Sunday, September 4, 2011

YouTube, on the web, with the candlestick







A discussion in The New York Times caught my eye: "Did YouTube Kill Performance Art?" 

The central issue is that sites such as YouTube have run a big ol' Photoshop smudge tool over the line that separates performance art with a publicity stunt.  Therefore, can such art still carry the same weight it once did in light of that development?  The Times discussion included author James Wescott, performance artist Clifford Owens, venerable professor Paul Levinson, and professor of Art History, Liz Kotz.

For reader benefit, I suppose a definition of "performance art" might prove helpful.  While it is closely related to its cousin the theatre, performance art entails more than actors on a stage engaged in a scripted narrative.  Examples cited in the article included a very recent piece called "Ocularpation: Wall Street" where artists stripped naked on Wall Street, pointing to the lack of transparency in corporate America.  Or Chris Burden's "Through the Night Softly" where he crawled half naked over broken glass with his hands bound behind him.  No, nudity need not be a de facto attribute of performance art...but it helps.  Yes, that was a joke.

Like many forms of art, the listed examples are attempting to shock, to provoke, and most of all to require the viewer to interpret and infer.  Yet as YouTube and the Net in general opened the floodgates of shock video, do works of art like this still matter?  Artists predictably say no, that the digital world could never surpass real human engagement, but I believe that the real answer is more than that.  As Paul Levinson puts it:
"Virtual media do not undermine our interest in real-life communication but instead, stoke it."
Digital media will not altogether replace human communication.  It will instead compliment it.  Performance artists are correct in that a live art experience places the viewer at unmitigated range with the subject.  A live viewing of the human body, in the case of "Ocularpation," say, cannot be glossed over the same way an Internet piece can.  It is "in your face," so to speak and you must deal with it...in whatever way you choose as fitting.

This sort of artwork will never go away, in my humble opinion.  It will be more widely disseminated because of the web and it will spark both more discussion and more controversy, but it will also, I believe, increase a willingness and desire to experience the real thing. 




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