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Performance Art: 5 Of My Favorite Moments Of Artistry In Action

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

Through treacherous, dangerous, and oftentimes distressing displays, Serbian artist Marina Abramović transcended the boundaries of performance art, art created through physical actions. Abramović is best known for her 1974 performance, Rhythm 0, in which she stood still for six hours among an audience granted to do whatever they wished to her with 72 presented objects, including scissors, chains, and even a loaded pistol. Due to Rhythm 0 and similar risky performances, Abramović’s portfolio tests the bounds of performance art by depicting what society is capable of when permitted to break traditional rules. In her 12-year relationship with German artist Ulay, the couple conceived several presentations on trust, dependence, and transparency in love and separation. Though a pioneer of performance art on her own, Abramović’s relationship with Ulay paved an entirely new path for collaborative performance art, leading their work to be one-of-a-kind even today.

Upon hearing the story of Marina Abramović and Ulay, two artists and lovers who revolutionized performance art in the 1970s and 80s, I began considering the irreplicable effects different performance artworks have had over the years. In this consideration, I’ve compiled below five more of my favorite performance artworks, all of which I find to have similarly inimitable and timeless effects. 

1. Yoann Bourgeois spinning board

I first discovered French dancer and choreographer Yoann Bourgeois because of a performance that has no clear name, but depicted a man and a woman walking on a spinning board, turning and stopping at different points, causing the other to run into them.


Just a little something I made 😊 Very symbolic representation of love. It makes your head spin & also the relationship itself spins, evolves, hits road bumps, sometimes ends, sometimes flourishes. Love is beautiful, but sometimes #lovebites #love #spinning #board #couple #motion #art #performance #defleppard #80s #woodart #embrace #physics #inertia

♬ Love Bites – Greatest Def Con Jam

If this sounds familiar, it might be because you’re thinking of the music video for the smash hit “As It Was” by Harry Styles. Yoann Bourgeois choreographed this part of Styles’ music video, bringing to life the themes of disconnecting and reconnecting with a partner seen in the lyrics. Bourgeois’ use of a spinning board is key to his most popular performances, yet manages to captivate an audience every time due to the different paths the performances can take. The board symbolizes the beauty of two worlds colliding quickly or slowly, the difficulty of maintaining love, and the slowness or speed with which people can slip away — bringing to life countless different stories.

2. Coperni x Bella Hadid spray dress

At the finale of the Coperni Paris Fashion Week 2022 show, iconic supermodel Bella Hadid approached the runway in just underwear to have a dress Fabrican sprayed onto her. Though the audience was used to seeing the renowned looks designed by Coperni or modeled by Hadid, this was the first show that gave them insight into the creative process alongside the final product. The last similar instance of testing designer-consumer bounds in fashion was the 1999 Alexander McQueen show when Shalom Harlow’s white dress was spray painted on the runway. However, the technology used to make Hadid’s dress was more developed than paint, allowing her to cut slits, roll the sleeves, and adjust the dress just moments ago sprayed onto her. This performance both revolutionized the technology used in art and fashion, and the bounds of performance art in fashion.

3. Man and Woman / Ali and Nino

Following similar themes to Bourgeois’ work of two people in constant motion, Georgian artist Tamara Kvesitadze created an 8-meter-tall moving steel sculpture of two people who pass right through one another upon collision. Though originally created for the Venice Biennale and called Man and Woman, the statue has stood in Batumi, Georgia since 2011, and has become fondly known as Ali and Nino due to its significant inspiration. The statue was created to depict the story of Ali, an Azerbaijani Muslim, and Nino, a Georgian princess, who spend their lives overcoming cultural and religious conflicts, nationalism, and heritage, only for Ali to be killed in World War I after their first few years together. In combination with the backstory, the sculpture’s size and motion revolutionized the use of performance art in city structures and landmarks, and the materials and technology used in performance art.

4. I Like America and America Likes Me

Returning to the era during which performance art was first pioneered, German artist Joseph Beuys performed I Like America and America Likes Me for 24 hours over the course of three consecutive days in 1974. This performance consisted of Beuys and a wild coyote alone in a room in New York City, with no constraints or much else besides felt blankets, a walking stick, and gloves. The coyote’s behavior changed over the three days, but even in periods of aggression Beuys was never seriously harmed. This work was meant to demonstrate the dire need for communication, connection, and understanding of one another in American society, even when the other appears to be uncivilized or abnormal. The result of Beuys leaving in the same condition he came in as placed a lasting pressure on American society to avoid copping out from such conversations, revolutionizing protest performance art.

5. cut piece

Finally, we cannot cover pioneers in performance art, or protest art, without mention of Cut Piece by Japanese artist and musician Yoko Ono. Deeply distressing and risky, and preceding aspects of Rhythm 0 By Abramović, Ono’s Cut Piece was performed multiple times in Tokyo in 1964 and again in New York in 1965. This performance consisted of Ono sitting on stage and permitting the audience to come up to cut and take a piece of her clothing. This explores themes of female passivity and societal roles in objectifying women, including the moral responsibility of viewers and bystanders. Seen to have revolutionized feminist performance art through similarities in later work such as that by Abramović, Cut Piece pioneered protest performance art due to its delicacy, thereby never letting it be overshadowed or forgotten.

“Emphasizing the reciprocal way in which viewers and subjects become objects or each other, Cut Piece also demonstrates how viewing without responsibility has the potential to harm or even destroy the object of perception.”

“Art and Feminism” – Peggy Phelan, Helena Reckitt

Though oftentimes demanding and uncertain, performance art interacts with the audience, even in recordings rewatched for future years, in ways still art cannot. In a dynamic exchange between artist and audience, performance art challenges viewers to confront the boundaries of their own perceptions and beliefs, fostering a dialogue that transcends time and space. Certain mobilities, technologies, and shock factors embodied in this art form remain characteristic of its genre, making its displays rare but exceptionally moving when done right. 

Neha Jammula is a senior at UConn pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and statistics. Applying her educational interests, she enjoys writing articles that utilize research to detail and provide explanations for different social events. Writing for a college women's magazine allows her to explore popular culture trends and ongoing conversations among college women. Aside from Her Campus, Neha is also helping write research reports for UConn's Student Life and Enrollment office as an undergraduate student researcher. Some of Neha's other interests that can be found in her archive below are art, poetry, beauty, and lifestyle.