Performance Art and YouTube by Amy Griffin
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
[ X ]
Origins of this content
Written for LFYT 2015 final by Amy Griffin.
"In the age of YouTube, when the line between "happenings" and publicity stunts has blurred, can performance art still resonate with the public?"- NYTimes [cit]

"Carry That Weight" is part protest, part performance art, and it's captured nationwide attention." - Washington Post [cit

"The ubiquity of digital spectacles and curiosities today is one reason performance art has had its thunder stolen." NYTimes [cit]

YouTube works best within performance arts as a way to record audience reactions to the pieces themselves. 'We expected to create a video portrait of this character walking about in this spectacle of lights, excess, and Americana vacation aesthetics. We had anticipated maybe a few catcalls, maybe some light crowd interaction, but never anticipated that an angry mob was going to leave her bleeding on the sidewalk.' - ArtNews [cit]

Ellen in particular is a big proponent of online celebrity stunts. She often creates videos where she surprises a random person with something special. Their reactions are then filmed and distributed to the public. (see Ellen video in See Also)

Alternatively, popular real life performance art pieces will be filmed and analyzed on YouTube. This will often involve covering up nude bodies or blurring any violent/sexual aspects of the piece, again showing that YouTube is not a place that easily accepts real world to online performance art. It will often also completely subvert the meaning of the original piece. (see video, Woman Opens Her Private Parts For Art Performance in See Also)
In the age of YouTube, users can see graphic violence and sexual acts with the click of a button. Where does this leave the world of performance art? (Performance Art is a form of artistic expression that utilizes an audience. It may be scripted/unscripted, live/in media, and can happen any time or anywhere. Often, Performance Art relies on taboo topics to shock or disturb an audience.)

In 2010, a group of artists performed No Fun--a staged suicide that people could log onto and watch. The user comments became part of the performance art piece. It was supposed to create a situation of loneliness/isolation and expose the lack of real connection in online spaces. The video has since been removed; violating YouTube's shocking and disturbing content policy.

Another example of performance art being influenced by YouTube is "Oculapartion: Wall Street"--a performance art piece that featured people on Wall Street stripping and performing tasks naked. The artist found that most people were confused by the content, and many thought that it was simply a celebrity stunt piece. It's easy to see why people are becoming increasingly ambivalent to something surprising happening, especially in the context of Youtube, that often relies on new ways of expressing yourself and can, like performance art, ironically often rely on shock value. The mass production of digital spectacles is having an adverse affect on performance art within an online space.

However, there are also times that YouTube can serve to increase the public understanding of performance art. Carry That Weight is a great example of this. Emma Sulkowitz, a senior at Columbia College, created a video for YouTube as a way to generate support for her performance art piece. The video gained millions of views, and created a large amount of support for Sulkowitz, catapulting her into the national limelight. However, Sulkowitz's assaulter remains at the college, proving that although some pieces of performance art may gain popularity, often times they do not achieve the desire of the artists.

There appears to be no way to translate powerful pieces of performance art onto YouTube without losing the content and meaning behind the work. For example, an incredibly popular piece that featured Marina Abramovic staring at someone in the eyes lost all meaning and relevance once moved to YouTube . Online, it became a game of spot the celebrity and lost all meaning of the piece's original aim for empathy.

The world of performance art on YouTube appears to be restricted by viewer's reactions and the lack of translation from real life to online spaces. However, it should be mentioned that YouTube can serve the performance art world by opening up new ways for artists to reach beyond the performance art world and also provides a way to film reactions to the pieces themselves, often in real time. Despite this, it appears that the world of performance art - which has traditionally relied on being mixed media, isn't YouTube appropriate.

Ironically enough, YouTube can sometimes manage to inspire it's own performance art pieces. In a show of the sheer meta-ness (a term, especially in art, used to characterize something that is characteristically self-referential) of YouTube and online memes, performance art pieces are created. Actual Cannibal Shia Labeouf, for example, is a viral video that was later produced into a performance art piece. However, could one truly categorize this as a performance art piece, as it lacks any meaning beyond entertainment, or is the circular motion of YouTube memes and popularity an art piece of its own?