In recent years, performance art has widely gained acceptance as a mainstream art form, a tool employed by artists to raise questions about how art relates to us and the wider social world. The term “performance art” refers to art-making in which the body is used as a medium, or live-action.
Humans have historically acted in front of one another through rituals, dancing, politics, religion, and other forms of expression; therefore, this concept is not new. For centuries, theatre, ballet, and opera were associated with live acts and performances, whereas art included painting, sculpture and drawing. However, as postmodernism progressed, artists included live actions and labeled them Art. In 1910, performance became a powerful medium for the Italian Futurists to communicate with the masses. Dada artists embraced performance art as well, and during the years of the Weimar Republic in Germany, the Bauhaus was the first institution to provide performance and educational value. The awareness of art movements set the fire of acceptance of performance art. Works like Jackson Pollock created canvas as an arena to act. The painting was not an act, but more of an event. The Gutai group in Japan developed these ideas a step further. Kazuo Shiraga threw himself into the pile of wet mud, Saburo Murakami crashed through a row of paper screens. Nam June Paik dipped his necktie and head in paint and drew a line on 13-foot-long paper.
In time, avant-garde theatre flourished across Europe, and after World War II, Black Mountain College in the US attained recognition for its multidisciplinary practice, admiring the new experimental idea in art, music and literature.
Avant-garde is now revisited at the Como Museum to push the boundaries and create art that, as Rauschenberg put it, “refuses to settle.”
Lahore’s Como Museum opened its doors to the public for its first ever dedicated performance art show on the 15th of October: featuring four exciting emerging artists who exuded an array of concerns through their engaging performance works.
Fatima’s performance departs from the distinction of private and public space through the audience’s involvement, by breaking down the barriers between art and life
Talal Faisal Ismaili, Fatima Butt, Amber Arifeen, and Yumna created an atmospheric venue within the exciting architecture of the museum. Their work was marked by individual and collective expressions of immersive concerns projecting on sociopolitical paradigms.
Fatima Butt’s performance reminded me of Alison Knowle making salad in the name of art in 1962 at London’s ICA Gallery: where she prepares the massive salad by chopping the ingredients to the beat of live music. However, Fatima Butt preparing “Daawat-e-Haw” by setting a dining table, and her interest in filling the walled-arch-white-cube gallery space with objects emerging from a cardboard box, turns the museum area into a personal space. Fatima’s performance departs from the distinction of private and public space through the audience’s involvement, by breaking down the barriers between art and life.
At the height of the Cold War, chess had one of its most crucial political moments. Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union and Bobby Fischer of the United States competed in the 1972 World Chess Championship. Fischer prevailed, but the competition served as a metaphor for the East-West conflict. Yumna’s performance is titled ‘’The Rule of Time,” in which the artist invited members of the audience to play with lit wax casted chess pieces on the board. The mathematical study of strategy and conflict melts on the board, and so time becomes a dominant factor/force, scenarios changing every second, dictating the decisions. The king, queen, knight, pawn, castle and bishop are all-powerful emblems of society. Each player has a distinct value that vanishes when Yumna applies the Rule of Time by burning them like candles. The wax deformation of the individual chess piece represents the culmination of societal patterns obtained through modern institutions. It reminds me of an artwork titled “Chess players (2016)” by Mahbub Jokhio, depicting two figures sitting on a gravestone, absorbed in a game of chess – an image that might initially seem somewhat irreverent, but actually has a deep importance.
Bringing the Constitution to the Museum is a metaphor for the extinction of the constitutional order – making it history. Talal’s performance is an accurate yet harsh representation
“Noise” by Talal Faisal Ismaili was a work that refused to settle completely. Not only in reference to the nature of art Institutions, but state institutions too – and those that form the basic fabric of society. It was a multifaceted performance piece embodying three mediums: performance, video and sound. The upper portion that was the live performance space situated the artist in a black Sherwani behind a green top table, continually reciting clauses of the Constitution. The audible output was tampered to make it sound vaguely recognisable, thereby opening up possibilities of other means of communication, also attempting to search for a language that is immune to the manipulation of sounds/words.
Talal’s reenactment is loaded with political satire, reminiscent of the Italian Futurists of the 1910s, who projected their political or anti-establishment memorandum through performance. His impactful performance sheds light on the process of losing faith in the laws of the land. Bringing the Constitution to the Museum is a metaphor for the extinction of the constitutional order – making it history. Talal’s performance is an accurate yet harsh representation. It becomes a revolutionary union of everyday life and political engagement.
The exhibition “Avant” at Como Museum was composed of the performances that will make their place in history, allowing us to recontextualize the past, present,and future. Through them, we can begin to consider what is left outside dominant sociopolitical narratives.