The performance of pain: the consequences for the performing body and its portrayal of mental health

Bartram, Angela (2012) The performance of pain: the consequences for the performing body and its portrayal of mental health. In: Confined Spaces: Considering Performance, Madness, and Psychiatry, 17-18 September 2012, Corpus Christi College Cambridge.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive

Abstract

In 2001 the performance artist Kira O’Reilly wrote an article for A-N magazine1 that reflected on the institutional anxieties provoked by ‘Wet Cup’ a performance that includes the cutting and suctioning of her flesh through ‘cupping’ to draw blood. The art institution, despite inviting O’Reilly to perform the work, demonstrated their fears at showing ‘risky’ work through a process which aimed to sanction the ‘health’ of the artwork and subsequently its reflections on the artist herself. They asked O’Reilly to respond to various health and safety demands to account for her mental state and bodily health to prove that she was ‘safe’ to perform2. In asking her to conform to their demands they were making both internal and public assurances that the work was art and not the product of catharsis or breakdown. The institutional unease that O’Reilly could be acting out a psychiatric or psychological disorder through ‘Wet Cup’ demonstrated the sense of mistrust the performing body can instill.

Kira O’Reilly’s experience follows a tradition within performance art that inflicts physical pain or suffering. In situating the physical or psychological transgressive within easy and ‘live’ grasp this type of practice presents the performing body as a confrontation to be negotiated. Indeed, when an artist chooses to cut or open their body or remove it from social interaction, their motives are scrutinized for deviance, distress and sanity. Are they mad, eccentric or just responding to questions that ask what it is to be observed and physical creative objects? This paper will analyse the consequences of making performance from physical acts of pain and how this can be understood as sane regarding institutional and public risk. It will reflect on the trauma, stigma and perceptive danger involved with making performance work that includes cutting, or isolating the body from more regular, everyday activity. The paper will reflect on the consequences for the artist, and perceptions of their health both in, and beyond the gallery. The year long works by Tehching Hsieh and the exploration of physical and mental limits through performance by Marina Abramović with be examined along with O’Reilly.

Additional Information:In 2001 the performance artist Kira O’Reilly wrote an article for A-N magazine1 that reflected on the institutional anxieties provoked by ‘Wet Cup’ a performance that includes the cutting and suctioning of her flesh through ‘cupping’ to draw blood. The art institution, despite inviting O’Reilly to perform the work, demonstrated their fears at showing ‘risky’ work through a process which aimed to sanction the ‘health’ of the artwork and subsequently its reflections on the artist herself. They asked O’Reilly to respond to various health and safety demands to account for her mental state and bodily health to prove that she was ‘safe’ to perform2. In asking her to conform to their demands they were making both internal and public assurances that the work was art and not the product of catharsis or breakdown. The institutional unease that O’Reilly could be acting out a psychiatric or psychological disorder through ‘Wet Cup’ demonstrated the sense of mistrust the performing body can instill. Kira O’Reilly’s experience follows a tradition within performance art that inflicts physical pain or suffering. In situating the physical or psychological transgressive within easy and ‘live’ grasp this type of practice presents the performing body as a confrontation to be negotiated. Indeed, when an artist chooses to cut or open their body or remove it from social interaction, their motives are scrutinized for deviance, distress and sanity. Are they mad, eccentric or just responding to questions that ask what it is to be observed and physical creative objects? This paper will analyse the consequences of making performance from physical acts of pain and how this can be understood as sane regarding institutional and public risk. It will reflect on the trauma, stigma and perceptive danger involved with making performance work that includes cutting, or isolating the body from more regular, everyday activity. The paper will reflect on the consequences for the artist, and perceptions of their health both in, and beyond the gallery. The year long works by Tehching Hsieh and the exploration of physical and mental limits through performance by Marina Abramović with be examined along with O’Reilly.
Keywords:performance, live art, O'Reilly, Bartram
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art
W Creative Arts and Design > W190 Fine Art not elsewhere classified
A Medicine and Dentistry > A990 Medicine and Dentistry not elsewhere classified
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts (Fine Arts)
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ID Code:7193
Deposited On:08 Jan 2013 09:59

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