Recollecting Performance presents Southern Californian performance artists and the garments they wore between 1970 and 1983. Innovators of a movement that would forever change thinking about art and the body, sales these artists brought issues of race, hospital gender, hospital and politics to its borders. This experimental approach to exhibiting performance art invites viewers to imagine themselves within the garments and the performances represented. Framed by memory and in line with the oral tradition of sharing experiences of performance with friends and others, the artists create secondary performances by their reconstructions, installations, and audio recordings. The figural void contained by the garments, along with smells, shadows, and stains, engage the memory of the artist and the imagination of the viewer.
Using found materials like paper tarp and pantyhose that spoke of the immediacy of performances and an economy of resources, these artists redefined the relationship of artists to galleries, as they claimed legitimacy for art outside the institution. Artists performed under LA freeways, in punk clubs, on city streets and even on a NASA shuttle. Audiences learned to question the role of theater in performance art and the divide between artist and audience. These performances claimed artistic value for action and the humanity behind it, rather than for the commodified object.
Garments like the bridal dress and rhinestone platform shoes, when given context by the artists’ audio recordings, challenge our social and cultural expectations of these iconic images. They are visual notations by a generation that sought to confront the social norms of the time by suggesting alternative points of view to the status quo.
Artists emerging from the sixties confronted topics of worldwide concern such as nuclear armament and women’s struggle for equality. Responding to an increasingly global capitalist culture, civil rights struggles, and race riots, they found potential for an artistic revolution, working both individually and collaboratively in a lush atmosphere of art, activism, and play; performance artists from all over Southern California contributed to a dynamic society that was fluid and evolving. Artists’ actions were as varied as strapping themselves to the wall for eight hours, drawing their own blood as a defiant gesture against the growing U.S. reliance on oil, or putting on whiteface to portray Uncle Sam to marginalized communities.
These garments are sculptural notations of the actions left by these performance artists. They function as social and political lenses through which to understand a pioneering movement. Listen to the audio component of this exhibition as these artists describe in their own words and through archival materials the garments and props on display and the performance works they were made for. See how their performance personas evolved in response to the world around them.
Ellina Kevorkian 2011