Tuesday, January 17, 2017

read & respond | Electric Body Manipulation as Performance Art: A Historical Perspective

Though not necessarily written about in this article, this topic definitely fights the line between scientific experimentation and artistic expression. While usually the science and art communities are believed to be very far apart, electricity's use in performance art is bringing these two circles together. In the beginning of this article, the process of scientists making electric discoveries is discussed. Once this groundwork is set, artists (who may have not even thought of themselves as artists in their time) come in and create modern spectacles.

In performances such as Stephen Gray's, science became entertainment, though mostly for the elite members of society. Blurring the lines and boxes we have created as a society, art, science, and entertainment are all intertwined. New scientific discoveries were exhibited in intriguing ways, in order to spread knowledge of complex ideas. While members of society in the 1700s were likely familiar with Art, science was probably a fuzzier area, and likely caused fear, especially with some of the dangerous effects of large amounts of electrical current. But, when scientists/artists displayed their discoveries in artistic ways, audience members were more likely to be intrigued.

But while there are interesting performances that came from the use of electrical current in humans, there is the darker side--electrical execution. Though definitely not art, during the course of discovering a new artistic medium, there was the discovery that electrical currents can kill humans. The fact that brilliant art performances have come from something so dangerous is amazing.

There is still the argument that electrical performance art, such as Arthur Elsenaar and Remko Scha's work, is not art. Because of the wall in our minds between science and art, it becomes difficult to classify what their work is. Even though they call it performance art, because it is artificially orchestrated, is it really art? It is not purposefully thought out to have a specific set of actions but is random. Is art required to a purpose? Just because their work does not exactly have a story line, it does have the purpose to explore facial expressions.

Also, there is the argument that it cannot be art simply because it uses technology. Technology is involved in all forms of traditional art, though. Oil paints have become perfected over time, the potter's wheel is electrical, and in modern times, digital artists use computer programs. All artistic mediums use technology, though maybe not technology as we typically think of it. Personally, I believe that their work is both art and science. Even though this goes against the desire for us to classify everything, sometimes we must accept that there are grey areas. Elsenaar and Scha simply go about their experiments in an artistic way.

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