Is Time of the Essence?

If you subtract time from performance, are you left with visual art?  By simply removing the time contract between art and viewer, does one transform form, or is more required for the alchemy?  Also, must one address the shift in power which occurs when the viewer is handed control of the amount of time spent viewing?

I’ve been thinking about these questions after (finally) checking out the Marina Abromović retrospective at MoMA last week.  Hype and hullabaloo aside, (for now), I was surprised that despite the incredible skill and extreme focus of the brilliant performers embodying the works, those hardworking folks were actually reduced to objects of lesser power than the non-human objects in the exhibit.  Viewers crowded around video screens, barely glancing at the human art – and I don’t think it was because people were embarrassed by the confrontation of live nakedness, or that we’re all technophiles (though both may have been contributing factors.) 

I think people wanted to see the time context which was originally provided for these performance art pieces.  I certainly did.  I wanted information about the intended duration, since I knew that there had been such a thing at one point.  I also wanted more space to view each piece.  I kept thinking, “I wish this piece was in a room by itself and there were a limited number of people allowed in at a time to view it for a specific period.”  Then I realized that if the work had been presented that way, it would have been (gasp!) a performance.

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