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Performance Art: Expect The Unexpected

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Dallas artist COURTNEY BROWN eye gazing with Performance Artist MARINA OBROMOVIC at the 2010 "The Artist is Present" exhibit at MOMA. The photo credit is: MICHAEL MAZUREK.

Dallas artist Courtney Brown eye gazes with Marina Abramović at the 2010 “The Artist is Present” exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Michael Mazurek

Guest blogger Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art, offering lectures, tours and program planning.

Performance art is about the unexpected. It is unregulated, uncertain, unwieldy and often exhausting. But it can also be nourishing and thought provoking. There should be tension, suspense and risk, not knowing how the audience will react. Will social restraints be broken? Will the public lose control? Performance art is not the performing arts, where the audience is generally expected to be passive. Performance art can be nasty. It can be nice, but it is always at its best when it’s a “you had to be there” type experience. (There are those who rightfully question recording performance art to be viewed after the fact.)

Dallas is embracing the unexpected and encouraging performance art. The Dallas Museum of Art, under the umbrella of Dallasites: Available Space, is reaching out to the local arts community and spotlighting performance art (more on that in a second). McKinney Avenue Contemporary’s inaugural MAC PAC exhibit in September will feature New York artist Tony Orrico, who will create a 30-hour piece and offer a weekend workshop at the MAC. The city-wide Nasher XChange project is commissioning several performance projects from October to February, and MAP (Make Art with Purpose) in October will “directly engage the audience beyond the role of passive observer.”

But the definition of performance art remains stubbornly elusive. The self-proclaimed grandmother of the art form, 67-year-old Marina Abramović, said last week at Anderson Ranch in Snowmass, Colo., that the best of performance art was its immateriality, its curiosity and the need to explore the unknown, perhaps with art forms yet to be invented by young artists. The older artists, she said, just complain.

Coincidentally, as Abramović was applauding fearless younger artists, Courtney Brown and Alison Starr – two young Dallas artists – were performing at the DMA.They formed PerformaceSW last year to spread and encourage performance art. The piece they produced last Thursday night was an obvious success. The packed crowd remained engaged throughout the 90-minute program. They participated in ritualistic movements involving rich, red soil, body stroking and hugging. (You had to be there.). And the discussion following culminated with one observer moved to empathetic  tears.

The PerformanceSW series continues this Thursday with a panel discussion (the same night, another performance piece will be happening in another gallery) and will culminate on Aug. 15 with an interactive competitive sport … thumb wrestling. Practice, prepare and be there.

Photo: Richard Serrano

Alison Starr and Courtney Brown in a recent performance piece at the DMA. Photo: Richard Serrano