the general heading of “happenings,” following Kaprow’s 18 happenings. None of the artists ever agreed to the term, and despite the desire of many of them for clarification, no “happening” group was formed, no collective manifestos, magazines or propaganda issued. But whether they liked it or now, the term “happening” remained. (132)

“Happening” may have “covered this wide range of activity,” even though “it failed to distinguish between the different intentions of the work or between those who endorsed and those who refuted Kaprow’s definition of a happening as an event that could be performed only once” (132). Also in New York, Fluxus formed in 1961, the name coming from George Macunias’s title of an anthology of work by many of the artists who became Fluxus; the group”soon acquired their own exhibition spaces, Fluxhall and Fluxshop” (132). Other visual artists and dancers were making performances at the same time (132).

“The only common denominator of these diverse activities was New York City, with its downtown lofts, alternative galleries, cafés and bars that housed the performers of the early sixties,” Goldberg writes. “Outside America, however, European and Japanese artists were developing an equally large and varied body of performances at the same time,” including Joseph Beuys and Nam June Paik (132). Nevertheless, Goldberg’s focus remains on New York, where a festival of performance art, the Yam Festival, ran for an entire year in 1962 and 1963 (133). Performance concerts were organized at the Carnegie Recital Hall in 1963 (133). Events took place all over New York, from Central Park to the 69th Street Armory, “where performances by Cage, Rauschenberg and Whitman, among others, celebrated ‘Art and Technology’ in 1966” (134). Other audio-visual performances took place at the Filmmaker’s Cinémathèque (136). “Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy . . . performed at the Judson Memorial Church, New York, transformed the body itself into a moving ‘painterly’ collage,” Goldberg continues. “A ‘flesh celebration’ relating to ‘Artaud, McClue, and French butcher shops,’ it used the blood of carcasses instead of paint to cover the writhing naked and near-naked bodies” (138). John Cage’s Variations V, a collaboration with Cunningham, Barbara Lloyd, David Tudor and Gordon Mumma, was performed in 1965: “its script was written after the performance by chance methods, for possible repeats. The performance space was crossed with a grid of photo-electric cells, which when activated by the movement of the dancers, produced corresponding lighting and sound effects” (138).

“Essential to the evolving styles and exchange of ideas and sensibilities between artists from all disciplines which characterized most performance work of this period, was the influence of dancers in New York from early 1960,” Goldberg argues:

Whether inspired by Cage’s initial exploration of material and chance or the permissive Happenings and Fluxus events, these dancers betan to incorporate similar experiments in their work. Their introduction of quite different movement and dance possibilities added, in turn, a radical dimension to performances by artists, leading them far beyond their initial “environments” and quasi-theatrical tableaux. On matters of principle the dancers often shared the same concerns as the artists, such as the refusal to separate art activities from everyday life and the subsequent incorporation of everyday actions and objects as performance material. In practice, however, they suggested entirely original attitudes to space and the body that the more visually oriented artists had not previously considered. (138)

Indeed, Goldberg suggests that while “the Futurist and Dada precedents of performance of the fifties are the most familiar, they are not the only ones. The view of ‘dance as a way of life, that uses everyday activities such as walking, eating, bathing and touching’ had its historical origin in the work of dance pioneers like Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Rudolf von Laban and Mary Wigman” (139). In the Dancers’ Workshop Company, formed just outside San Francisco in 1955, “Ann Halprin picked up the threads of those earlier ideas,” collaborating with dancers and musicians, “as well as with architects, painters, sculptors, and untrained people in any of these fields, encouraging them to explore them to explore unusual choreographic ideas, often on on outdoor platform” (139). These dancers were to form the core of the Judson Dance Group in New York, which came into being in 1962 (139). Halprin used improvisation and free association (140). “When the members of the Dancers’ Workshop Company arrived in New York in 1960,” Goldberg writes, 

they translated Halprin’s obsession for an individual’s sense of the straightforward movement of their own bodies in space into public performances, in programmes of happenings and events held at the Reuben Gallery and the Judson Church. The following year Robert Dunn began a composition class at the Cunningham studios which was made up of these same dancers, some of whom were then studying with Cunningham. Dunn separated ‘composition’ from choreography or technique and encouraged the dancers to arrange their material through chance procedures, experimenting at the same time with Cage’s chance scores and Satie’s erratic musical structures. Written texts, instructions (e.g. to draw a long line across the floor, which lasted the whole evening), and game assignments, all became part of the exploratory process. (140)

Gradually the class built up its own repertory and by the summer of 1962 there was enough material for their first public concert, at the Judson Church, a three-hour marathon (140). “With a regular venue for their workshop, as well as a readily available concert space, the Judson Dance Group was formed, and dance programmes followed in quick succession throughout the following year, including works by Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Sally Gross, Carolee Schneemann, John McDowell and Philip Corner, among others,” Goldberg notes (141). Indeed, by 1963, “many artists involved in live events were actively participating in the Judson Dance Group concerts”: Rauschenburg, Robert Whitman, and Robert Morris (141). “That the dancers were leading performance beyond the earlier happenings and their Abstract Expressionist painterly origins is exemplified by the fact that a sculptor like Morris created performances as an expression of his interest in the ‘body in motion,’” Goldberg points out “Unlike the earlier task-oriented activities he was able to manipulate objects so that they ‘did not dominate my actions nor subvert my performances’” (141-42).

“At the same time, the increasing preoccupation towards ‘minimalism’ in sculpture could, for those who wished, explain the entirely different performance sensibilities,” she writes (143). “[T]he objects of minimal sculptors—for example ‘role of artist’s hand,’ ‘simplicity,’ ‘literalness,’ ‘factory fabrication’—provided an interesting contrast to the ‘phrasing,’ ‘singular action,’ ‘event or tone,’ ‘task-like activity’ or ‘found’ movement of dancers” (143). Therefore, Goldberg continues,

when Meredith Monk presented her own performance, Juice, at the Guggenheim Museum in 1969, she had already absorbed the happening procedure (as a participant in many early works) as well as the new explorations of the Judson Dance Group. The first part of Juice—a “three-part theatre cantata”—took place in the enormous spiralling space of the Guggenheim, with eighty-five performers. With the audience seated on the circular floor of the museum, dancers created moving tableaux at intervals of forty, fifty and sixty feet above their heads. The second part took place in a conventional theatre and the third in an unfurnished loft. (144)

“The separation of time, place and content, of different spaces and changing sensibilities, would later be combined by Monk into large operetta-like performances such as Education of a Girl Child (1972) and Quarry (1976),” Goldberg writes (144).

“The development of European performance in the late fifties paralleled that in the United States in so far as performance came to be accepted by artists as a viable medium,” Goldberg states:

Only ten years after a debilitating major war, many artists felt that they could not accept the essentially apolitical content of the then overwhelmingly popular Abstract Expressionism. It came to be considered socially irresponsible for artists to paint in secluded studios, when so many real political issues were at stake. The politically aware mood encouraged Dada-like manifestations and gestures as a means to attack establishment art and values. By the early sixties, some artists had taken to the streets and stated aggressive Fluxus-style events in Amsterdam, Cologne, Düsseldorf and Paris. Others, more introspectively, created works intended to capture the “spirit” of the artist as an energetic and catalytic force in society. (144)

Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, and Joseph Beuys exemplified these developments (144). Klein, born in Nice in 1928, “was throughout his life determined to find a vessel for a ‘spiritual’ pictorial space,” and this ambition eventually led him to live actions (144). He believed that “painting was ‘like the window of a prison, where the lines, contours, forms and composition are determined by the bars’” (144). Monochrome paintings “freed him from such constraints” in the mid-1950s (144), and in 1957 and 1958 he presented an exhibitions of invisible paintings—entirely empty spaces which, he claimed, were “‘crammed with a blue sensibility within the frame of the white walls of the gallery” (145). In 1960, he rolled nude models in blue paint and asked them to “press their paint-drenched bodies” against canvases; the models thus became “‘living brushes’” (145). He presented this work live in 1960 accompanied by an orchestra (145). “Klein considered these demonstrations as a means to ‘tear down the temple veil of the studio . . . to keep nothing of my process hidden’; they were ‘spiritual marks of captured moments,’” Goldberg writes (147).

“In Milan, Piero Manzoni went about his work in a not unsimilar manner,” Goldberg writes. “But Manzoni’s actions were less a declaration of ‘universal spirit’ than the affirmation of the body itself as a valid art material”:

Both artists believed that it was essential to reveal the process of art, to demystify pictorial sensitivity, and to prevent their art from becoming relics in galleries or museums. While Klein’s demonstrations were based on an almost mystical fervour, Manzoni’s centred on the everyday reality of his own body—its functions and its forms—as an expression of personality. (147)

Manzoni began signing “some part of the live sculpture’s anatomy,” and the individual concerned “would receive a ‘certificate of authenticity’” from the artist (148). “A logical development from this was that the world too could be declared an artwork. So Manzoni’s Base of the World (1961), erected in a park on the outskirts of Herning, Denmark, metaphorically set the world on a sculptural pedestal” (149). Notoriously, “in May 1961, Manzoni produced and packaged ninety cans of Artist’s Shit (weighing thirty grams each), naturally preserved and ‘made in Italy.’ They were sold at the current price of gold, and soon became ‘rare’ art specimens” (149). The point, of course, was to make the forms and functions of the artist’s body into art.

“The German artist Joseph Beuys believed that art should effectively transform people’s everyday lives.” Goldberg continues. “He too resorted to dramatic actions and lectures in an attempt to change consciousness” (149). “Beuy’s actions often resembled Passion plays with their stark symbolism and complex and systematic iconography. Objects and materials—felt, butter, dead hares, sleighs, shovels—all became metaphorical protagonists in his performances” (149). Goldberg describes one example:

At the Galerie Schmela in Düsseldorf, on 26 November 1965, Beuys, his head covered in honey and gold leaf, took a dead hare in his arms and quietly carried it round the exhibition of his drawings and paintings, “letting it touch the pictures with its paws.” Then he sat on a stool in a dimly lit corner and proceeded to explain the meaning of the works to the dead animal, “because I do not really like explaining them to people,” and since “even in death a hare has more sensitivity and instinctive understanding than some men with their stubborn rationality.” (149-50)

“Such meditative conversation with himself was central to Beuy’s work,” Goldberg writes:

In terms of artists’ performances it marked a turning point from earlier Fluxus actions. Yet his meetings with Fluxus had confirmed Beuys’s own teaching methods at the Düsseldorf Academy where he had become professor of sculpture in 1961, at the age of 40. There he had encouraged the students to use any material for their work and, more concerned with their humanity than their eventual success in the art world, conducted most of his classes in the form of dialogues withe students. (150)

In 1963, he organized a Fluxus Festival with many American Fluxus artists participating (150). However, “Beuys’s polemical art and anti-art attitudes soon began to disturb the authorities” and he was dismissed, amidst student protests, in 1972 (150).

Goldberg gives an account of Beuys’s 1974 performance Coyote: I Like America and America Likes Me, a “dramatic one-week event which began on the journey from Düsseldorf to New York: 

Beuys arrived at Kennedy Airport wrapped head to toe in felt, the material which was for him an insulator, both physically and metaphorically. Loaded into an ambulance, he was driven to the space which he would share with a wild coyote for seven days. During this time, he conversed privately with the animal, only a chainlink fence separating them from the visitors to the gallery. His daily rituals included a series of interactions with the coyote, introducing it to objects—felt, walking stick, gloves, electric torch, and the Wall Street Journal (delivered daily)—which it pawed and urinated on, as if acknowledging in its own way the man’s presence. (150-51)

Coyote was an ‘American’ action in Beuys’s terms, the ‘coyote complex’ reflecting the American Indians’ history of persecution as much as ‘the whole relationship between the United States and Europe,’” Goldberg suggests (151). Beuys himself stated, “‘I wanted to concentrate only on the coyote. I wanted to isolate myself, insulate myself, see nothing of America other than the coyote . . . and exchange roles with it’” (151). “According to Beuys, this action also represented a transformation of ideology into the idea of freedom,” and “this transformation remained a key to his actions” (151). Beuys’s idea of “‘social sculpture,’ consisting of lengthy discussions with large gatherings of people in various contexts, was a means primarily to extend the definition of art beyond specialist activity,” Goldberg concludes. “Carried out by artists, ‘social sculpture’ would mobilize every individual’s latent creativity ultimately moulding the society of the future” (151). It also arguably prefigures the relational aesthetics or social practice that became important in the 1990s and after.

Goldberg’s seventh chapter, “The Art of Ideas and the Media Generation 1968-2000,” covers a tremendous amount of territory. It begins with 1968:

The year 1968 prematurely marked the beginning of the decade of the seventies. In that year political events severely unsettled cultural and social like throughout Europe and the United States. The mood was one of irritation and anger with prevailing values and structures. While students and workers shouted slogans and erected street barricades in protest against “the establishment,” many younger artists approached the institution of art with equal, if less violent, disdain. They questioned the accepted premises of art and attempted to re-define its meaning and function. Moreover, artists took it upon themselves to express these new directions in lengthy texts, rather than leave that responsibility to the traditional mediator, the art critic. The gallery was attacked as an institution of commercialism and other outlets sought for communicating ideas to the public. (152)

“The art object came to be considered entirely superfluous within this aesthetic and the notion of ‘conceptual art’ was formulated as ‘an art of which the material is concepts,’” Goldberg continues: 

Disregard for the art object was linked to its being seen as a mere pawn in the art market: if the function of the art object was to be an economic one, the argument went, then conceptual work could have no such use. Although economic necessities made this a short-lived dream, performance—in this context—became an extension of such an idea: although visible, it was intangible, it left no traces and it could not be bought and sold. Finally, performance was seen as reducing the element of alienation between performer and viewer—something that fitted well in to the often leftist inspiration of the investigation of the function of art—since both audience and performer experienced the work simultaneously. (152)

Conceptual art, according to Goldberg, led to an increased interest in performance:

Performance in the last two years of the sixties and of the early seventies reflected conceptual art’s rejection of traditional materials of canvas, brush or chisel, with performers turning to their own bodies as material, as Klein and Manzoni had done some years previously. For conceptual art implied the experience of time, space and material rather than their representation in the form of objects, and the body became the most direct medium of expression. Performance was therefore an ideal means to materialize art concepts and as such was the practice corresponding to many of those theories. For example, ideas on space could just as well be interpreted in actual space as in the conventional two-dimensional format of the painted canvas; time could be suggested in the duration of a performance or with the aid of video monitors and video feedback. Sensibilities attributed to sculpture—such as the texture of material or objects in space—became even more tangible in live presentation. (152-53)

“This translation of concepts into live works resulted in many performances which often appeared quite abstract to the viewer since there was seldom an attempt to create an overall visual impression or to provide clues to the work through the use of objects or narrative,” Goldberg continues. “Rather the viewer could, by association, gain insight into the particular experience that the performer demonstrated” (153).

“The demonstrations which concentrated on the artist’s body as material came to be known as ‘body art’”: 

However, this term was a loose one, allowing for a wide variety of interpretation. While some body artists used their own persons as art material, others positioned themselves against walls, in corners, or in open fields, making human sculptural forms in space. Others constructed spaces in which both they and the viewer’s sensation of space would be determined by the particular environment. (153)

“Some artists, dissatisfied with the somewhat materialist exploration of the body, assumed poses and wore costumes (in performance and also in everyday life), creating ‘living sculpture,’” Goldberg continues (153). This focus on personality led to the creation of “autobiographical” works—autobiographical “since the content of these performances used aspects of the performer’s personal history” (153). Another performance strategy, Goldberg writes, 

relied on the presence of the artist in public as an interlocutor, as earlier in Beuy’s question and answer sessions. Some artists gave instructions to the viewer, suggesting that they enact the performances themselves. Above all, audiences were provoked into asking just what were the boundaries of art: where, for instance, did scientific or philosophical enquiry end and art begin, or what distinguished the fine line between art and life? (153-54)

“Four years of conceptual art, from about 1968 on, had an enormous effect on an even younger generation of artists emerging from art schools where conceptual artists were teaching” (154).

“Some early conceptual ‘actions’ were more written instructions than actual performance, a set of proposals which the reader could perform or not, at will,” Goldberg notes (154). Some examples of this tendency involved walking: Yoko Ono, “in her contribution to the exhibition ‘Information’ at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in the summer of 1970, instructed the reader to ‘draw and imaginary map . . . go walking on an actual street according to the map’” (154). Dutch artist Stanley Brouwn suggested that visitors to the exhibition “Prospect 1969” “‘walk during a few moments very consciously in a certain direction’” (154). “In each case those who followed the instructions would supposedly experience the city or countryside with an enhanced consciousness,” Goldberg writes. “It was after all with just such a heightened awareness that artists had painted canvases of their surroundings; rather than passively viewing a finished artwork, the observer was now persuaded to see the environment as though through the eyes of the artist” (154). 

Another artist whose performances involved walking—and, interestingly, ignored the question of audience—was Vito Acconci, who set out “to translate the essential elements of one discipline into another”:

Around 1969, Acconci used his body to provide an alternative “ground” to the “page ground” he had used as a poet; it was a way, he said, of shifting the focus from words to himself as an “image.” So instead of writing a poem about “following.” Acconci acted out Following Piece as part of “Street Works IV” (1969). The piece consisted of Acconci following randomly chosen individuals in the street, abandoning them once they left the street to enter a building. It was invisible in that people were unaware what was going on; Acconci made several other pieces which were equally private. Though introspective, they were also the work of an artist looking at himself as an image, seeing “the artist” as others might see him: Acconci saw himself “as a marginal presence . . . tying in to ongoing situations.” (156)

Acconci’s private performance activities “only underlined even more emphatically the self-contradictory character of his attitude; for whatever discoveries he made in this process of self-searching, he had no way of ‘publishing’ them as one would a poem. It became necessary, therefore, for him to make this ‘body poetry’ more public” (156). For instance, in Telling Secrets (1971) he whispered secrets to late-night visitors to an abandoned shed on the Hudson River; those secrets “‘could have been totally detrimental to me if publically [sic] revealed,’” he wrote (156). Not long afterwords Acconci moved away from performance entirely.

The performances of Dennis Oppenheim showed traces of his training as a sculptor in California: 

Like many artists of the time, he wished to counteract the overwhelming influence of minimalist sculpture. According to Oppenheim, body art became “a calculated, malicious and strategic ploy” against the minimalists’ preoccupation with the essence of the object. It was a means to focus on the “objectifier”—the maker—rather on the object himself. So Oppenheim made several works in which the prime concern was the experience of sculptural forms and activities, rather than their actual construction. (157)

“Oppenheim believed that body art was limitless in its application,” Goldberg continues. “It was both a conductor of ‘energy and experience’ and a didactic instrument for explaining the sensations that go into making artwork. Considered in this way, it also represented a refusal to sublimate creative energy into producing objects” (158). By 1972, though, Oppenheim was tired of live performance and “devised works which suggested performance but which often used puppets rather than human performers,” works which “continued to ask the fundamental questions raised by conceptual art; what were the roots of art, what were the motives for making art, and what lay behind seemingly autonomous artistic decisions?” (158).

California artist Chris Burden began “with performances that carried physical exertion and concentration beyond the bounds of normal endurance,” and withdrew “from performance after several years of death-defying acts” (159). For instance, he locked himself in a 2 foot by 2 foot by 3 foot locker for five days, “his only supplies for this tight-fitting stay being a large bottle of water,” and for Shooting Piece, he had a friend shoot him in his left arm (159). Burden’s most extreme action was the performance Deadman: he lay wrapped in a canvas bag in the middle of a busy Los Angeles boulevard; the performance ended with his arrest for causing a false emergency to be reported (159). “Burden’s painful exercises were meant to transcend physical reality: they were also a means to ‘re-enact certain American classics—like shooting people,’” Goldberg writes. “Presented in controlled conditions he hoped that they would alter people’s perceptions of violence” (159). Other artists at the time were developing “more structured performances which explored the body as an element in space,” Goldberg continues:

For example, the Californian artist Bruce Nauman executed works such as Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square (1968), which had a direct relationship to his sculpture. By walking round the square, he could experience at first hand the volume and dimensions of his sculptural works which also dealt with volume and the placement of objects in space. (159)

German artist Klaus Rinke 

methodically translated the three-dimensional properties of sculpture into actual space in a series of Primary Demonstrations begun in 1970. These were “static sculptures” created with his partner Monika Baumgartl: together they made geometric configurations, moving slowly from one position to the next, usually for several hours at a time. (159)

“The study of active and passive conduct of the viewer became the basis of many of the New York artist Dan Graham’s performances from the early seventies”:

However, Graham wished to combine the role of active performer and passive spectator in one and the same person. So he introduced mirrors and video equipment which would allow performers to be the spectators of their own actions. This self-scrutiny was intended to set up a heightened consciousness of every gesture. (160-62)

Graham’s theory of audience-performer relationships was based on Bertold Brecht’s idea of the alienation effect, the imposition of “an uncomfortable and self-conscious state on the audience in an attempt to reduce the gap between the two” (162). 

“The New York performer Trisha Brown added a further dimension to the viewer’s notion of the body in space,” Goldberg suggests:

Works such as Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1969), or Walking on the Wall (1970), were designed to disorient the audience’s sense of gravitational balance. The first consisted of a man, strapped in mountaineering harness, walking down the vertical wall-face of a seven-story building in lower Manhattan. The second work, using the same mechanical support, took place in a gallery at the Whitney Museum, where similar performers moved along the wall at right angles to the audience. (162)

“In contrast to performances which dealt with formal properties of the body in space and time, others were far more emotive and expressionistic in nature,” such as Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch’s works involving ritual and blood, which he described as “‘an aesthetic way of praying’” (163). Rudolf Schwartzkogler, another Austrian artist, “created what he called ‘artistic nudes—similar to a wreckage’: but his wreckage-like self-mutilations ultimately led to his death in 1969” (165). “In Paris, Gina Pane’s self-inflicted cuts to her back, face and hands were no less dangerous. Like Nitsch, she believed that ritualized pain had a purifying effect: such work was necessary ‘in order to reach an anaesthetized society’” (165). And in 1974, Belgrade artist Marina Abramović created a harrowing work, Rhythm O, in which 

she permitted a room-full of spectators in a Naples gallery to abuse her at their will for six hours, using instruments of pain and pleasure that had been placed on a table for their convenience. By the third hour, her clothes had been cut from her body with razor blades, her skin slashed; a loaded gun held to her head finally caused a fight between her tormentors, bringing the proceeding to an unnerving halt. (165)

The work Abramović created with her collaborator Ulay “explored the pain and endurance of relationships,” both “between themselves, and between themselves and the public” (165). For example, Imponderable (1977) “consisted of their two naked bodies, standing facing each other against the frames of a door; the public was obliged to enter the exhibition space through the small gap between their bodies” (165). Another work, Relation in Movement (1977), involved “Ulay driving a car for sixteen hours in a small circle, while Marina, also in the car, announced the number of circles over a loudspeaker” (165). And in London, Stuart Brisley’s actions “were equally a response to what he considered to be society’s anaesthetization and alienation”: in And for Today, Nothing (1972) he lay for two weeks in a bath filled with black liquid and floating debris in a darkened bathroom at Gallery House, London (165).

“Much performance work originating in a conceptual framework was humourless, despite the often paradoxical intentions of the artist. It was in England that the first signs of humour and satire emerged” (167). Goldberg cites the example of Gilbert and George, students at St. Martin’s School of Art in London, along with other young artists (Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, John Hilliard) who were to become the focus of English conceptual art (167):

Gilbert and George personified the idea of art; they themselves became art, by declaring themselves “living sculpture.” Their first “singing sculpture” Underneath the Arches, presented in 1969, consisted of the two artists—faces painted gold, wearing ordinary suits, one carrying a walking stick and the other a globe—moving in a mechanical, puppet-like fashion on a small table for about six minutes to the accompaniment of the Flanagan and Allen song of the same name. (167)

“For Gilbert and George were was . . . no separation whatsoever between their activities as sculptors and their activities in real life,” Goldberg continues (167-68). So 1969’s The Meal was a dinner for 30 guests; Drinking Sculpture was a tour of pubs in London’s East End (168-69). However, some of their performances were situated in gallery spaces:

Their work Red Sculpture (1975), first presented in Tokyo, lasted ninety minutes and was perhaps their most ‘abstract,’ and their last, performance work. Faces and hands painted a brilliant red, the two figures moved into slowly paced poses in intricate relation to command-like statements which were taped and played on a tape recorder. (169)

Other artists were engaged in autobiographical performances:

Scrutiny of appearances and gestures, as well as the analytical investigation of the fine edge between an artist’s art and his or her life, became the content of a large body of work loosely referred to as “autobiographical.” Thus, several artists recreated episodes from their own life, manipulating and transforming the material into a series of performances through film, video, sound and soliloquy. (172)

According to Goldberg, the performance work of Laurie Anderson which “often included a description of its own making,” is one example of this trend (172). Julia Heyward drew on her childhood as the child of a Presbyterian minister in the American south, adopting “the southern minister’s characteristic sing-song rhythm in her monologues,” although she “soon tired of the limits of autobiography” (172-74). A “fascination for performance as a means to increase the audience’s awareness of their position as victims of manipulation . . . ran through Adrian Piper’s Some Reflected Surfaces, presented in 1976 at the Whitney Museum”:

Dressed in black clothes, with white face, false moustache and dark glasses, Piper danced in a single spotlight to the song “Respect” as her taped voice told the story of how she had worked as a disco-dancer in a downtown bar. Then a man’s voice sharply criticized her movements, which she altered according to his instructions. Finally the light went out and the small dancing figure was seen briefly on a nearby video screen, as if implying that she was finally acceptable for public broadcast. (174)

“Autobiographical performances were easy to follow and the fact that artists revealed intimate information about themselves set up a particular empathy between performer and audience,” Goldberg suggests. “This type of presentation thus became a popular one, even though the autobiographical content was not necessarily genuine; in fact, many artists strongly objected to being called autobiographical performers, but nevertheless continued to rely on the willingness of the audience to empathize with their intentions” (174). Some autobiographical performances displayed the influence of feminism, which “allowed many women performers to deal with issues that had been relatively little explored by their male counterparts” (174). Performance thus became a way to investigate issues of power and powerlessness (176).

“While some artists created performances which raised the level of public consciousness, others dealt with private fantasies and dreams,” such as Susan Russell’s 1976 Magnolia, a “thirty-minute visual story of the dreams of a southern belle” (176). “The Californian artist Eleanor Antin illustrated her own dreams in the form of various performances where, with the aid of costumes and make-up, she became one of the characters of her fantasies” (176). “Impersonation, autobiographical and dream material, the re-enactment of past gestures—all opened performance to a wide variety of interpretation,” Goldberg continues. “The Parisian artist Christian Boltanski, dressed in an old suit, presented cameos from his childhood in a series of works, such as My Mother Sewed in which he himself sewed in front of an intentionally childish painting of the fireplace of his family home” (177). “The intimate and confessional nature of much so-called autobiographical performance,” Goldberg writes, 

had broken the reign of cerebral and didactic issues associated with conceptually oriented performance. Those younger artists who refused to separate the world of art from their own cultural period—from the world of rock music, extravagant Hollywood movies (and the life styles they suggested), television soap opera or cabaret—produced a wide variety of works which were, above all, decidedly entertaining. (177)

For instance, General Idea, founded in Toronto in 1968, “parodied the overly serious nature of the art world”; their ambitions were to be “‘rich—glamorous—and artists’” (179). Other artists did costume performances: “Vincent Trasov walked the streets of Vancouver in 1974 as Mr Peanut in a peanut shell, monocle, white globes and top hat, campaigning for the office of Mayor” (180). “Performance artists drew on all aspects of spectacle and entertainment for the structure of their works,” Goldberg notes. “Some turned to cabaret and variety theatre techniques as a means to convey their ideas, in much the same way that the Dadaists and Futurists had done before,” such as Ralston Farina, who did magic shows in which he used art as his props, or Stuart Sherman, whose Fourth Spectacle at the Whitney Museum in 1976 “was presented in the manner of a travelling showman: pillows, doorknobs, safari hats, guitars, and shovels were produced by him from cardboard boxes and he then proceeded to demonstrate the ‘personality’ of each object through gestures and sound produced on a nearby cassette recorded” (180-81).

Museums and galleries began including performance work in their exhibitions, but this acknowledgement 

only spurred many younger artists on to finding less sedate venues for their work. Historically, performers had always been free form any dependence on establishment recognition for their activities and had, moreover, purposefully acted against the stagnation and academicism associated with that establishment. In the mid-seventies it was again rock music that suggested an outlet. (181)

That is, it was punk rock, music that Goldberg describes as “intentionally and aggressively amateur” (181). “In London, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Genesis P. Orridge alternated between art performances, as COUM Transmissions, and punk performances, as Throbbing Gristle” (182). Other artists who performed as musicians included Alan Suicide (also known as Alan Vega) who, along with jazz musician Martin Rev, played at the New York punk club CBGB’s, often on the same bill as The Erasers, another groups of artists turned punk (182). “The transition from art to anti-art punk was, for many artists, not absolute, in that they still considered much of their work as artists’ performance,” Goldberg writes. “The punk aesthetic did, however, have an effect on the work of many performers. . . . The mood of many of these works was disruptive and cynical; in many ways it came closest to some Futurist performances, in that it rejected establishment values and ideas, claiming art of the future as something completely integrated into life” (182). “This generation of artists in their late twenties, who began performing publicly in 1976 or 1977, clearly had a view of reality and art that was already quite different form the work of artists only a few years older,” she continues. “Their new style of performance, while reflecting the punk aesthetic, with its anarchistic and overtly sadistic and erotic attitudes, was, at the same time, a sophisticated blend of recent performance precedents with their own life styles and sensibilities” (182-83).

“Some of the younger generation artists also started using performance in conjunction with film making, painting and sculpture,” Goldberg writes, suggesting the interdisciplinary nature of performance (183). For example, “Robert Longo translated the mood of his ‘solid photography’—painted reliefs made from drawings deriving from movie stills—into a performance triptych, Sound Distance of a Good Man” (184). However, she continues, 

while a considerable number of younger artists went straight from art school into performance as their chosen medium, an increasing number of playwrights and musicians in the United States also worked directly in the performance context, just as the dancers and musicians who had dominated the sixties . . . had done. Young performers using music as the main element of their work, such as the “classically” oriented Connie Beckley, or “New Wave” groups such as Peter Gordon and his Love of Life Orchestra, The Theoretical Girls or the Gynecologists, also appeared at performance art venues like the Kitchen and Artists Space. (184-85)

Meanwhile, “the grand spectacles of Robert Wilson and Richard Foreman showed how far some of the current ideas in performance could be taken when presented on a larger scale” (185). The work of Wilson and Foreman was quite different from that of their contemporaries:

While performances were usually one-off, brief events, minimally rehearsed and lasting from about ten to fifty minutes, the ambitious works of Wilson and Foreman went through several months of rehearsal, ran from at least two hours to as long as twelve, in the case of Wilson, and had repeat performances over several months. Such works represented a development of American experimental theatre from The Living Theatre and The Bread and Puppet Theatre and showed the influences of Artaud and Brecht (in the productions of Foreman) or Wagner’s music dramas (in those of Wilson), having also assimilated ideas from Cage, Cunningham, new dance, and performance art. The work of what is called here the performance fringe was a synthesis of these streams. (185)

The performance fringe, Goldberg continues, 

was non-literary: a theatre dominated by visual images. The absence of straightforward narrative and dialogue, plot, character and setting as a “realistic” place, emphasized the “stage picture.” Spoken words focused on the manner of presentation by the performers and on the perception of the audience at the same time. (185)

For Foreman, theatre was a place to put ideas (185). His play Pandering to the Masses was a series of stylized visual tableaux, 

accompanied by “aural tableaux”: sound blasting from surrounding stereo speakers. Foreman’s overlaying of taped voices and sound from the action attempted to penetrate the consciousness of the audience—the voices that filled the space were the author thinking aloud, as it were. These clues to the intentions behind the work—presented within the work—were meant to trigger off similar unconscious questioning in the audience. (186)

The performance fringe, Goldberg argues, “gave considerable importance to the psychology of making art” (186).

For his part, Robert Wilson collaborated with an autistic teenager, Christopher Knowles, in his productions, associating Knowles’s “extraordinary fantasy world and use of language with preconsciousness and innocence” (187). “Wilson used the phenomenology of autism as aesthetic material,” Goldberg suggests (187). Wilson’s works 

had no beginning or end in the conventional sense, but were a series of oneiric or free association declamations, dances, tableaux and sound, each of which might have its own brief theme, but which did not necessarily relate to the next. Each section served as an image, as a medium through which the playwright expressed a particular sensibility whose starting point might or might not be evident to the audience. (188)

Wilson described his works Queen Victoria and Einstein on the Beach as operas, “and his ‘unifications of the arts’ in these productions represented a modern counterpart to Wagner’s aspirations. They brought together the talents of some of the most inventive art performers, also using the more ‘traditional’ media of theatre, film, painting and sculpture” (189). “At the same time,” Goldberg writes, 

the extremely elaborate and large-scale requirements of enterprises such as Wilson’s made his work appear far more traditional than most performance art. Indeed, if its scale was symptomatic of the increased importance of performance by the end of the seventies, this overtly theatrical aspect also indicated a new direction for the eighties. (189)

Text began to “play a significant but still somewhat abstruse role” in Wilson’s productions in the 1980s (189). Wilson stated that his intentions were “to reach a broader audience, to create works ‘on the scale of large popular theatre’” (189). The purely visual work he had made previously, it seems, could not reach such an audience.

“By 1979, the move of performance towards popular culture was reflected in the art world in general, so that by the beginning of the new decade the proverbial swing of the pendulum was complete,” Goldberg writes:

in other words, the anti-establishment idealism of the sixties and early seventies had been categorically rejected. A quite different mood of pragmatism, entrepreneurship and professionalism, utterly foreign to the history of the avant garde, began to make itself apparent. Interestingly enough, the generation that created this about-turn mostly comprised students of conceptual artists who understood their mentors’ analysis of consumerism and the media but broke conceptual art’s cardinal rule, of concept over product, by turning from performance and conceptual art to painting. The new paintings were often quite traditional—many were figurative and/or expressionistic in content—even though they were sometimes also filled with media imagery. Responding to this accessible and bold work, a few gallery owners and their affluent clients, as well as the occasional public relations team, insinuated a new, very young generation of artists into the art market; within a few years, by 1982, some artists were transformed from struggling unknowns into wealthy art stars. Thus the eighties art world, in New York in particular, was criticized for its disproportionate attention to “hype” and the commercial business of art. (190)

According to Goldberg,

this return to the bourgeois fold had as much to do with an overwhelmingly conservative political era as it did with the coming of age of the media generation. Raised on twenty-four-hour television and a cultural diet of B movies and “rock ’n roll,” performances artists in the 1980s interpreted the old cry to break down barriers between life and art to be a matter of breaking down barriers between art and the media, also expressed as a conflict between high and low art. (190)

Laurie Anderson’s United States, “an eight-hour opus of song, narrative and sleights of hand and eye,” was “a landmark crossing of these borders” (190). “United States was a flattened landscape that the media evolution had left behind: projected hand-drawn pictures, blown-up photographs taken from TV screens and truncated film formed operatic-size backdrops to songs about life as a ‘cloooosed circuit,’” Goldberg writes (190). It also led to Anderson’s hit single “O Superman,” which was “at the heart of the show, was an appeal for help against the manipulation of the controlling media culture; it was the cry of a generation exhausted by media artifice” (190). “Anderson’s endearing stage presence and her obsession with ‘communication’ were qualities that enabled her to reach the broadest possible audiences” (191). “United States marked the beginning of the ‘coming out’ of performance into the mass culture” (191).

Two other New York artists “set precedents for this transfer: Eric Bogosian and Michael Smith both began as comic acts at the end of the seventies . . . and both within five years successfully appeared on the ‘other side’ while retaining the always paradoxical title of performance artist” (191). Bogosian was a trained actor whose models for solo performance included Lenny Bruce and Anderson herself (191). Bogosian, Goldberg writes,

created a series of characters that stepped out of radio, TV and cabaret scripts of the fifties; beginning in 1979 with “Ricky Paul”—a belligerent, macho entertainer with a twisted, old-fashioned dirty humour—he added new portraits that by the mid-eighties comprised a picture gallery of American male types: angry, often violent of hopelessly subdued. (191-92)

His solo performances—Men Inside (1981) and Drinking in America (1985-86)—“were a cumulative diatribe against an uncaring society” (192). “As much concerned with form as with content, Bogosian’s portraiture took the best from performance, its imagistic focus and appropriations form the media which were fashionable at the time, and matched them with the finesse and confidence of the highly skilled actor,” Goldberg notes (192). Like Anderson, this led to success beyond the world of performance art for Bogosian (192). Michael Smith’s 1982 performance Mike’s House presented a “picture of a performance artist dreaming of becoming a celebrity in the media world,” and it “perfectly captured the ambivalence of the performance artist: how to make the crossover without losing the integrity and the protection—to explore new aesthetic territory—of the art world” (194).

Performances artists in New York in the early 1980s tended to make

rough, quickly sketched works that explored the edges between television and real life, without suggesting that they were ready for either. Post-punk media scavengers and mass culture connoisseurs, they created their own version of art cabaret with some old-fashioned pizazz from favourite TV and vaudeville shows, touched here and there with a little seediness that sufficed for parody. (194)

Examples included John Kelly; Karen Finley, who “defied the passivity of her audiences with threatening themes of sexual excess and deprivation”; and Anne Magnusson, who “appeared as various TV soap-opera stars” (194). The influence of media could be seen in the work of John Jesurun, a filmmaker and sculptor, who presented work “which used staging techniques adapted from movies: camera pans, flashbacks or jumpcuts. Jesurun did not simply take out pictures from the media or hold up fine art to the cultural mainstream. Rather, he stepped right inside film and television, opposing the realities of celluloid and flesh and blood” (194). “Jesurun’s ‘video theatre’ was an important indicator of the time; for its high-tech drama was as much an example of the prevailing media mentality as of the new theatricality of performance,” Goldberg notes (195).

“By the mid-eighties, the overwhelming acceptance of performance as fashionable and fun ‘avant-garde entertainment’ . . . was largely due to the turn of performance towards the media and towards spectacle from about 1979 onwards,” Goldberg argues: 

More accessible, the new work showed attention to décor—costumes, sets and lighting—and to more traditional and familiar vehicles such as cabaret, vaudeville, theatre and opera. On large or small scales—in an opera house such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music or on an intimate, “open stage” such as London’s Riverside Studios—dramatization of effects was an important part of the whole. It is interesting that performance came to fill the gap between entertainment and theatre and in certain instances actually revitalized theatre and opera. (195-96)

The result, Goldberg contends, was a hybrid of performance and theatre:

the return to traditional fine arts on the one hand, and the exploitation of traditional theatre craft on the other allowed performance artist to borrow from both and create a new hybrid. The ‘new theatre’ gained the licence to include all media, to use dance or sound to round out an idea, or splice a film in the middle of a text. . . . Conversely, “new performance” was given the licence to acquire polish, structure and narrative. (196)

“Other works, including Spalding Gray’s autobiographical tours of landscapes from his past, such as Swimming to Cambodia (1984),” Goldberg continues, “were later seen as often on the performance as on the theatre circuit” (196).

At the same time, “major European centres witnessed a burgeoning of performance-theatre. Artists responded to the thoroughly open-ended medium of performance, and took courage form what was then an acceptable introduction of theatrical elements which made it possible to reach a wider audience” (198). “[T]he division between traditional theatre and performance became blurred,” Goldberg writes,

to the extent that even theatre critics began to cover performance, though until 1979 they had almost totally ignored it, leaving its reviewing to fine arts or avant-garde music critics. Nevertheless, they were forced to acknowledge that the material and its applications had emerged from performance art and the the playwright/performer was indeed trained as an artist. For there was no comparable movement in current theatre to which the energy of the new work could be attributed. Likewise, there had been no revolution within opera to suggest that the impetus for the many new operas, with their bold visual architecture and intricate new music, had come from a source other than in performance’s recent history. (199)

Goldberg sees the influence of Robert Wilson’s and Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach on operas in the 1980s (199). “While the term opera could not always be applied strictly to these visual-theatre musicals, their opulence was indeed operatic, and they did provide a context for unusual vocal material and renowned opera singers,” she writes (200).

“It is not surprising that dance paralleled these developments by moving away form the intellectual underpinnings of the seventies’ experiments to work that was both far more traditional and entertaining,” Goldberg continues:

With a renewed interest in highly trained bodies, beautiful costumes, lighting and backdrops, as well as in narrative, the new choreographers took what they had learned from the preceding generation and blended those lessons in ‘accumulation,’ natural movement and choreography of geometric patterning with classical dance techniques and recognizable movements appropriated from a broad spectrum of dance. From the seventies, they also retained the practice of working closely with artists and musicians, which meant having elaborately painted sets designed by “media generation” artists, and rhythmically charged music that was a blend of punk, pop and serial music. (202)

“The ultimate dance theatre was that of Pina Bausch and her Tanztheater Wuppertal,” Goldberg argues: 

Taking the permissive vocabulary of the seventies as her yardstick—from classical ballet to natural movements and repetitions—Bausch devised adventures in visual theatre on the scale of Robert Wilson’s. These she mixed with the kind of ecstatic expressionism associated with northern European drama . . . thus introducing dramatic and compelling theatre that was also dramatic and visceral dance. . . . Bausch’s dance dramas explored in minute detail the dynamics between women and men—ecstatic, combative and eternally interdependent—in various body languages determined by the strikingly individual members of her company. (205)

Bausch’s dancers “made movements that were repetitive, obsessive and fastidious. They were played out over long hours as behavioural discourses between the two sexes. Walking, dancing, falling, strutting or just sitting, women and men held and shoved, caressed and tortured one another in extraordinary settings” (205-06). “With a ritualistic intensity that recalled European body art of the sixties, and with symbolism ascribed to materials like earth and water, Bausch’s dance theatre was the antithesis of the media-conscious work emanating from the USA,” Goldberg continues. “[H]er dances eschewed easy accessibility and instant pleasures” (206).

In England, performance went in several new directions, including living sculpture (derived from the earlier work of Gilbert and George) (207). Stephen Taylor Woodrow’s “living paintings,” were one example (207). Another was Raymond O’Daly’s The Conversion of Post Modernism: an “eight-hour tableaux performance of two figures draped around a horse cut from styrofoam, based on the composition of Caravaggio’s The Conversion of St Paul, it was “intended to emphasize ‘the stillness of painting and drawing, and to give a sense of the painting as always being there, on the wall’” (208). In London, Goldberg suggests, “the connections between painting, new music, dance and performance art made for a small experimental art world” (209). That would seem to be a quite different situation from New York, where performance art was becoming more mainstream.

In addition, from the late 1980s, “minorities were increasingly pressing the issue of ethnic identity and multiculturalism” (210). “Cuban-born Ana Mendieta’s photographs of her ritualistic performances based on the Afro-Cuban spiritualism of Santeria were among the many performance, installation and art works” presented in “The Decade Show” in New York at the New Museum, Studio Museum of Harlem, and the Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art, in a broad survey of American “ethnic identities” (210). “In London, a performance series Let’s Get it On: The Politics of Black Performance at the ICA in 1994, showed an increasing acknowledgment of the multicultural nature of the British population” (210-11). “The swell of a Latino consciousness inspired many performance artists, among them cabaret-parodist Cuban-American Carmelita Tropicana (Alina Troyana), performance activist Papo Colo, as well as the energetic scene around the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in New York’s East Village” (212). “The identity of ‘otherness’ also provided a platform for marginalized groups—gays, lesbians, sex-workers, cross-dressers, even the chronicallhy ill and disabled developed performance material that was intentionally deeply disturbing” (212). Goldberg includes the political work of ACT UP in her survey of performance, citing the “die-ins” it organized on the steps of drug companies (212). “Reza Abdoh, self-styled ‘outsider, queer, HIVpostive, emigré artist of colour, born in Iran, and educated in London and Los Angeles,’ created complex theatrical events on as many as ten fragmented platforms in a large warehouse on Manhattan’s West Side” (212).

“Public display of sex and death and other private concerns was a statement of artistic solidarity against the conservative backlash of the early 1990s,” Goldberg continues. “The material was unquestioningly shocking to even the most emancipated of audiences” (212). “Male strippers, drag queens and drug-abusers participated in Ron Athey’s Martyrs and Saints (1993), an hour-long work which included self-inflicted wounds so gruesome that several members of the audience passed out” (212). “In 1996, Elke Krystufek, lying in a bathtub of water, masturbated with a vibrator in a glass-walled room at the Vienna Kunsthalle in view of hundreds of gallery visitors” (212). “It was the shift in context, from specialist S & M club or hospital to art-world venue, with attendant headlines, reviews, general audiences and theoretically inclined critics, that came to dominate an academic debate on performance art, particularly in the USA but also in Europe,” she argues (212-13). However, she continues, “[e]ven as ‘extreme performance’ became a subject for theoretical speculation, the performance art monologue that had begun in the late 1970s with the work of Bogosian, Finley, and Gray, grew in popularity over two decades, making it the longest-running and most mainstream of performance forms in the USA,” because its “straightforward structure” made it accessible to audiences, and because of “its appeal to a broad spectrum of artists who introduced signature elements of their own” (213). Goldberg includes playwright Anna Devere Smith as a performance artist—I had no idea that’s where her career began (214).

“Performance in the European Community of the nineties was governed as much by generous federal funding intended to elevate the cultural status of capital cities as it was by the maturation of artists whose training was grounded in the avant-garde of the seventies and eighties,” Goldberg writes. “The energy of this work was further stimulated by the availability of a well-organized network of theatres . . . and the festivals and conferences that took place around them” (215). There was a “New Wave” of performance in Belgium (215-17), and something called “anti-choreography” in France (217-18). Relational aesthetics became part of performance, or perhaps vice-versa:

No longer concerned with barriers between high art and low, presentations in museums by these late-nineties artists frequently resembled informal playrooms or wreck-rooms. Thai-born New Yorker Rirkrit Tirivanija, for example, built a kitchen and fed visitors to a Lucerne gallery in 1994; he also constructed a recording studio in which viewers could practice musical instruments, as in his sculpture piece in Münster in 1997. (218)

“These social sculptures had much to do with conceptually oriented works from the seventies by Acconci, Nauman, Beuys, Jonas and Graham,” Goldberg notes. “Their later successors in the nineties were different in that interactivity, pop debris and appropriation from performance history were accepted as contemporary art vocabulary” (218). Groups in the U.K., such as Forced Entertainment, produced “large-scale, site-specific work that hovered on the edge of performance art and theatre, the former with its emphasis on visual imagery and the latter on texts—spoken, recorded and projected. Needless to say, these innovative groups used media extensively” (221). 

There was an intensifying interest in using technology in performance as well: “In the opening years of the nineties, the intricacies of inventing ways to incorporate technology on stage was mostly in the hands of seasoned artists, such as Elizabeth LeCompte (of the Wooster Group) and Robert Ashley, who continued to develop techniques established in their seminal productions of the seventies” (221). Other theatre makers, such as Robert Lepage, “utilized technology not merely as an illusory device but as a technique for layering information and creating conceptually provocative and visually sensual landscapes on stage” (222). Video art also became part of performance:

Performance videos of the nineties were frequently enacted in private, exhibited as installations and considered extensions of live actions. These works had none of the didactic intentions of earlier material by Jonas or Peter Campus, which explored the artist’s body in space and time within a decidedly conceptual framework. Rather, videos by Matthew Barney or Paul McCarthy began with their highly original reading of contemporary American mass culture and geography, expressed as fantastical, image-rich, disjunctive narratives. (222)

In addition, “[t]he staging of extravagant scenarios for large photographic work was a powerful attraction for artists of the generation that followed Cindy Sherman’s. Disguises, dreamscapes, worlds inhabited by modern trolls and centaurs were executed with the kind of attention to allegorical detail more usually associated with nineteenth-century Victorians’ (223). Film installation also became part of performance:

The centrality of the human figure is strongly in evidence in the cinematic installations of artists such as Shirin Neshat, Steve McQueen, Gillian Wearing or Sam Taylor Wood. Their room-size moving pictures are as much about creating textured surfaces that envelop audiences as they are about the choreography and structure of film, and it is the overwhelming presence of slow-moving larger than life-size figures that connects this work to the previous thirty years of performance history. Watching McQueen’s looped black and white projection The Bear (1993) of two naked men engaged in a boxing match, or Sam Taylor Wood’s Brontosaurus (1995) of a single naked man wildly dancing to his own beat, brings to mind performances of Acconci, Abramovic or Nauman, although their monumental scale gives them a mural-like quality. By contrast, artists working with the new palm-sized digital video equipment use the camera as an extension of the body, in much the same way as did Jonas or Dan Graham in the seventies. (225)

“Much of this work was an indication of how seamless is the transition between live performance and recorded media, reinforced by easy access to computers, the digital transfer of images around the globe through the Internet, and the rapid cross-pollination of styles between performance, MTV, advertising and fashion,” Goldberg concludes. “In this infinitely linked system, with its ability to transmit sound and moving images, and to engage audiences in real-time exchanges, the Internet was quickly recognized by artists and presenters as an exciting new venue for performance art” (225). It also speaks to the interdisciplinary nature of performance—not to mention its apparently imperialistic ability to colonize other art forms, at least in Goldberg’s account. (It’s possible that a history of film installation or video art or site-specific work would treat performance differently.)

Goldberg’s final chapter, “The First Decade of the New Century 2001 to 2010,” begins by suggesting that the increased globalization of the art world “meant acquiring at least a general understanding of cultural developments around the globe” (227). “Peripatetic curators, critics, dealers and collectors travelled to far-off places, introducing a vast spectrum of aesthetic practices to the international art circuit, and at the same time identifying emerging artists whose work could stand up to critical scrutiny but who could also provide enlightened clues as to the context in which their art was produced,” she writes (227):

Performance was the ideal medium for conveying the myriad ideas emanating from such vastly different places. It was predominantly visual, so translation was not a problem; it was ephemeral and therefore the perfect medium for evading government watchdogs in countries where artists’ activities were considered politically subversive; it was cutting edge, in that it frequently used technology to produce sound and image, recording and projection; and it was timeless and accessible in its use of the body, naked or clothed, with its universal figurative language of gestures and movement. Moreover, with its extended time frames, sometimes lasting hours or even days, performance was a vehicle that could carry a complex layering of iconographic information regarding the histories and rituals of different nations, as well as individual emotional or psychic states. (227)

“On a critical level this material defied evaluation alongside Western traditions of painting and sculpture, while consideration of its meaning and sources frequently indicated a burgeoning art scene to follow,” she suggests (227). However, she continues,

[a]nother reason for performance’s upsurge in the first decade of the twenty-first century was the fact that the 1970s had become history and needed to be incorporated into the timeline of the contemporary art museum. It quickly became evident to curators that most of the conceptual art of the period was performance art, and that most of the artefacts, photographs and videos produced were the direct outcome of performances. For the first time archivists, registrars and conservators, as well as curatorial and educational departments, had to confront the complexities of displaying, collecting, preserving and explaining material that had so profoundly shaped artistic developments in the final decades of the twentieth century, yet which, paradoxically, was ephemeral and almost invisible. (227)

There were numerous publications and exhibitions of conceptual art, which “fed an emerging generation’s fascination with its poetic rigour and focus on intellectual means” (227-28). In addition, museums were changing from places of “contemplative study” to “cultural pleasure-palace[s] of engagement” (228), and the newest museums included performance spaces (228). Festivals and biennials were also important: in 2005, a new biennial in New York established “the first dedicated festival to visual art performance,” including in its mission the history of performance (228). “Thus, by the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century performance had become integral to contemporary art exhibition and biennial planning, not only in art institutions in large cities but in smaller towns, on college campuses and beyond” (228).

Performance, Goldberg continues, “provoked critical questions about the meaning of art in our highly mediated daily lives. It also instigated a larger conversation about the scope of global culture and how art might, in an expanded world, generate empathy for so many disparate ways of living” (228). “Numerous performances at the start of the decade directly reflected the restlessness of continuous migration and the sharp points of ethnic and religious conflicts and misunderstandings between players on all sides” (228). For instance, Shirin Neshat’s first live performance, Logic of the Birds, was a rendering of a 12th-century poem by a Sufi poet, just a month after 9/11 (228). “Neshat’s rendering of this masterpiece of Persian culture provided an exquisitely poignant counterpoint to the horrors of downtown Manhattan and the fraught politics and history of the Middle East” (228). Another example was Marina Abramović’s 2002 performance House with an Ocean View: 

For twelve days Abramović lived in a Chelsea gallery, standing, sitting, bathing or resting on a brightly lit altar-like platform six feet off the ground that could only be reached by three ladders, their rungs made of sharp butcher’s knives. Abramović’s only sustenance throughout her self-imposed confinement was water, but the aura that she generated was not one of deprivation; rather it was of infinite time and intimate connections between artist and viewers. For those who came daily to sit with her, to watch but also to participate, it would be an unforgettable experience, their quietly meditative presence in the dimly lit space as dramatic in its stillness as in the visual composition of figures forming impromptu tableaux vivants. (228-29)

“Both Neshat’s and Abramović’s work showed the power of live performance to convey multiple layers of meaning and history and to evoke intense visceral responses at the same time,” Goldberg contends. “Without words or text, their visual storytelling achieved a level of aesthetic mastery, creating mobile, three-dimensional pictures in real time that were at least as effective as their still photographs after the event” (229).

Performance was now an international phenomenon, as Goldberg suggested at the beginning of the chapter. For example, “performance by artists in China provided an ongoing insight into the seismic social shifts throughout the country. . . . and the visual material that emerged from these activities would be seen in several travelling exhibitions in the United States and Europe” (231). Performance and video from Mexico, Poland, South Africa, Lebanon, Guatemala, Albania, and Israel “provided compelling and sophisticated windows into politically troubled and war-torn environs, reflecting the heightened social conscience of individual artists growing up amidst such inescapable pressure” (232-33). The links between performance and installation work, as in the case of Clamor (2006) by Puerto Rican-based artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, continued to be demonstrated, along with links to video, sculpture, film and sound art (235). “In Mexico City Francis Alÿs, originally from Brussels, and Madrid-born Santiago Sierra create very different work in response to the perpetual clamour of their adopted mega-city and the edges where various populations and classes intersect,” Goldberg writes. “Alÿs approaches the city with the eye of a trained architect and urbanist, investigating its pathways and layers of historic memories with a series of staged interventions” (236). In contrast, “Sierra uses destitute individuals in his performances as a way of staging societal indifference to human degradation and desolation”:

in 160cm Line Tattooed on 4 People (2000) four drug-addicted prostitutes, hired for the price of a single shot of heroin, have a line tattooed across their backs. Sierra chooses the art world as his platform for such disturbing events, he says, because it provides “a narrow margin through which one can convey blame.” (236)

In Guatemala, poet and performer Regina José Galindo’s actions exhibited 

the violence and psychological duress that she witnessed coming of age towards the end of the thirty-six-year Guatemalan Civil War (1960-96), a period of relentless government-sponsored genocide and political tyranny. In Who Can Remove the Traces (2003) she walked in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City carrying a basin of blood, into which she stepped barefoot from time to time, leaving a trace of bloody footprints on the pavement before the armed guards who watched her. (237)

“In South Africa it could be said that the body is an instrument of communication as profound as any language,” Goldberg continues. Performance “speaks across the eleven official languages of the country with an immediacy ingrained in South African audiences of all backgrounds, from traditional Zulu war dances with shield and assegai, to percussive gum-boot dances by gold-miners, to the side-by-side toyi-toyi that announced mass demonstrations in the final years of the apartheid era” (238). In addition, “Performance by visual artists is integral to their making objects, films or installations, as is clear in the work of William Kentridge. His films, drawings and performances cannot be separated from one another if one is to understand the arc of his ideas or the creative process” (238).

“Performance in France from the mid-1990s stemmed from a cultural pedigree of political rigorousness, both intellectual and sociological, that included Situationist theory, so-called psycho-geography, and the ‘production of space’ outlined by sociologist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre in the mid-1960s” (240). The art of Pierre Huyghe, Philippe Parreno and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster “investigates the exhibition space and the viewer’s role in it, among a broad range of aesthetic and conceptual considerations” (240). French Fluxus artists Ben Vautier and Robert Filliou claimed that “‘everything is art’” in the 1960s, and their work was part of the conceptual lineage of French performance as well (240). Performance also connected with “relational aesthetics” in the work of Maurizio Cattelan, Carsten Höller, Vanessa Beecroft, Gabriel Orozco, Angela Bulloch, Liam Gillick, Christine Hill and Rirkrit Tiravanija: 

They all, it could be said, viewed the audience “as material” in their art, setting up situations where the viewer entered into a work as an active and critical participant; they each shared a strong belief in the idea that art must occupy time as well as space; and they viewed art as a democratic process of choices made by viewers whose judgment would incorporate their knowledge of the limitless world of pop culture and the internet. (240)

French artists also had a particular interest in film “as a yardstick for measuring everyday reality and the world of the imagination” (240). 

“The work of these media-savvy artists, with their highly sophisticated understanding of institutional and social critique, is part of an ongoing conversation among artists and theorists in academic circles,” Goldberg argues: 

Their examination of the relationships between artists, viewers and the institutions where they meet, even as those institutions are rapidly changing function and shape, is strongly connected to the intellectual enquiries that marked conceptual art of the 1970s, leading to much of this material being referred to as “post-conceptual.” (241)

One example is the work of Slovakian artist Roman Ondák (241). Other artists conduct “investigations into the hierarchies of the art world,” such as Tino Sehgal (242-43). Still others examine hierarchies outside the art world; the U.K. artist Jeremy Deller’s The Battle of Orgreave (2001) was “a recreation of an actual battle between striking miners and armed police that occurred in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain in 1984, was compelling first as a live performance, then as dramatic film, and finally as installation, exhibited with video and documentation of the original battle” (244).

“Performance may well shape the coming decades of the twenty-first century as profoundly as it did the twentieth century, perhaps even more overtly than it did before,” Goldberg concludes:

Texts and images spin around the globe at lightning speed, reaching billions through ever more exquisitely designed computer screens and applications. In this fluid matrix, artists’ performance—multi-layered, multi-disciplinary, and media driven—is ideally suited to communicating online with audiences present and future. As such, it is increasingly a medium of choice for emerging artists in major cities as well as for those entering the international art world from afar. (246)

Video internet sites, such as YouTube and Vimeo, became important as dissemination tools (246). “In addition, the history of performance is now better known through the internet itself and through the focus of biennials, museums and publications dedicated to this material,” Goldberg continues:

“100 Years of Performance Art” (2009), a touring exhibition of one hundred video monitors showing the history of performance from the Futurist Manifesto of 1909 to the present, provides a powerful animated record of this history as well as a touchstone for future directions. Also of importance to new generations of artists and to the museum-going public are recreations of seminal performances from the past. This practice has now become a genre in itself, even as it raises questions about earlier artistic values that privilege performances by the original artist. (246-47)

For instance, Marina Abramović has recreated works by Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman and Valie Export, as well as some of her earlier performances, and Allan Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in Six Parts was reconstructed for a touring retrospective in 2006 (247). “Artists such as Zach Rockhill and Clifford Owens now specialize in the field” (247). 

New commissions “have opened the possibilities, both in terms of scale and ambition, to entirely new directions of performance for the twenty-first century” (247). “The exponential increase in the number of artists creating performances in almost every country, the numerous books and academic courses on the subject, and the many contemporary art museums curating year-round programmes of live performance,” Goldberg writes,

indicate that performance art is as much a driving force as it was when the Italian Futurists used it to capture the speed and energy of the new twentieth century. Performance art today reflects the fast-paced sensibility of the communication industry, but it is also an essential antidote to the distancing effects of technology. For it is the very presence of the performance artist in real time, of live performers “stopping time,” that gives the medium its central position. Indeed, this “liveness” also explains its appeal to the audiences who are following modern art into the new museums, where engagement with actual artists is as desirable as the contemplation of works of art. (248)

Because the term “performance” captures live performances of all kinds, it obliges “viewers and reviewers alike to unravel the conceptual strategies of each, testing whether they fit into performance studies or more mainstream analysis of popular culture” (248-49). Scholars have come up with a vocabulary for critical analysis and theoretical debate: “the term ‘performative,’ used to describe the unmediated engagement of viewer and performer in art, has also crossed over into architecture, semiotics, anthropology, economics and gender studies” (249). 

“In the first decade of the twenty-first century performance art at last became folded into the history of art proper, in the process moving from the margins to the very centre of broader intellectual discourse,” Goldberg writes (249). Whereas in the past performance art came and went, “sometimes obscure or dormant, while other issues have been the focus of the art world,” since the 1970s 

its history has been more continuous; rather than giving up performance after a short period of lively engagement and moving on to mature work in painting and sculpture—as did the Futurists in the 1910s, Rauschenberg and Oldenburg in the 1960s, or Acconci and Oppenheim in the 1970s—numerous artists, such as Monk, Anderson, Abramović, Barney and Tiravanija, have worked consistently in performance. Bodies of work built over several decades are finally being understood as a rich catalyst in shaping cultural ideas. Even as it is absorbed and acknowledged, the extraordinary range of material in this long, complex and fascinating history shows that performance art continues to be a highly reflexive, volatile form—one that artists use to articulate and respond to change. (249)

Performance art, she concludes, “continues to defy definition, and remains as unpredictable and provocative as it ever was” (249).

This book taught me a great deal about performance; I had no idea its roots in the 20th century went all the way back to Italian Futurism, or that it had antecedents in Renaissance spectacles. However, my purpose in reading about performance was so that I could begin to understand the distinction between performance, on the one hand, and walking art, on the other. One issue, as far as solo walks are concerned, is the lack of an audience able to experience the walk directly. Photography or writing can provide a mediated form of audience engagement, but it is indirect. Perhaps this is one reason that the walking artist Richard Long refuses to consider himself a performance artist; instead, he argues that his walks are sculptures. After all, video documentation seems to be a central part of performance, and Long’s walks are not recorded in that way. However, there are private performance practices, such as Acconci’s urban walks in the late 1960s. At the same time, the claim made by many avant-garde artists that all aspects of life can be considered art—a claim that would include walking—would suggest that walking (for most of us, a common, everyday activity) can be an art form. Certainly there are many examples of walking art; books filled with them, in fact. Perhaps the best way to frame the distinction between walking art and performance is to say that sometimes walking art is performance, and sometimes it’s something else. I don’t know. That’s something I’m going to have to figure out during the next couple of months.

Work Cited

Goldberg, RoseLee. Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present, 3rd edition, Thames and Hudson, 2011.