The stage-- the holy stage-- the suspension of disbelief-- the deliberation of spontaneity-the only space where the intellect contains the body.
The body. Molded and contorted and twisted and turned into shape and shapelessness, breath—in and out—and form. The body speaks. The body that endures, that sweats, that tears, the body that is vulnerable to time, the corporeal, the mortal.
The fine arts—sculpture, painting, drawing, etching—alone must use objects and implements to create their product. These tools are their process. The video artist must use his camera, the sound artist his recorder. The installation artist similarly depends on his materials, even if one of those is his body. But a performance artist? How is performance art unique from its other artistic counterparts? How does it separate itself as such an entirely different, unique and spellbinding medium? Performance is temporal, performance is bodily, visceral, real, living, enduring, stretching, strengthening, brutal.
The thing about performance is that it is there. It’s right in front of you, a real-life living human being, whose heart is beating just as is yours. What are they thinking, who are they? You can stare into the eyes of a total stranger, you can feel their body, and know that once their act is over, there is nothing of it left. There is novelty, there is a secret understanding, a memo between you and the body on stage. The moment you share with the performer is different from him and her and her and her. Your stomach is loose, your lungs are tight, and the energy between you and the body on stage becomes unbearable. That is performance.
Performance can—but really doesn’t need to—use texts, objects, costumes, paintings, video, or anything other than the performer’s own body. But performance should test the body—the performer’s own body as well as your body—and its limits. I don’t mean that all performers must be Marina Abromovic. No, we needn’t torture ourselves or eat onions or bleed on stage. We needn’t chain ourselves or place our bodies on racks. We needn’t ejaculate or walk in fires. But imagine all these instances. There is a unique realm created, a danger—our hearts are pumping, we care about this body—and while we have a fetish for watching fellow humans put their lives in danger, we also endlessly wish for their ultimate survival, the triumph of mind or body over elements supposedly greater than them.
The body then becomes its own means and end. The body-suspension of disbelief-is no longer a body, spoken word no longer connotative of meaning, gestures corresponding to no singular emotion. The body is its own material, and in its endurance—in the pushing of limits—is the beauty, temporality, fragility and theory of performance art: I think. Being on that stage where the mind contains the body: when the body tells a story by trying to escape itself, and ultimately breaks out of itself by fully accepting it’s limits. Here the exit sign is made bigger and brighter by entering the space in the first place.
-- Himali Singh Soin