Performance and New media art

Performance art offers interesting insight into the nature of new media artwork. Often times, the interaction and experience are the medium of this new art that creates systems to facilitate a customizable, dynamic, interactive, or participatory experience.  Creating systems to be surprised by chance, John Cage suggests our personal experience is where art exists in his chaotic and unpredictable concerts with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Similar in ways to work of John Cage, the following art movements of the 60’s including Minimalism and Fluxus art wanted to remove suggestions of self-expressionism from the artwork, and pose a medium that was in the experience and not in the physical objects themselves. The Fluxus manifesto of 1963 by George Maciunas supports a “living art” and “purges the world of dead art, imitation, artificial art, abstract art, illusionistic art, mathematical art, etc.”

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This idea is an echo of John Cage’s silent 4’33” performance in 1953 where he sits silently at a piano while the audience hears the subtle noises of the auditorium. Each audience member has an individual experience depending on their location in the room, creating a performer out of each person in the crowd.

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Performance artist Marina Abramovic’s work takes this “living art” concentration even further by creating personal experiences to overcome uncomfortable feelings and fear. Some of her work involves enduring pain for a long period of time to contemplate the nature of the pain and how to control it. She says, “Mind is the main thing and once you get the key you are on the other side.”

Marina Abramovic sits across from audience participants in her work The Artist is Present. (

Perhaps a decent example of performance art in this fashion is Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (1965), where she invites members of the audience to come on stage and cut pieces of her clothing off.

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Marina Abramovic says, “For me it was always a question, if we have such a fast life, we have to have a long art to understand here and now and how we can live in present… and for performance, living in present is everything.”

“We always think art has something to do with the head, but I think art has everything to do with the stomach.” – Abramovic

Reviewing this work in performance further causes me to question if this “new media art” that includes interactive mediums like Raphael Lozano’s Hemmer’s ‘relational architecture’  is so new after all. In Krueger’s Glowflow,  the interactions were delayed so that the experience would not become too passive, causing the participant to focus on what is happening. Often times it is essential for the participant to be aware of what is causing the changes in the interactive art, creating active experiences similar to performance art. Life is the media we have always used to create interactive, customizable, participatory, and dynamic experiences, and the performers in these works use the body to create systems with those features to contemplate their feelings about their present state. Although Abramovic says she is a mirror for her audience, a very personal motive fuels this art that is intimate and immaterial.

Zen for Head – Nam June Paik – 1962

2 responses to “Performance and New media art

  1. P.S. check out how technology is being used in Marina’s work to detect subconscious brain activity.

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