The Sacrifice Made by Audiences: the complicit discomfort of viewing performance art
Angela Bartram and Mary O’ Neill
A standard ‘Ethical Approval’ forms issued by British Universities asks researchers to consider ‘a risk assessment of the project based on the vulnerability of participants, the extent to which it is likely to be harmful and whether there will be significant discomfort’ . This paper will examine the consequence of imposing a social science model of ethical approval on a practice that is in some cases defined by the vulnerability of participants, be that either the artist or the audience, and the possibility of harm to them if there is an opportunity for ‘significant discomfort’.
This jointly authored paper will explore the discomfort created by performance practice in terms of an ethical sacrifice; in sacrifice something is given up for a greater gain. The paper will discuss if comfort is sacrificed for the greater gain of the sensuous knowledge offered by performance works that may make the audience feel uncomfortable. In Life in Fragments: Essays in Postmodern Morality, Zygmunt Bauman described humans as fundamentally moral beings, which he distances from the notion of goodness. Rather than being connected to the debate about the ‘essential goodness’ of humans he suggests that to be moral is ‘to exercise one’s freedom of authorship and/or actorship as a choice between good and evil.’
Discomfort can be brought into the reception of performance practice that makes bodily fluids visual and tangible. Art practice that includes the release and transfer of bodily fluids produces anxieties, and raises questions of health and welfare, safety and conduct. This sees the individual experience what Bataille called ‘impotent horror’ as they negotiate the implied danger of the experience. This summary paper (a complete version is to be published elsewhere) will make specific reference to Bartram’s performance work, which uses saliva, its relationship to the audience and the impact of its displacement at its core.