|3. Art of Reshaping Reality
There are all kinds of art. There is art that calms, art that pacifies, art that sells, art that decorates, art that entertains. But what I am committed to is art as a battle, an underground war against fragmentation. The battle is on all realities. The controllers have always tried to fragment us. Fragment us from each other. Imprison us in islands of sex, color, religion, politics, classes, labels, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc. -- they fragment our inner worlds, they blow our individual realities apart, and play the pieces against one another. They are us, or a part of us. They are the controllers, the politicians, the sexists, the women's libbers, the pornographers, the censors, the moralists, the church, the media, the businessmen, educators, the victims and the powerful.
They are us. They have divided us from our power, from our beauty, from our lust for life and pleasure. They have divided us from most of reality -- divided dying from living -- sex from living, sex from pleasure. We are kept in boxes of fear, of mistrust. We are kept waiting -- kept waiting to do what we want -- waiting for enough money, enough schooling, for everything to be right. We are kept waiting and protecting and hiding and suffering.
This is the time to do battle with the boxes.
As artists, our tools are magic, our bodies, taboos, and dreams.
This kind of art can be bubbles of childhood -- hidden places where you can play and explore -- it is the kids' under-the-covers world, the playhouse, the treehouse, the cave, behind the barn, playing doctor, cars at drive-ins before going all the way, Huck Finn's raft, tepees. People are afraid of this area of lusty exploring that they think they have out-grown -- but they are sucked into it.
But this kind of art can have a more heavy-duty magical side to it that shocks, offends, and breaks new ground. This side is what is locked in, the subconscious, the womb, the underground, hell/heaven, pleasure/torture, the coffin, the grave, birth/death/rebirth, dream/nightmare, the hidden world of taboos.
Artists of this breed need to be warriors who are willing to go into the areas of taboo, willing to push beyond where it is comfortable and safe to explore and build a larger zone of safeness. They need to be idealists, willing to live ideals.
But in the seventies and the early eighties, the calling of this kind of art became the career of art. The passion and idealism became the studying of the trends of what will be "in" next. The passionate vulnerability that creates magic was replaced by a cool and clever intellectualism. We artists got seduced by high tech. We got seduced by the modern media, by the quest for large audiences.
I think performance is being ruined by trying to package it as entertainment, as off-beat cabaret. Some performance is entertaining. Some performance is cabaret. That is great. But when you try to package performance into a neat cabaret format, as I think is the trend, to make performance acceptable and profitable, it becomes a hip form of nightclub watching or groovy T.V. watching. If you limit performance in time and space for acceptability, it stops being performance.
I like doing cabaret and video. They are great mediums in themselves. But when I am doing cabaret or video, I am always aware of the limitations built into their formats. When someone watches a video, he knows that he will remain passively watching from the outside; the video will not literally pop out into his reality, or physically drag him into the T.V.
When someone goes to a cabaret, he knows there are certain limits involved such as that each act must end before another begins; but in performance, anything is possible. A performance can last for a minute or it can last for days. Performance can start in one space but then move to another. Performance can be storytelling, it can be a guy threatening you with a baseball bat, it can be a guy hanging by his skin, or throwing food, or anything. In performance all things are possible. And that is what gives you an extra edge to create dreams.
Performance, like any avant-garde art, is the way society dreams; it is the way society expands its freedom, explores the forbidden in safety, loosens up. Society needs its dream art, just as an individual needs to dream or go insane. Our moral majority society, bent on going backwards into the violent blank rigidity of a censored mind, needs taboo-breaking dreams to get back to freedom. Performance is perfectly suited for this dream role. At the present time, our society is at a fork in its growth. It can go deeper into high tech impersonal isolation, or it can rediscover the magic that happens when physical and emotional humans actively and directly link up with one another. Art can either just follow society, just recording the trends, or it can take a pathbreaker role. I am writing this for the artists who are not as lucky as I am to have a physical reminder that they are misfits of society whose job it is to push back the limits of society. This is a reminder that we misfits are still needed.
Performance art, the art of performance, is rooted in the private games of babies where every move and gesture has its own meaning to the baby -- it is rooted in the creative and the destructive games that a little kid does when he is all alone -- games that adults still do, but will not admit doing, even to themselves.
Photos (from top to bottom): Mary Sullivan, Linda Mac, Ken Jennings, Ken Jennings