I THOUGHT PERFORMANCE ART WAS STUPID
UNTIL I TRIED IT BY ACCIDENT
BY LAURA MILFORD
Art, like many things, has two camps: the ‘haves’ and ‘haves-nots.’ It's like that TikTok sound,
‘The girls that get it, get it. The girls who don’t, don’t.’
Everything has the girls that get it, and everything has the girls that don’t. So, how can something like art–which is supposed to capture, enrich, and alter human experiences–leave some people behind?
I spent a long time as an art-outsider. Like a grandparent watching their grandchild play an unfamiliar sport,
I didn’t know the rules or what the whole point was. I classified myself as a ‘maths girl’ and went on my way. Art existed purely for looking at. Once I had seen it, that was it. I was never one to read the plaque beside the painting or walk the whole way around a sculpture.
Now, as an art-insider, I can see the exact things that I thought drew the line of distinction between being on the inside and outside of art. Abstraction and Modernism proved that art is not only for the eye.
Performance art is art of activity. As the artist is often involved, the dialogue between audience and creator is more open, and these roles may be played with. But, from an outsider perspective, ‘performance art’ seems to be a label–or excuse–you can slap on anything. We must be on unknown territory if an activity is art, right? Maybe. So, how do you go from seeing something as frivolous to serious and meaningful?
The real line between people who ‘get art’ and the people who think they don’t is whether they create art.
I started creating art in a journal. Then I started asking for watercolour paper for Christmas. Then I began enjoying the craft aisles at Officeworks. It blew up into my selection of Visual Art as a co-major at university. All these ventures have been fun.
In one of my classes, we had to make ‘wearable art.’ It is here I committed the cardinal sin of doing performance art by accident. I created a model of a tummy, to be worn over my real one. I filled the model of a tummy with butterflies. There was a hole in the belly button so you could look inside. I made my classmates get up, peep through the belly button, and get up real close to these butterflies. Then I told them that the butterflies were made from air-dry clay and cow manure. After that, my peers recoiled from my artwork.
Michael Needham, my tutor, points out that this is an example of performance art. He said that “Performance artists take something from the outside–or take something of themselves–to be cleansed.” I know performance art can do more than this, but it became clear that it is something that is purposeful. I am an art-insider now, seeing sense where I once saw frivolity.