Performance Art

Alexander Schneider - Asylum Fellowship

"In order to change the social ills that we see", Levin claims, "we will first need to change our vision. Historically the model we have in place is inherited from the Renaissance, which created the spectator who is outside the picture and separate from what he sees. The vision we need to develop is not one that observes and reports, that objectifies and enframes, but one released from these reifying tendencies and rooted instead in a responsiveness that ultimately expresses itself in action." Suzi Gablik, "The Reenchantment of Art"

In 1992, shortly after they had started their existence, the Jesus Freaks, believing that to reach our oversaturated information society more radical means needed to be used, on occasions went out to hand out bread to homeless people, stood in a line on a busy street on orange boxes at a certain equal distance from each other, reading out the same verse of scripture over and over again, had "Striptease-Sermons."

In the 1970s New York artist Gordon Matta-Clarke founded a cafe with friends that was to run as an art piece.

In the 1950s mainstream art critics and artists believed that art needed to be pure, not only free from influences of the "world" but also from influences from other art forms. Painting should be two dimensional and abstract. Performance art was part of a revolution against this, wanting to spread art out into every area of real life, taking it out of the galleries into the streets, your garden, your flat.

For me this is very important. Not only the deconstruction/liberation of the art object (anything can be art) but also of the artist (not doing things that no-one could do (Mastership, Genius) but even aiming for people to participate. Art can be both for itself and for the people. Art can be by the people for the people.

Seems to me that 1950s philosophy spread a fear that art would cease to be art (i.e. something special/sacred) if it mixed with common life. I think it is the other way round. Life would become more special/sacred if art mixed with it, was integrated in it.
Not: Art + Life = Life, but Art + Life = Art.

Every communication can be seen as consisting of three things: A transmitter, the wave (medium) and the receiver. Take art as communication. I, the artist, am the transmitter. All that is in my influence is the wave, the piece. I cannot truly control the reception.

God, though, is not limited. Even if I were not to care at all about him in my creating, even if I created to spite him, he can still work in the reception, he can still turn everything to his will. My task, I believe, is to trust him for what I do and how I do it, what it will say and to whom. It is not my experience that this would be termination of my identity in the work, but that it is collaboration.

For the way I see things is a gift from him, and the part of him that I understand and no other is what God wants to show through me.

Art is always communication. Yes, but I don't always have to know what I'm saying.

Here are some prophetic actions from the Bible:

  • Hosea 3:, God speaks through Hosea falling in love with an adulteress.
  • Isaiah 8: God speaks through the naming of the child of Isaiah and the prophetess.
  • Isaiah 20: Isaiah has to walk naked and barefoot for three years. Then God speaks through it.
  • Jeremiah 16: God forbids Jeremiah to marry or o have children and speaks through that.
  • Jeremiah 27: Jeremiah has to put bonds and yokes on his neck to emphasise God's message and has to wear them until another prophet, Hananiah, breaks them that "same year".

By adhering to borders which I have set myself I am limiting what God can do. Limits may be good and beneficial, as in poetry. Poetry exists only by its limits. But we should, in our mind, be free to do whatever, so that we do not confront God with a set menu of things he can ask of us.

Some people will be all-purpose tools and some very specialized. But listen to God for what tool you should be and not to cultural preconceptions, or your own ones.

Question: When you do art do you try to make it look Christian (make sure that all who see it know that it is "Christian" and that you are a Christian) or do you ask God what he might want you to do and do what you consider good, always allowing God to have the final say if He wants to. He might be perfectly ok with what you are doing. He is the source of all creativity (Only God can create as he is the creator, everything else is creature and can enhance or corrupt, not create).

In a sermon on "Walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8) I wrote the main verse on pieces of paper, one word each. I also illustrated one fact I was talking about in four simple drawings on papers the same size.

I rearranged the seats that day so that four people sat behind me, holding the drawings and another row of people held the verse somewhere to my right. The holders of the paper were asked to hold the the paper up whenever I mentioned the verse or parts of it.

Likewise the guys with the drawings. As we were not very many that day, nearly everyone in the room had a task. Everyone enjoyed themselves very much and I think it helped that everyone was incorporated in the sermon rather than just listening.

Once I had to do a small show with people from my Tutor group under the theme colour. My idea was to somehow leave paint-imprints of me on the wall. I thought of tripping into it, of stumbling but then I decided on running into it.

I knew what this would roughly conjure up, ideas of resistance, violence, hurt etc. but for me it stuck with the notion of "running into walls". There was some quite frustrating stuff in my life at that time.

I decided to run into the wall covered with paper three times. Each time there would be a new piece of paper and a new colour (either red blue or yellow). I did it the first time, went to wash myself in a sink in the sculpture workshop. A friend came to help me and told me laughing that I had broken the wall (it was only mdf). Then another one came and confirmed it.

I was quite excited anyway, but then it hit me. I did not expect this wall to break, same as I didn't expect the walls that I was running into in my life to break. I was perplexed and finished the performance using the bit of the wall next to the hole. But here God spoke encouragement to me in my own work without me knowing.

A lot of my work is musical as well and here the deconstruction of the artist/author is most easily perceived. One of the projects is called "the 25 piece orchestra". It consists of 25 people or more that improvise music/sound for approximately half an hour with whatever they like (I'd love there to be a big choir section). The first and only time it played was in my college made up of student friends of mine.

All thoroughly enjoyed it and the outcome was quite musical. We had everything from a guitar and a drum machine to squeaky pens and Velcro. One important thing about the 25 piece orchestra though is that it is not really bound to certain people, except maybe to me. I plan to do a gig with it on Freakstock and none of the cast of the first performance is likely to be there to play.

Another project, on its English side, is called "Schneider performs Neumann". My best friend and I decided to make a pact to every month write a performance for each other, post it, and perform it at the same day in the last week of each month, he mine in Leipzig/Germany and I his in London.

We have come up to Number 15 now. Once he had to get 50 people to blow their noses at the same time (sadly he didn't get that many). Once I had to buy 50 Euro worth of coloured wool, make it into smaller balls, take it to a public place (I chose Hyde Park) and then take each ball, tie one end to me and give the ball to a passer-by, asking them to take it along their way and tie it somewhere when it is unrolled. This was a very amazing piece.

Two years ago in my Foundation Course I used a porcelain sink I had found on the street, painted it half blue and mounted it on the wall in the usual height of sinks, supported by a pile of bricks. Then I taped the headphones of my walkman to the ends of the pipes coming from the taps and played Schuetz chorales through them (German choir music).

In a group discussion about it people talked of it reminding them of a church, of cleansing from sin and other spiritual things. I had not given any explanation beforehand.

I think the beginning of an answer for many questions in Christian life is to believe that God is real and alive, a force to be reckoned with.

So with art. It is not I who has to make art that pleases God and/or "reaches out" but my willing heart is already pleasing to God. But as God incorporates every aspect of my life into the relationship with him and into serving, so will he with art. All I have to do is want him to be in the work and be brave enough to go where he leads (though I'm sure he will supply courage along with an idea that demands the same).

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