Blood, Guts and Implants: The Role of the Body in Performance Art

The human body in performance art serves as a living canvas and vehicle for profound artistic expression. Its porous and malleable nature make the body a dynamic object to manipulate, hence transcending the conventional boundaries of static artwork and breathing life and energy into the creative process. Historically the human body in art has been positioned as pure, sealed and contained – from God. But many artists have challenged this notion by deliberately engaging in the messy, unruly and unholy nature of the body.

This talk presents artists who push their bodies to extreme places in the name of art and experimentation. We will examine how Leigh Bowery’s use of excrement and blood on stage confronted his audience with ‘the stink’ of life. How Orlan’s ‘performance-operations’ challenge notions of ideal beauty and shed light on the violence of cosmetic surgery. Why artist Stelarc had an ear transplanted onto his arm, and how The Black Alien Project uses body modification to mutilate and mutate their body. Many of these artists engage in technology and advanced biomedical science to separate themselves from normative notions of ‘the human’. Meanwhile they harness the power of their bodies to communicate narratives, evoke emotions, challenge societal norms, and question the very essence of human existence.

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Lydia Kaye is a lecturer and doctoral researcher at internationally acclaimed art college Central Saint Martins. After receiving a First Class degree in Art History, Lydia went on to study a Master’s Degree in the History and Culture of Fashion at the London College of Fashion. Following a stint of working in contemporary art galleries in London, Lydia moved back into academia to embark on her PhD. The project examines how posthuman theory is being revealed through conceptual fashion designers and performance artists. Now a lecturer in Fashion and Cultural Studies, Lydia’s areas of expertise lie in gender, posthumanism and queer practice.

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