Last night I attended a panel discussion on “Intersections with Art and Performance” at CUNY’s Martin E. Segal Theatre Center. I don’t think CUNY realized what a hot topic they had on their hands, as fifty or so folks were turned away at the door due to space constraints. (In academia, fire codes are strict.) The panel discussion turned out to be more of a panel presentation, and I’ll admit that after two hours of introduction, I didn’t stay for the less formal chat afterwards. So, I may have missed the hair pulling that I think most of us in the packed-to-capacity room anticipated.
The portion I attended was less “grudge-match” and more “show-and-tell.” This format, though at first a little disappointing, made me realize something. When artists talk about their personal definitions of the various contested terms (“performance,” “performance art,” “action,” “object,” etc.) as those terms relate to an artist’s individual process of making work, it doesn’t bother me when the artist’s definitions differ greatly from my own. It’s only when the definitions are codified in general terms, by representatives of institutions, or by artists making sweeping statements which apply their personal processes to a “field” at large, that the definitions feel exclusionary and contentious.
Can we talk about our work and put it in context without ignoring the fact that our work and our perceptions of context are unique to each of us? I think we have to stop chasing validation (funding, presentation, exhibition, press, pats on the back, etc.) to find out.