Performance workshop 

On the Thursday of the Spring term week 6 activities, I decided to have a go at a performance workshop. I decided upon this as I believe we are moving onto performance in one of our modules, and also I generally wanted to have a go at this type of art that I have never done before.

However, before we actually began to perform, we learnt some basic theory of performing, for the benefit of myself and those who had not performed before within the group. Looking at before the performance, you have to take into consideration where you want your audience. You can also take into consideration that  you can control what your audience do, by having chairs in a certain way, by having no chairs at all, or by sitting on the floor, inviting everyone to sit on the floor with you. You must think about where the audience is and where you want them to be. You may even make them look through a doorway, a live feed from another room, place or country, or even through a slit in the wall (Katrina Palmer). This leads on to what we do afterwards, and often people leave simple interventions or debris from the performance, This debris can be something from the performance, or something that links to your performance. However, when trying to gain people’s attention, you can be unnoticed or even seamless, but one big gesture can get everyone to look at you. This can be as big as blowing out a candle, or smashing a bottle.


Thinking about different effects very quickly, using a projector on a white t-shirt or a body can create very different effects to that on a wall. You can also play around with the image literally on a computer and in the performance too.

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Source: Piero Manzoni, Piero Manzoni signing a living sculpture, 1961

Performance has become very western and came around mainly in the early 60’s. When it first started coming around as a more well known art form, there was a large question of ethics, and there still is now, as some performances become more and more wild. Within any performance, it is important to ensure that people are in a position where they are able to leave, and also have that choice to leave. Ana Mendieta looks at the absence of the body and the link between the outside, the environment and the body. She also reproduced a scene of a rape but people were walking in and out of the performance, unaware of what they were walking into. Liv Wynter  also gave no warning for her pieces, especially those that she performed on Skype – yet another platform that which you can perform.

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Source: Yves Klein, Anthropometries

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Source: Yves Klein, Anthropometries

Yves Klein dragged naked women across canvases creating body prints and smudges. This was one of the first artworks to truly introduce the body as a canvas, and also as a paintbrush. In terms of documentation of a performance, different types of documentation can be created such as video, photography, or prints. For Klein, the traces of the performance are the prints and are an artwork in their own right.

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Source: Shigeko Kubota, Vagina Painting, 1965

Shigeko Kubota performed this piece at the performer festival, where upon she had a paintbrush in her vagina, and proceeds to paint with red paint. What is interesting about the documentation of this performance, is that this is the only photograph that can be found of this work. This raises the question of how does the performance have a life after the moment that it ends?

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Source: Janine Antoni, Loving Care, 1993

Source: Janine Antoni, Loving Care, 1993

There are also ways in which you can somewhat pick up the history of performance when you begin to perform. It is much like when you pick up a paintbrush to begin painting, you have the whole history, and a much longer history, behind you, and on that paintbrush. Janine Antoni also uses specific references to Yves Klein in the way in which she uses her body to paint, and the way in which she documents in black and white photography. Antoni also did a piece of Lick and Lather, involving a whole block of chocolate, and a whole block of lard, both with chew marks made by the artist. The presence of the body and the presence of the artist is still there through the use of these giant blocks of food in the gallery.

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Source: Athi Patra-Ruga, Ellipses in 3 part, 2011

Athi Patra-Ruga does everything from DIY tp things with ridiculous budgets in swimming pools. Some of his pieces, especially Ellipses in 3 parts, is very difficult to watch and engage with, because as the audience, you are unsure of where your position is within the performance. With this piece, it is done over three different days, and each day brings a new colour of paint, and looks at the relationships between race and gender.

With many pieces, such as Ellipses in 3 parts, consent must be given by all participants. Costume must also be carefully thought of, and within this piece, only high heels and fishnet tights were worn This can be a little controversial, especially when seemingly black men are wearing these. Each of the boards that were on the walls were then sold as prints at the end of the exhibition.

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Source: Heather Cassils, Becoming Image, Performance Still 3, Edgy Woman Festival 2013

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Source: Heather Cassils, Becoming Image, 2013

Another way of documenting the piece, is not only a 1500kg piece of clay that have been pummelled, but also the act of photography. Within this performance, the performer and audience are in a blacked-out room, and the only way to view the performance is through the occasional flash of the camera, recording and documenting.

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Source: Marina Abramović, Art Must be Beautiful

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Source: Marina Abramović, Art Must be Beautiful

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Source: Marina Abramović, Art Must be Beautiful

Merle Ukulele (I think), washed the stairs in a gallery everyday for a week. She specifically looked at the things that go unnoticed in galleries, and how performances, that like everyday life can have these repetitive moments that are unnoticed.

The second part of the day we learnt about different lighting and sound that we could use within our performances. First, we looked at lighting.

Quite a few performances that we were looking at could have been performed outside, however with lighting, you have to be cautious with the weather and power. To overcome this problem, we can use floodlights such that they use in building sites, which are intense, buckets full of light. You cannot, however, adjust these, but you must make sure that the audience does not mingle around on top of the cables. It is better if you use two lights at 45 degree angles to each other in order to be able to see fully what is happening. This does depend on the effect that you are trying to achieve with the lighting. You are able to also mask the lights slightly with metal only, as other materials may catch fire.

Gel is a useful tool in order to change the colour of the lights that are being used. This needs to be theatrical gel because it is more heat resistant and is less likely to catch fire. Colour correcting gel makes the light look more natural and that of daylight, and so if you are switching between inside and outside, you do not see a massive colour change between clips. With green, it is a general rule of thumb that everyone looks awful. We were told that we should try and get LED spotlights when possible, where we can use different coloured gels on the same light. You can also get UV gels instead of getting a black bulb, and this is also a cheaper option.

There are also lights with barn doors, and so you can more or less control the intensity of the square of light that you want. Tungsten light is more yellow, whereas LED lights are a white colour You are able to open and close the barn doors in order to get a more refined spotlight. You cannot dim the LED lights, but these are not generally very bright in the first place.

Theatre lights are somewhat a whole other story, and the university has these, but not necessarily in our department. With these lights, you can move the lenses further and closer to the light source in order to get a general area, or gain a more concentrated spot (spotlights and floodlight are used in theatre). You can steer people to specific places and attract attention to a person, place or activity very easily. There is also a focused beam, which is used within profile lights. You are able to place gels with these lights as well, and you can create a stained glass window look, with several colours, with the use of ‘gobo’s. With these, you can have a custom design and it’s three slides that come together, that sit between the light source and the focus point of the light.

We then had a brief look at sound. We were told, very simply, that you cannot just use a microphone on its own, as you need a speaker or an amp to go with it. The proper use of the microphone is important, for example, moving your face away, hand away, making it louder and softer at appropriate times when singing. You also have to think about where the speakers are relative to your audience. Two smaller speakers would be more effective than one large one. You can also use wireless headphones in conjunction with microphones and make a performance very intimate (for example a silent disco).

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