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Contract with the Skin: Masochism, Performance Art, and the 1970s

Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 144
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  • Book Info
    Contract with the Skin
    Book Description:

    Focusing on 1970s performance artists Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, Gina Pane, and collaborators Marina Abramovi`c[accent over c]/Ulay as well as those with similar sensibilities from the late 1980s onward (Bob Flanagan, David Wojnarowicz, Simon Leung, Catherine Opie, Ron Athey, Lutz Bacher, and Robby Garfinkel), O’Dell provides photographic documentation of performances and quotations from interviews with many of the artists. Throughout, O’Dell asks what we can do about the institutionalized forms of masochism for which these performances are metaphors.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8779-4
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. 1 HE GOT SHOT
    (pp. 1-16)

    WHAT is arguably the best-known example of performance art—Chris Burden’s 1971 performanceShoot—might easily be described as masochistic. After all, the performance consisted entirely of Burden’s allowing himself to be shot in the arm. As Burden stood before a small audience of friends at a cooperative gallery in Santa Ana, California, his accomplice, a trained sharpshooter, fired a rifle at him at point-blank range (fig. 1). Although Burden had instructed the shooter just to graze his skin, the wound was so severe that the artist had to be given emergency medical attention. But is such an action “masochistic”...

    (pp. 17-30)

    SITTING naked on the floor of a photographerfriend’s loft one day in 1970, Vito Acconci enacted a series of contorted poses in front of a camera. Repeatedly, he twisted his body and craned his neck as he bit deeply into his arms, legs, and shoulders. In addition to causing pain, the bites left impressions of his teeth. Acconci then covered these indentations with printers’ ink and used them to stamp various surfaces, thereby producing signs of the body’s attack on itself—the “trademarks” that gave this performance its title.

    Strictly speaking,Trademarkswas not a performance work; Acconci never carried...

  3. 3 MY MIRROR
    (pp. 31-44)

    IN A 1976 performance by Ulay/Abramović titledTalking about Similarity,Ulay sat down, stared at the audience, opened his mouth wide, closed it, then took a needle and thread and methodically sewed his lower and upper lips together. After he did this, Abramović took questions from the audience, responding as she imagined Ulay would if he could speak (figs. 7—12). The piece ended when Abramović sensed that her answers had become less similar to Ulay’s views than to her own.¹

    Talking about Similarityraises questions about the formation of individual identity in psychoanalytic terms—its impossibility during the oral...

    (pp. 45-58)

    GINA Pane lay on her back, fully clothed, on a bedlike iron structure. Beneath this bed were fifteen tall burning candles, the tips of their flames rising to within inches of her prone body (fig. 21). For thirty minutes, Pane’s only activity was slowly wringing her hands. “Needless to say, the pain started right away and was very difficult to dominate,” Pane later said.

    The public understood my suffering from the way I wrang my hands much more than from my face, so it was actually a very primitive mode of communication. But I feel I succeeded in making the...

    (pp. 59-74)

    PANE’SNourriture, actualités téléviséés, feu(1971) took place in the Paris home of M. and Mme Fregnac. To attend, audience members had to agree to the contractlike terms printed on their invitations: “A sum equivalent to 2% at least of your salary will have to be deposited in a safe at the entrance of the place where I will be performing.”¹ After depositing the prescribed sums in a small metal coffer located at the door of the apartment, the audience observed a three-part performance in which Pane shoved nearly a pound and a half of raw ground beef into her...

    (pp. 75-84)

    THE world in which masochistic performance thrived in the 1970s was particularly unbalanced. For more than a decade, the Vietnam War loomed over international affairs, creating political turmoil and psychic divisions in the United States and abroad. Recent scholarship has shown the extent to which this ongoing conflict influenced various artists’ work in the 1960s and 1970s.¹ What I have tried to suggest is how masochistic performance artists, in particular, were affected, how they were moved to create metaphors for a type of negotiation—contractualnegotiation—that might bring balance to the war-induced instability they were experiencing. It is not...