Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pastor Terry Jones: Outsider Performance Artist?

“What I learned was that...
if you leave it up to the audience,
they can kill you.”

Marina Abramović

British art historian Roger Cardinal coined the phrase "outsider art" in 1972, as an English language equivalent of the French term art brut, first used by Jean Dubuffet in 1945, who was especially influenced by collections of artwork from patients being treated in mental hospitals.

For more on the history of the terms art brut and outsider art, see these two links:
Art Brut Story (at the Art Brut Education Kit website)
Outsider Art (at the Tate Museum website)

Although there were earlier antecedents, "performance art" came into its own starting with artists like Yoko Ono and Allan Kaprow in the 1960s. To my mind, performance art is ill-served by any and all attempts at definition. But it lends itself to description: a group of people, their naked bodies painted with polka dots, gather on the Brooklyn Bridge, and burn the American flag. That particular piece of performance art was performed in 1968 by Yayoi Kusama and friends, and it was called "Naked Happening Orgy and Flag Burning." (Back in the day, works of performance art were called "happenings".)

For more on performance art, check out Yayoi Kusama's website, or the article James Franco recently wrote for the Wall Street Journal on performance art.

Now, when I think of outsider art, I think of things like the strangely beautiful work of Henry Darger. And when I think of performance art, I think of the masked hoop dancer and art student, Mona Qaddoumi aka ShpongledHoops, or John Cage seated, unmoving, on a piano bench for four minutes and thirty three seconds.

But what if you were to combine outsider art with performance art? What might that look like? Well, this would be a good time to recall that much of the original inspiration for the idea of outsider art came from mental hospital patients.

Enter Pastor Terry Jones. This crazy son of a bitch didn't just burn the Koran: first he put it on trial. He even managed to find a Sufi Imam from Texas, Mohamed Elhassan, who was willing to act as the "defense attorney" during the trial, although Elhassan later claimed that he had no idea that Jones planned to finally carry through on his earlier threats to burn the Koran.

But of course that is exactly what Terry Jones did.

But was it art?

Marina Abramović described her 1974 performance, Rhythm 0 like this: "I was standing there in the middle of the space, with this table with objects. I put the objects on the table very carefully chosen, because the objects were for pleasure, and there was also the objects for pain ... and objects that can bring you to death .... In the beginning the public was really very much playing with me. Later on they became more and more aggressive. It was six hours of real horror. They would cut my clothes, they would cut me with a knife close to my neck and drink my blood, and then put a plaster over the wound. They would carry me around half naked, put me on the table, and stuck the knife between my legs into the wood. And even somebody put a bullet in the pistol [a gun and one bullet were among the objects she had put out on the table] ...." (source)

Abramović also later said of Rhythm 0: “I felt really violated: they cut up my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the audience. Everyone ran away, to escape an actual confrontation .... What I learned was that... if you leave it up to the audience, they can kill you." (A Daneri, et al., Marina Abramović, Charta, 2002.)


Anonymous said...

This is so excellent that I can hardly being to articulate what you have provoked. Art meeting reality and how do we interpret that?
I could personally relate to Marina Abramovic's piece which basically says women are passive to the violence done them and then when we move, the oppressors scatter like the cowards they are. Wow.
How that relates to that crazy pastor is really about ideology in my opinion. If that old pastor could get away with killing Muslims, he would. He knew the triggers and deliberately provoked them. Yes, very very sick. It would be interesting to see what kind of painting that sick jerk would make, if that were all he was allowed to do in the asylum of his own making. This really has me thinking a new way. Interesting. Thanks.

Ben Whitmore said...

This post is excellent, very provocative. Art becoming more about the audience than the artist, and revealing how vile and animalistic people can be.

To me, a question emerges from this: "art" is often seen as having a special intrinsic value and validity, so that if it's "art", then of course it must be defended.

As someone with a degree in Fine Arts, I'm not convinced that we should always defend art in this way. Take the locally notorious case of a student at Elam Art School in Auckland, a few years before I was studying (at a different art school). This guy's final-year art project involved using secretly-filmed footage of him and his partner having sex, mixed in with images of young children, I believe. I haven't seen it, but apparently it was quite disturbing, especially to his partner, when she discovered at the end-of-year marking presentation what he had made out of their romance. But he was awarded excellent marks for it, and was somewhat the envy of the other students for a day or two -- until his partner killed herself. That artwork resulted in death, great trauma and a shockwave that affected the entire school.

At some point, art ceases being cute.

KatyDid said...

Cool blog.

“What is Art?” is an old question, and I don’t think it can be answered definitively, but it certainly has something to do with the intention of the “performer” and the subjective experience of the audience.

I’m not sure Terry Jones’ stunt qualifies as performance art, but it ought to be treated as such, especially if the alternative is killing UN workers in Afghanistan.

People debated Mapplethorpe and “Piss Christ,” but nobody died. Although now that I think about it, Bowie’s “Outside” was a concept album about a performance artist/serial killer.