Often using their bodies as the canvas or the medium, performance artists are known for challenging, inspiring, and sometimes controversial performances. Whether they seek to question accepted norms or to comment on a socio-political situation, the most noteworthy artists embody their craft in unforgettable ways.
The five artists below have made headlines around the world through events that have involved their bodies, their relationship with other artists and/or the audience, time, and space.
1. Orlan – The Reincarnation Of Saint Orlan
Born Mireille Suzanne Francette Porte, French artist Orlan is best known for, the Reincarnation of Saint Orlan, which involved plastic surgery. The artist remained conscious, filmed and broadcast the surgeries, listened to music, read poetry, and even involved dancers in some of the events.
Among the surgeries were procedures that gave Orlan a forehead inspired by Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and a chin inspired by Botticelli’s Venus.
2. Marina Abramović – Rhythm 0
Serbian-born Marina Abramović has explored relationships, concepts of femininity, and her childhood in Serbia. No stranger to placing herself in potentially life-threatening situations, one of her most famous performances was Rhythm 0.
Abramović spent six hours seated in a gallery with various objects, such as a knife, a feather, a rose, and a gun, in front of her. The audience was invited to use those items to do anything they wanted to her. Some thrill seekers among them cut the artist using the knife, and one even loaded the gun and held it to her head. Playing online real money pokies games is a far kinder way of enjoying thrills.
3. Pyotr Pavlensky – Fixation
One of Russia’s most extreme performance artists, Pyotr Pavlensky is no stranger to being arrested by the country’s police. His often-bloody performances are intended as critiques of either the Russian government or of society and culture.
He lay naked in a barbed wire cocoon, sliced off part of an earlobe, and sewn his mouth closed in his performance art. However, one of his most unforgettable moments was dubbed ‘Fixation’. It saw him strip naked in Moscow’s Red Square, sit down, and nail his scrotum to the ground.
4. Ron Athey – Self Obliteration
HIV awareness, sexual desire, trauma, and masculinity are placed under scrutiny by the performance art of Ron Athey. One of the American artist’s most notorious performances was Self Obliteration.
Athey, who sat in a glass box, was naked except for a long blonde wig in which needles had been hidden. The performance saw him brushing the wig, which caused flecks of blood to shower the walls of the box.
5. Genesis P-Orridge – Pandrogyny
Born Neil Andrew Megson, Genesis P-Orridge lived and breathed art until their death in March 2020. Genesis gained fame, or notoriety, through the bands Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV.
In 1993, Genesis met Jacqueline Breyer, a dominatrix who later changed her name to Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge. The couple began working on the project Pandrogyny in 2003. It consisted of a series of plastic surgeries, the goal of which was to look identical. The inspiration was the idea of two beings being fused together to become a third person.