As I start thinking about Art in the Twentieth Century, the increasing value of the body experience between the spectator and artistic objects, it became very obvious for me that contemporary art has extreme links to the human body as medium. To write about that subject I asked the only person who crossed my mind – Mafalda Marcos an Art Historian based in Lisbon.
Margarida Brôco Amorim.
Janine Antoni emerges in the 1990s as an artist that is able to bring performance art into dialogue with the materialized object of art (as a palpable matter) by using her own body as a medium for this artistic search — the body as both process and subject/object. The body as an experience and main highlight in the creative act, the body as a living matter related to the space, time and viewer, the body that displays the artist’s thought, the body as the heart of a phenomenological issue.
Let’s take her first major work, Wean (1989-90), as an example. This piece consists in collecting plaster impressions of the artist’s breasts and nipples, which are then placed alongside with latex nipples and their packaging. Here is the notion of absent body, the character autobiographical and the foundation of a specific identity. Meanwhile, in Loving Care (1992) the body is presented to us as a living brush (can you notice the reminiscent reference of the domain and gesture introduced decades ago by Yves Klein?): the artist uses her own hair dipped in hair dye to aggressively paint the surface — which is the floor of the gallery — with her hands and knees flat on the same ground. In the same process, she pushes the viewers out of the exhibition space forcing them to leave the institutional field and even forcing the public to “attend” the performative action from the outside. Could this act, sustained in the exploration of the body as art subject and object, be the breaking of the boundary between art and life?
In fact, the viewer not only participates in the artwork in order to assign legitimacy (assuming the “duchampian” principle that the artistic production only reaches value as a work of art after being perceived, interpreted and experienced by the spectator, as the present case) as he is a fundamental constituent for the very configuration of the whole action thus sharing the role of author/ creator with the artist — at the limit. Still, according to Umberto Eco, the viewer is allowed to interpret according to his sensitivity as it can intervene in the artwork even by changing its composition (because, as you know, there is always a gap between what the artist wants to achieve and the result — the art coefficient).
Janine Antoni works in a different way when compared with other artists that initiate their process with an elaborated and concrete idea. Antoni, on the contrary, starts by searching a concept related to something she wants to live — I mean, an experience she aims to offer herself. Then the significance of her performance and all of its conceptualization are revealed to the author during the experiential process which indicates the short distance between the artwork and life itself — carved in the artist’s body.
You understand that the presence of our bodies in the environment differs from any other element, am I right? The body adapts to space like a hand would adapt to any instrument that supports and is able to move like no other object. Consequently, for the contemporary artist at large, flesh and skin are way more multi-layered than simple tools: they are the expression and the visible form of their intensions.