What is a performance? A performance is an art form where artists use their own bodies, actions or words to express an idea. Artists don’t always perform alone. They can perform with others or invite the audience to create the performance. Sometimes, as you will see below, the artist doesn’t even appear in the performance. Performances can happen anywhere and at any time!
Artists often use video to document a performance. Because a performance usually only happens once, documenting it via video or photographs makes it possible for other audiences to see it. Those videos documenting performances are a form of video art. See how different artists in Unresolved Circumstances use performance:
In Tatlin’s Whisper (2009) Tania Bruguera recreates the feeling of speeches given by the controversial former President of Cuba, Fidel Castro. Her goal was to create a platform that resembled the platforms of public officials in order to talk about censorship. It gave common people the right to speak in a place where the opportunity to express themselves freely did not exist.
Fidel Castro gives a speech in June of 1996
Tatlin's Whisper # 6 (Havana Version) / Suspiro de Tatlin # 6 (versión de la Habana), 2009
Video, 40:30 min
Courtesy of the artist
The top photograph is an actual picture of Fidel Castro, the former president of Cuba, giving a speech. The other photograph is a picture of Bruguera’s performance. Look at the two photographs. How are they the same? How are they different?
In the top photograph Fidel Castro is the only active participant. In Bruguera’s video you do not see her at all! The main characters are the participant viewers and the reporters who are there to document the event. Bruguera sets up the scene and invites viewers to step up to the microphone and express their ideas. The act of speaking out becomes the subject in this video.
Think about it: This controversial performance was shut down by the Cuban government after one day! Do you think that Bruguera achieved her goal?
Amalia Pica (b. 1978, Uruguay)
On Education / Sobre la educación, 2008
Super 8 film transferred to DVD, 4:03 min
Courtesy of the artist and Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles
Amalia Pica’s video On Education is also a document of a performance. Unlike Bruguera, Pica appears in the video painting the horse of an Uruguayan statue to change it from grey to white. Compare this video to Tania Bruguera’s video, Tatlin’s Whisper. How are they the same? How are they different? Think about the setting, the characters and their actions. The participants and what they are saying are the subject of Bruguera’s video. Who is the main character of On Education?