Performance Art - Interview with Wayne Roosa
Interview with Wayne Roosa on performance art
In Issue 83 of Image Wayne Roosa writes about a surprising conversation with his art history students about the parallels between Old Testament prophets and contemporary performance artists—a conversation that led to a new way of looking at performance work. We asked him about this art genre, one that many viewers find hard to connect with.
Image: I want to engage with performance art but I often find it intimidating or weird. How do I start to make myself a more sympathetic viewer?
Wayne Roosa: Good question, and the first helpful thing is just what your question admits. Performance art can be weird, extreme, transgressive, or puzzling. It often is supposed to be, given its grounding in a protesting mentality. Two things are important for accessing this kind of work. One: understand what the medium is. Namely, instead of pictures on the wall that keep their distance, the media here are real time, real bodies, our shared space, and a kind of dramatic or symbolic action that operates in what the artist Robert Rauschenberg called “the gap between art and life.” Two: try to see all this as both a real and a symbolic event, one that works like a parable or a metaphor. Even though performance artists want to shake us awake via their real presence in our space, the work is still a symbolic action that embodies something about the human condition of being here in the world’s troubles and pleasures.