Performing art, the art of performing

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Jaye Ouellette; WaveSix,

Performing is an art. Performance art takes its name from that idea if not from the art of performing. Confused? Well that is the best way to enjoy performance art; just be in the experience.

One of the pioneers of the genre was a German named Joseph Beuys. His quest was to bring more art to people and more people to art. He autographed copies of his artworks thereby investing with value instead of making just one work that only one person could have.

Beuys engagement with other artists and with the way that art can be political, inspiring and upholding certain values, has remained an influential current in today's technological environment. Last winter the "flash mob" dance event at the Highland Square mall could be considered a type of performance art and there are practitioners in an emerging field called Psychogeography, who do things like play giant games of chess with human beings by sending GPS coordinates to them.

Aren't we all a little bit like chess pieces these days? Or even squat, round checkers waiting on our squares for some wireless suggestion to move us? Psychogeography is just a fancy name for art that concerns itself with self-examination in the context of time and place and psychology. Where are you? How do you feel in the environment you live in?

There are artists who make short work of creating massive archives of their own self-examination via technology. They post ephemera documenting their progress, in our ever-accelerating world. In a very clever way, Joseph Beuys was really nudging the artists who clamoured for more of his wisdom to be more human. 

My favourite work by Mr. Beuys was one I wish I had actually experienced. For a prestigious art event called Documenta, which happens in Germany every ten years, Mr. Beuys decided not to show things he fabricated. He made a gift of himself. Sitting in a tent in front of an empty chair, he invited people to sit and debate social issues; a simple and provocative idea.

Some forty years later a fashionable performance artist named Marina Ambramovic did much the same thing in New York City. She sat in the main hall of the Modern Art museum non-stop for eight hours a day allowing the public to take a seat in front of her. She did not speak. She gazed fondly. Much was made of her preparation and the fact that she didn't even get up to go tot he bathroom. One young lady found the experience so powerful that she vomited right in front of the artist.

I happened to be on a sortie from my cherished home here in Pictou County when I came upon this much-publicized event. I arrived at the museum with some very clear plan, which I forgot in the glare of the lights around Ms. Ambramovic. I thought a celebrity was about to be interviewed. Indeed since the event, Ms. Ambramovic has become a star. She has risen from her humble eastern European beginnings to New York City and an expensive apartment. She appears now in Vogue magazine wearing designer clothes.

I think Joseph Beuys would find this very funny. I know my friends in Pictou County do! I also think that he would have loved to set up his conversation camp here in Pictou; perhaps at the mall during Christmas - anywhere people are being encouraged to buy gifts described as art. Of course commercial art and the art of selling are an entirely different kind of performance art. But I'm thinking about the need to remember the performance art of just sitting together to share time. The art of just being together while the tidal wave of gifts and must-have gizmos surges towards us.

Beuys gave people wings to fly by accompanying them. Debating and discerning. If you really insist on buying the freedom that can be art as well as talking about the world, there are several local artists whose work could well be the subject of your own performance art event.

Procure a piece. Invite your friends to talk about it. Whatever art you bring to this holiday season, may it bring you the kind of joy that only human exchange can. The art of attention.

The following are local artist websites where you can also purchase art for the season and a lifetime: Jaye Ouellette:, Debbie Lamey-MacDonald:, Raina McDonald: and MaeveRexi- also known as Nifty Leonard: Of course you can always drop by in person at fabulous studios like Carolyn Vienneau's in Pictou where there is also the ARt2Sea Gallery or right here in New Glasgow, Lyn-Sue Wice has a spectacular collection of finely drawn work.

Organizations: Modern Art museum, Vogue magazine

Geographic location: Pictou County, Highland Square, New York City Germany New Glasgow

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