Performance Art

 Chng Nai Wee responds to questions posed by Performance Artist Party

We are in the process of gathering information and materials for an exhibition of documentation on performance art in Singapore to be held in conjunction with the annual Septfest of The Substation in September. A catalogue will be published as part of the exhibition and we would like to seek your contributions by answering some of the basic questions we have asked about performance art and its genre. This information from you would be used as parallel text within the pages and to give the readers an overview of responses to generally-asked and pertinent questions about the issues surrounding performance art eg. its role and relevance in the art scene, control (or lack of) over (mis)interpretation of artist's intent, the responsibility of the artist for the construction of meaning, and the problems attending censorship and licensing. It is also our intention to establish an archive of different perspectives on the issues surrounding performance art in the local context for future research and publications.



Published in the catalog  OPEN SPACES

Can there be performance art without a body?

The body is an instrument used by the artist to deliver the message of the work, to spatially and navigationally engage space, to vocally express, to emotionally express by facial movements, and to interact with the audience. A sophisticated machine, such as a robot, or a set of mechanistic instruments, calibrated, programmed, and controlled by the artist, can achieve the same. The issue is the availability and economy of using these machines or instruments. At present, the limitations of use of alternate avenues may confine performance artists primarily to the use of human bodies. Limitations will ease with time. Performance art can also include the use of animal bodies. Circus animals give performances, and an artist may train animals to deliver performace art shows.


Why use (your) body to make art?

The body is an agile and versatile tool, fully controlled by the mind of the artist, and responsive to improvisation by the artist, and interactive stimuli by the audience. The abilities of the body are encompassing, including the use of facial emotions and voices, and the ability to time limb movements to music. At present, few tools are viable economic and artistic alternatives.


What is performance art (as opposed to something like theatre)? 

Performance art and theatre are points along a spectrum. The classification is not critical for the workings of the artist or the interpretiations of the audience. The labels are useful to communicate setof pre-conceived notions relating to topic, purpose, and scale, that facilitate logistic operations and marketing of the performance art or theatre shows. On the contrary, these labels with the baggage of notions may hinder appreciation by the audience. The traditional notion is that performance art compared to theatre, is shorter in duration, smaller in scale, more directed to a focus topic, and less narrative.


Do you care if your work is misread?

Work that engages the audience in both universal and personal aspects, and that persuade opinions of the audience to form, and a stream of thoughts to flow, are better than works that neither engage nor persuade. A work with a core message that can reach by multivalent interpretative channels to the audience may be more successful than a work with a core message that is graphic, leaving less room for personal interpretation or imagination. The risk is that the audience may misread the work. An artist is concerned if his core concept is not interpreted or experienced for the concept is the reason for his performance. An artist plans the execution of the performance, to ensure quality, and to promise delivery. During after-performance analysis, the artist will be concerned on how he can improve his next performance. The exited audience is no longer relevant in this aspect.


What are the responsibilities of a performance artist?

The performance artist is responsible for the sincere development and delivery of a quality performanceThe audience has exchanged time and presence to witness the performance. Mutual repect prevails. The performance artist makes the strategic choice of whether to engage in post-performance dialog with the audience. The artist records and documents his performance. 


What is the role of the audience in performance art?

portant.The performance artist has committed resources to sincerely deliver a performance, and invited the audience to view. The roles of the audience are presenting an open mind that is free from all pre-conceived notions, paying dilligent attention to the performance, and allowing the performance to permeate the mind and echo within the spirit for a period after the performance has ended. The audience may interact with his artist, by participating in the performance, and by post-performance dialog with the artist to clarify readings, intentions, and meanings, and to extend the power of the work. Both performance and post-performance roles are im

What type of performance art should not be allowed?

None. However, if the artist is aware that his work touches on sensitive interests of society, and may be perceived as inflammatory by certain groups, the artist may take precautions to protect the viablity of the show, to safeguard the interpretation of his work, and to reassure society his work is meaningful and not intended to be disruptive.


Is there a role for a performance artist in a society like Singapore's? If so, what is it?

Activities that express the idea of the times, provide a forum for intellectual exchange, and provide a social meeting point, are relevant, regardless of type of society or country of registration. Performance art is a subset of these relevant activities. Performance artists who are responsible for performance art therefore play roles. These roles, when defined, are not exhaustive, for these roles are multiple, constantly evolving, and expanding. Among known roles of performance art in any society is to focus attention, to impart understanding, to generate awareness, to provoke thought, and to inspire action, on issues and ideas across various disciplines.