Bartram O'Neill


Angela Bartram Mary O'Neill


The Art of Fear: the Fear of Art

Angela Bartram and Mary O’Neill

Creativity by definition produces something new. In the 20th century this newness was characterised by an art practice that turned on cultural institutions and, rather than bolstering their entitlement to power, critiqued and in many cases abandoned them. This was an anti taste movement born out of the reactions to a society that had produced major conflicts. However, rather than being motivated by negativity, the intention was often to revive a decadent and meaningless art world. Overwhelmingly, this new enterprise alienated an audience comfortable with art forms that did not confront or disappoint their expectation. This produced a response that shifted from amusement or disinterest to hostility, and transformed the artist from the romantic to the ousted and reviled individual pushed to the margins of culture and society. Nowhere is this lack of understanding more obvious than in the reaction of audiences to live performance art. Often that of disavowal, of denying that the experience is more than merely watching, it is the result of a demand which deprives a purely aesthetic experience of art. One cannot just look, but is invited to partake. This is apparent in how performance events are scheduled. Beyond the accepted domain of exhibiting in established platforms and venues, performance is increasing the preserve of the marginalised and ‘other’. It exists on the fringe, popping up as events for the specifically interested audience who seek it out. Consequently, the artist who performs often appears a cultural waste of time.

This paper will discuss the work of performance artists who highlight communication and discrimination through the notion of the exotic body. This includes artists such as Guillermo Gomez-Pena and Coco Fusco, whose practice references anthropology and ethnography, and Hugo Ball, who attempts to find a language of communication that transcends national boundaries.