Body Art Artworks
Artworks and Artists of Body Art
Anthropométrie sans titre (1961)
In his Anthropometries series, Yves Klein covered nude women in blue paint and had them press, drag, and lay themselves across canvases to create bodily impressions. The piece was inspired in part by photographs of body-shaped burn-marks on the earth, which were caused by the atomic explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Klein crafted this idea into a performance piece, hosting a formal event where guests observed the nude models executing the piece.
The work makes reference to the painting practices of Jackson Pollock, who would pour and drip paint onto his canvases. Klein takes the physical element of painting even further by adding an audience and using the human body to spread the paint. In utilizing the female body as canvas and paintbrush, Klein challenged viewers' expectations about the artistic process and precipitated a new direction for performance art. By incorporating the human body into the act of creating art, Klein gave the performativity of the body an unprecedented privilege within its discourse.
Notably, Klein's work and his objectifying use of women's bodies is at odds with much of the feminist body art which came after it. Many later female artists would have objected to this use of women's bodies as mere tools, rather than as active participants. Yet many of the women who participated in Anthropometries at the time, said they felt as if they were co-creators of the work and described the process as being fun.
Performance; oil on canvas on paper, resin - Musée Cantini, Marseille, France
Sex Obsession Food Obsession Macaroni Infinity Nets & Kusama (1962)
In this photograph, Yayoi Kusama lies naked on a couch covered with her soft sculpture accumulations comprised of phallic shaped sprouts. According to the artist, "The reason my first soft sculptures were shaped like penises is that I had a fear of sex as something dirty. People often assume that I must be mad about sex, because I make so many such objects, but that's a complete misunderstanding. It's quite the opposite - I make the objects because they horrify me. Reproducing the objects, again and again, was my way of conquering the fear." In the background is spread a sea of macaroni pasta. She is slim and stylish, with a fashionable haircut and painted with polka dots that allow her to blend into the psychedelic scene as an intrinsic and inseparable part of the artwork. For Kusama, there is no difference between life and art and she boldly states this within a tableaux that all the while winks an eye at traditional pin-up layouts of women.
Amelia Jones argues that Kusama is "racially and sexually at odds with the normative conception of the artist as Euro-American male. Rather than veil her differences (which are seemingly irrefutably confirmed by the visual evidence of her 'exotic' body), Kusama exacerbates them through self-display in a series of such flamboyant images." In doing so, she also subtly criticizes the canon's normativity and conformity.
Macaroni, paint, photograph
Body, Sign, Action (1970)
In 1970 feminist artist VALIE EXPORT staged a performance where she was tattooed with an image of a garter strap and stocking top on her thigh. The garter refers to the fetishizing of women's underwear and, by extension, of women's bodies. By permanently tattooing herself with a symbol of sexualization and objectification, EXPORT posits that by extension, as a woman, her whole body is a permanent subject for male visual pleasure.
However, by turning this into a public act and then photographing herself with the tattoo in the nude, EXPORT co-opts a symbol of female restriction and transforms it into one of personal empowerment - a badge of liberation. In her own words, "incorporated in a tattoo, the garter belt signifies a former enslavement, is a garment symbolizing repressed sexuality, an attribute of our non-self-determined womanhood. A social ritual that covers up a bodily need is unmasked, our culture's opposition to the body is laid open."
Cultural historian Sabine Kampmann argues that EXPORT made a radical choice in making her own skin the substrate for her art: "EXPORT makes an association between human skin, vellum (hide prepared for scripture), and books to legitimize her extraordinary choice of skin as material for her artwork." She was making the statement that writing on her own skin was no different than writing on a piece of paper, albeit with messages whose permanence perhaps carried greater weight.
Kampmann also suggests that EXPORT's work may be the first time that a tattoo had been used as a work of fine art in art history. This links to the use of the term "body art" today to refer to tattoos and body ornamentation more generally.
Einhorn (Unicorn) (1970-72)
Early in Rebecca Horn's career she contracted lung poisoning from repeatedly inhaling toxic materials in the making of her art. She was sent to a sanitarium for two years to recover and during this time she became fascinated by the hospital setting and the limitations of the human body. She began experimenting with making "body extensions" as a coping strategy in which she would use medical materials such as bandages, trusses, and prostheses to create wearable sculpture. Horn said about her debilitating experience, "you crave to grow out of your own body and merge with the other person's body, to seek refuge in it." These pieces were manifestations of the desire, which allowed Horn to explore her personal space and how the body could interact with its physical environment.
Horn was also interested in mythology, which shows up in Einhorn. The piece may be read several ways. Historian Skye Alexander argues that the "strap on" horn "recalls the unicorn's link to chastity" and the many complex sexualized associations evoked by a woman's naked body in classical art. But the single horn can also be seen a phallic symbol co-opted boldly here by a woman to offer a new model for empowering the female body, which embraces its own sexuality and lays claim to its own sexual power. In either case, Einhorn explores how the body (and particularly the female body) can be both enhanced and restricted by art.
Material body extension; performance; photographic documentation - Tate, London
Shoot is the seminal piece for which Chris Burden sealed his membership in infamy. In 1971, the highly provocative artist asked a friend to shoot him with a .22 rifle from a distance of 15 feet in a public gallery setting. The bullet was originally supposed to nick the side of Burden's arm, but the shooter was slightly off target and the bullet went through the arm instead. This piece presented a literal demonstration of what happens when a person is shot so that the audience could experience it live. The viewer was forced to experience visceral emotions such as shock while mentally reconciling the moment in front of them. In describing the piece, Burden stated that "it was really disgusting, and there was a smoking hole in my arm."
Burden's work remarked upon society's desensitization to violence, and the dissociation between seeing something horrible happen live versus on television. Amelia Jones also suggests that Burden's work presented him as a sort of martyr for art. She goes on to argue that Burden's "deadpan submission of himself to the violence of others (who are ordered and/or scrupulously controlled by Burden), reiterated normative codes of masculine artistic genius-as-transcendent; and yet the reiteration is so insistent and so exaggerated, Burden might also be interpreted as unhinging these codes through parody."
.22 rifle and bullet - N/A
The Conditioning (1973)
Gina Pane was a French artist who was a key member of Art Corporel - the French body art movement she helped found in the early 1970s. One of her most famous works is The Conditioning, where she lay on a metal bed frame above lit candles for half an hour. This was an extremely painful experience for the artist, and the audience could see her physical suffering in the automatic pain responses of her body, such as flinching and wringing her hands. Critic Sam Johnson argues that, "while the candles and bed suggested ideas of sexual love and pleasure, the manner in which Pane positioned her body around these objects caused her harm and surreptitiously threw up questions around the fixed notions of pleasure and pain." Pane's work draws the viewer's attention to the way in which female sexual experience (especially in the female loss of virginity) is regularly associated with pain and suffering in common formulations.
This piece is a good example of how an artist's self-inflicted pain caused the audience to feel empathy and also a deep sense of discomfort through watching the bodily suffering of another human being. As per usual in the art viewing setting, unless otherwise told, the typical rules are not to touch the art. This caused tension for viewers as they were unsure whether they were permitted to step in, interrupt the scene, or make attempts to stop it. Pane's works were often of this nature, showing violence to the body in gestures that ranged from razor blade cutting to putting fires out with her bare hands, in order to lay bare human fragility.
Candles, metal bed
Imagen de Yagul (1973)
Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta was best known for over 200 pieces of "earth-body" artworks in which she utilized a collaboration between her body and the earth as a sculptural medium. She was on the forefront of the feminist art movement and explored themes of violence, loss, existence, and belonging. Imagen de Yagul was the first in Mendieta's renowned series of silhouette portraits in which she would trace the outline of her body in various locations between Mexico and Iowa and then photograph the imprints left in her absence. It consists of her nude body lying within an open Zapotec tomb in the ancient city of Yagul as flowers, leaves and other elements of nature envelop and obscure her - homage to the inevitable and organic cycles of life and death. It is the only of the series in which her body remains in the resulting photograph - the rest resembles burnt or scarred portraits in the land. Because Mendieta died a tragic death, falling from the window of an apartment building she shared with her artist husband Carl Andre, these works lend an eerie foretelling of her fate.
Lifetime color photograph
Rhythm 0 (1974)
In Rhythm 0, multiple aspects of Body art were combined to forge one of the most memorable performance pieces in history. Audience participation was central to the piece and sparked an interesting sociological glimpse into mob mentality. It covered the gamut from positive to negative human behaviour, touched upon ideas of pain, pleasure, shock and submission and positioned the body as equal parts canvas, medium, and object of manipulation - in both sexual and suffering lights.
With a description reading "I am the object," and, "During this period I take full responsibility," Abramović invited spectators to use any of 72 items provided in the gallery on her body in any way they desired, completely giving up control. She made her own body the subject of her artwork, but did not control the way in which the narrative unfolded. Instead, she passively offered up her body to her audience, exploring how they would respond to this act, which carried undertones of the archetypal self-sacrificing woman.
Rhythm 0 was exemplary of Abramović's belief that confronting physical pain and exhaustion was important in making a person completely present and aware of his or her self. This work also reflected her interest in performance art as a way to transform both the performer and the audience. She wanted spectators to become collaborators, rather than passive observers. The audience engaged in various ways: they wrote words on her skin; they took photographs; one man cut off her shirt and another nicked her neck with a knife and sucked out the blood. By the end of the performance, the audience had revealed itself as two types: those who sought to harm Abramović (holding the loaded gun to her head) and those who tried to protect her (wiping away her tears). Ultimately, after she stood motionless for six hours, the protective audience members insisted the performance be stopped, seeing that others were becoming increasingly violent.
72 materials of pleasure and pain including a gun, a bullet, a comb, a saw, olive oil, cake, wire and sulphur
S.O.S. Starification Object Series (1974-75)
This is one of Wilke's best-known works; it constitutes a series of photographs of the artist posing topless much like a glamorous pin-up girl (that Wilke herself had all the attributes to be) in which she parodies traditional representations of "femininity". The difference between these photographs and typical glamour shots is that Wilke has created tiny sculptures out of chewing gum and stuck them to her body. The gum is formed into vulvar shapes, a shape that she explored in other media throughout the 1960s. The title, "Starification" is a neologism that refers to a concept of creating a "star" or celebrity. The term also recalls "scarification," which could refer to the coming-of-age scarring rituals undertaken in some non-Western cultures or the numbered tattoos on Holocaust victims, while also suggesting a relation between women's bodies and wounds/vulnerability. By juxtaposing ideas of celebrity and scarring, Wilke points to the complexity of responses to images of women's bodies.
In this photography series, she presents her own body as both an object for viewing and as the agent of the objectification. Her goal, therefore, is to bring attention to depictions of women in popular culture, thus dismantling stereotypes about femininity and disrupting the pleasures of the male gaze. Art historian Joanna Frueh, for example, sees the Starification Object Series as evidence of Wilke "representing herself as a woman damaged by female embodiment in a culture that subordinates woman to man."
Photographs and chewing gum - Museum of Modern Art, New York
Interior Scroll (1975)
Carolee Schneemann undertook this famous performance (in front of an audience of mostly female artists) at an exhibition of paintings and performances entitled Women Here and Now. Schneemann undressed until she was wearing only an apron, proceeded to apply paint to her body, and read from her own book Cézanne, She was a Great Painter (1975). She then took off the apron and pulled a scroll of paper from her vagina while reading the contents aloud. The text was drawn from a film made by Schneemann in which she recorded a male filmmaker articulating the traditional pigeonholing of intuition, emotion and certain bodily functions as "female" and logic and rationality as "male."
Schneemann used this visceral bodily performance in order to exteriorize the mystique often appointed to the interior of a woman's body. She wished to close the wide gap of disconnect between a woman's experience of her own body and the representations of the female body throughout history. By placing her vagina front and center, and using it to birth a provocative message, she proved no longer interested in suppressing the authentic feminine, or asking permission to fully inhabit her female sexuality or reality. She was staking claim to these things on her own. She forced viewers to face their own denial of a fully embodied female reality.
As critic Amelia Jones puts it, "Schneemann extended her sexualized negotiation of the normative (masculine) subjectivity authorizing the modernist artist, performing herself in an erotically charged narrative of pleasure that challenges the fetishistic and scopophilic "male gaze"."