Pushing Boundaries

I have mentioned in previous blogs that I am grappling with ideas of responsibility to the audience, how we position the audience as performer-creators, and what the limits might be of what we can demand from our audience. Last night's scene study class allowed another opportunity for me to give this consideration, as we were joined by Dominic Johnson, performance artist and lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London. [http://www.dominicjohnson.co.uk/Dominic_Johnson/Introduction.html]

It is very simple to see performance art, particularly that which contains self-mutilation of some kind as facile or sensationalist. I think this is selling it short, as there is something very engaging to be taken from these pieces, whether we feel we agree with them or not. Dominic's work is highly detailed, engaging very specifically with questions and challenges posed by theatre intellectuals, and in creating a language of images does not allow the viewer to sit back. His work engages specifically with questions of our comfort; why do we accept some things and not others, why is boxing okay, but piercing on stage crossing a line? In many ways, Dominic's talk with us raised more questions than it answered, however what I can say definitively is that is has pushed me into a further examination of where my limits are. I think (and this is rather tentative) that what causes me to step back is the potential for chaos, of unexpected danger. Contrary to social mores, I tend to accept performance art which is planned, rehearsed, safe in its execution and reject boxing for its chaotic and limitless nature. But then what of the things that lie in between? Physical theatre or dance, for example, are willing, consentual abuses of the body, which although practiced could go horribly wrong. Why is this still okay to me?

And in doing all of this, where does this position the audience? What is the difference between an audience who has purchased a ticket specifically to see a performance artist in a theatre space, and a clubber who sees a performance artist, perhaps unexpectedly? What considerations must the creator have, or is this difference, this subversion of expectation precisely the point?

It seems that I accept the aestheticization of pain. Time for more thinking.