The body in situ, the body in crisis : from the happenings of Allan Kaprow to the Vienna actionists

Part of : Γράμμα : περιοδικό θεωρίας και κριτικής ; Vol.11, No.1, 2003, pages 125-137

Section Title:
Bodies wrestling against social and cultural regulation
This paper explores the link between representation and power in the visual arts along the lines of Foucault and Artaud, and the aim is to highlight the way art is determined and affected by place, context, and time. It starts with the USA in the 1950s and the happenings of Allan Kaprow and other artists of the period, who decided that art should no longer be self-contained but part of life and continuous with it. These artists showed a particular interest in the material environment and a new awareness of the body. What emerges from this movement is the interaction between the body and space and between the artist and the spectator. The latter is an active part of the performance. He improvises, is influenced, and affected by his surroundings. With the Vienna Actionists, the body becomes the signifier, an object of experimentation and manipulation. Such practices lead to a questioning of the viewer 's perception of his own body and reflect the preoccupations of other European artists in the post-war era. In this sense, art becomes a subversive act in a society which is felt to be repressive and inhibiting. The article ends with a few contemporary artists, like Jan Fabre, who continue to investigate the body/power dialectics and whose multimedia approach puts even greater emphasis on the link between body and language in our highly technologically-oriented society.
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