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Goldberg, RoseLee, , . The Body: Ritual, Living Sculpture, Performed Photography
2004, In: Performance: Live Art Since the 60’s. New York: Thames & Hudson. 94-127.
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Added by: Rossen Ventzislavov, Contributed by:

Summary: Goldberg sees the human body in performance art as a transmitter of erotics, gender tensions, cultural norms and political deviations. While two of the notable early works of performance art featured fully clothed male artists using naked female bodies (Yves Klein’s Anthropometries of the Blue Period from 1960 and Piero Manzoni’s Living Scupture from 1961), the work of female artists like Shigeko Kubota and Yoko Ono addressed the gender imbalance soon after. Goldberg sees the recognition of the body as “prime, raw material” as one of the central accomplishments of performance art. Through numerous examples she demonstrates how this notion enabled a spectrum of physical signification – from regarding the human body as a mere lump of undifferentiated flesh to capitalizing on its biological intricacies. Because of the irreducible intimacy of shared bodily experience, all creative choices along this spectrum – from the disquietingly erotic, to the anachronistically ritualistic, to the viscerally sacrificial – have affected the way we see art and the world around us.

Comment: This historical overview of the use of the human body in early performance art can be in any class on body aesthetics or performance art, and can offer an interesting background reading on erotic art.

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Sigman, Jill, , . Self-Mutilation, Interpretation and Controversial Art
2003, Midwest Studies in Philosophy 27(1): 88–114.
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Summary: Sigman studies outrage and offense in the art context. The first important observation she makes is that, often enough, the public’s recoiling from a piece of art comes with the assumption that the object of offense is interpretatively transparent. This is because in the absence of art-historical or theoretical wherewithal, we default to pre-conceptual reactions – fear of otherness, loss of our ethical bearings, low self-esteem etc. Since most historical offense-based arguments against art have made a claim that the particular work is demeaning to the public, Sigman carefully lays out the features of demeaning treatment – a mostly intentional act that treats persons as less than persons, usually in an abusive manner. On this description, very few artworks could be considered demeaning. Furthermore, as Sigman shows in her art-historical contextualization of artist Stelarc’s performance work Street Suspension, public outrage could be tempered and/or extinguished through attentive engagement with problematic artworks.

Comment: This is a thought-provoking text which can provide good background for a debate on controversial art. It is quite easy to read and features examples which make it accessible for beginners classes on aesthetics, art interpretation, the value of art, and modern art in general.

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Vergine, Lea, , . The Body as Language. Body Art and Like Stories
2000, In: Body Art and Performance: The Body as Language. Trans. Henry Martin. Milan: Skira Editore S.p.A.. 7-27.
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Summary: Vergine’s account of the formative years of performance art takes stock of the many innovative strategies artists developed for re-engaging the human body. One of the crucial dimensions of this reengagement is the positioning of one’s body in physical proximity with others. This happens in art through the bodily negotiation of basic dichotomies such as nature/artifice, ethos/pathos, agency/abandon, publicity/privacy, mortality/immortality etc. Vergine sees objects, and the body’s undifferentiated objecthood, as active participants in the performative communication and communion between artist and audience. These forms of togetherness stand or fall on the intensity of all parties’ affective investment, but they are also equally affected by the level of intellectual mutuality an art work occasions. According to Vergine, the demand for intelligent analysis and deep understanding that performance art places on its audience is balanced out by the artists’ bodily presence. For her the artist’s body does not serve merely as a mechanical expedient. It also “contributes to the life of consciousness and memory in a psycho-physical parallelism of processes that assume meaning and relief only when they are connected.”

Comment: This text offers a historical overview of our concept of the human body in the context of art. It can be useful in any class on body aesthetics, performance art, or dance.

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