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.)