Making a Statement
What motivates artists like Chris Burden, who filmed himself being shot, to do what they do?
By Galen Patterson, California State University, Fullerton
The term “art” encapsulates more than just painting, as it can also embody political views or social stigmas.
Art enables artists to make statements and create beauty. Most importantly, it pushes boundaries faster and further than any social reform or political rhetoric. In fact, you could say it’s the nature of weird art to push boundaries. Weird art enables you to break out of your comfort zone and sometimes, a response to an artwork is as simple as, “Why would someone do that?”
Every artist is unique and their motivations follow suit. Artwork can cause feelings of discomfort or deep thought, both of which motivate the viewer to react. Abraham Poincheval is a French artist specializing in endurance-based performance art.
Some of his noteworthy works include living in a hole in the ground, under a rock and beneath a book store for one week. He has also lived inside a taxidermic bear for thirteen days while surviving off a steady diet of beetles and worms, and, most recently, Poincheval spent an entire week living inside a massive boulder.
For Poincheval, these various acts signify a rebirth or a rite of passage to pass from the world of the dead to that of the living. While his reasons are his own, he appears to be seeking a spiritual experience by removing himself from the physical world in creative ways. Poincheval says his next work will involve him sitting on a dozen eggs in an attempt to hatch them, an act that could take up to a month to complete.
Sometimes, weird art helps call attention to society’s shortcomings. Monika Rostvold, an artist who specializes in performance art, is currently working toward a Master’s degree in Fine Arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York. In February 2016, Rostvold, wearing only her underwear, covered herself with Chick-Fil-A fries and ketchup in a public area. People were then invited to eat off of her body, and they did. Rostvold named the piece “All You Can Eat,” made evident by a sign on her body.
In another piece of performance art, this one in April 2015, Rostvold sat on the steps of her campus library practically naked, wearing only a red blindfold, headphones and pieces of tape covering her nipples. The police were eventually called and subsequently, Rostvold’s piece became a meme.
Rostvold’s art is not about being naked in public, but she wants to brings awareness to social issues. “All You Can Eat” was inspired by Texas dating culture.
“I was inspired by the societal expectations of men and women in that culture,” says Rostvold.
The implication of the piece asks viewers, “Is this what you want?” She sees the two concepts as complementary.
“Food and sex are very closely desired and related,” she says.
Occasionally, weird art can go further than you would ever imagine. Such is the case of Chris Burden, who, in 1971, was shot voluntarily in a piece called “Shoot.” Burden filmed himself standing in front of a white wall, while his assistant was instructed to shoot Burden with a small-caliber rifle. The piece was a statement about the war in Vietnam, which America was fighting at the time. In a 1975 interview, Burden admitted “In retrospect, the whole thing seems incredibly stupid.”
On a cold November afternoon in 2013, Russian artist and activist Petr Pavlensky walked onto Red Square in Moscow, Russia, and in an act that made the world wince, he stripped naked and nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones of the historic national monument. Pavlensky was eventually removed from the scene by police, but the performance happened on a Russian holiday known as “Police Day.” In a statement released by Pavlensky, he says the piece was “a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference and fatalism of modern Russian society.”
Not all weird art is shocking, though. Suzanne Proulx is an artist who, among other forms of art, sculpts rabbits out of dust and household debris. Currently an assistant professor of art at Edinboro University, Proulx creates the dust bunny sculptures with unique structural components.
“A big motivation for me is different materials and what kind of meaning those materials can have,” she says.
Proulx says her inspiration for dust-bunny sculptures originated from the rabbits in her yard, who ate everything she tried to plant.
“It was this idea that I couldn’t really control the nature inside my house or the nature outside,” she says.
Some of Proulx’s sculptures are deeply personal. The materials she finds in her life often find their way into the sculptures and culminate in a sort of biography of those who contributed. For example, she has weaved her daughter’s hair and her son’s Legos into separate sculptures. Proulx does not just sculpt dust bunnies. She has also recently been making portraits of loved ones using hair, dust and adhesive paper.
Proulx attributes much of her inspiration to a single question: “A lot of the time, ideas start with a ‘What if?'” she says.
Rostvold, on the other hand, thinks more about the emotions of viewers.
“I want to do something that makes people happy, makes people think and makes people feel something,” she says.
Weird art screams for attention and makes you think. When someone asks, “Why would someone do that,” they are reacting, thinking and following the path the artist may have intended for them to follow. They may even arrive at the conclusion that inspired the artist in the first place, but each artwork is different, and the nature of art is to get what you want out of the piece. Without shock value, weird art cannot impact audiences the way it does.