Performance Art (New)

“The answer to why butoh appears to straddle the line between dance and performance art is because it is both and neither. Butoh is butoh.” – Thomas Caldwell¹

To Richard Schechner, performance art is a “a grab-bag category of works that do not fit neatly into theatre, dance, music, or visual art.”³ Yet because of its interdisciplinary nature, it can incorporate any such aesthetic form and has drawn from Futurism, Dadaism, Constructivism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, indigenous and non-European arts, cabaret, vaudeville, feminism, music hall, circus, athletic events, parades, puppetry, and public spectacles.5

The genre owes much to the late ’50s, early ’60s predecessors Fluxus and Allan Kaprow’s Happenings.10 Both Hijikata and Ohno had contacts with the Japanese artists of these movements (as well as Neo Dada).11

Performance art is inherently personal. The question is raised, “Who is this person doing these actions?”³ Butoh asks the same. When butoh master Tamano Hiroko was asked to define butoh, he simply replied with “Who… are… you?”6

In performance art, material is pulled directly from the body, psyche, or writings, which explains why audience is not a 100% requirement.4, 7 The same applies to butoh, but heavy focus is placed on the body/psyche.” Caldwell notes, “[B]utoh is primarily for the performer,”7 Hijikata rebelled against performance art because he felt the body was being used merely as a tool or a means to an end instead of an end in itself.2

The art philosopher Arthur Danto noted that performance art had a tendency to be disturbational, which means that the “insulating boundaries between art and life are breached in some way the mere representation of disturbing things cannot achieve.”Caldwell clarifies that one cannot just show a disturbing image or idea, but that a certain level of performer and/or audience risk is essential. To Caldwell, this performance objective is exactly what both Artaud and Hijikata desired.8

Other features of performance art include:

— Definition of what it is being contested.12 This is the same case with butoh.

— Experimenting with performance spaces such roofs, pools, beaches, galleries, streets, storefronts, and more.Same applies to butoh.

— Not meant to be reperformed.7 In butoh, reperformance is an option.

— Audience participation optional.10 Though it is nowhere near as common as with performance art, there have been audience participation works in butoh.

 


¹ Caldwell, Thomas Shane. Butoh: Granting Art Status to an Indefinable Form. Masters thesis. Victoria University of Wellington; 2017. Page 53.
² Ibid. 52.
³ Schechner, Richard. Performance Studies: An Introduction. 3rd Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print. Page 158.
4 Ibid. 162.
Sangster, Gary. Outside the frame: performance and the object: a survey history of performance art in the USA since 1950. 1994. Cleveland Center for the Contemporary Art. Page 31-32.
Sakamoto, Michael. “Michael Sakamoto and The Breaks: Revolt of the Head (MuNK remix)”. The Routledge Companion to Butoh Performance. London and New York: Routledge, 2018. Page 530.
7 Caldwell, Thomas Shane. Butoh: Granting Art Status to an Indefinable Form. Masters thesis. Victoria University of Wellington; 2017. Page 45.
8 Ibid. Page 47.
Danto, Arthur C. The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. Page 121.
10 What is Performance Art? Khan Academy. 2019. Web. https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/tate/participation-performance/performance/a/what-is-performance-art
11 Baird, Bruce, and Rosemary Candelario, eds. The Routledge Companion to Butoh Performance. London and New York: Routledge, 2018. Page 3.
12 Carlson, Marvin (1998 (first 1996)). Performance: A Critical Introduction. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 1, 2.
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