“Performative” is one of those art-world terms that, like “curated,” has been adopted by contemporary culture at large, diluting its original meaning in the process. But performance art (or simply “performance”) was once a radical genre that broke down the experiential barrier between art and life, and it remains a vibrant medium today. Now, as then, however, there is some confusion as to what, exactly constitutes performance art.
This confusion that may stem from the genre’s many contradictions. It eschews proscenium-based traditions while at the same time borrowing elements from theater, dance, and music. Its transient nature conflicts with visual art’s concrete manifestations in painting and sculpture, but its documentation in photos, video, and film counts as a substitute for the same. And in theory, almost anything, anywhere can be considered performance art, depending on artistic intent.
No wonder, then, that the story of performance art is as complicated as the category itself.