[Best of 2015] The Year in Performance Art

Highlights include: a middle-aged artist who slept on a bed of nails for 24 hours and another who lived in a gallery wall for 3 weeks. Who said performance art ain't tough?

24-hour World Wide Rolling Nap, Billy Curmano as American Idle, Performance, 2014. Photo: Margarita Baumann (cropped)

Menstrual blood, parrots reciting poetry, and an imprisoned man in the middle of Manhattan are just a glimpse of the performance art that made waves in 2015. Perhaps the most intrinsically attention grabbing art medium of them all, this year’s performances truly ran the spectrum, re-establishing the limits and expectations of the medium.

This was the year in performance art:

Silent during the performance, Szporer held a piece of paper that read: “Hello my name is Lech Szporer. This is an art performance. Nothing against you but the system needs to change. I'm not talking without my attorney.” Photo: Hannes Charen

+ In an effort to bring attention to the ever-growing problem of mass incarceration in America, artist Lech Szporer locked himself up in a jail cell in the middle of a Manhattan street for The Cage Project. Within minutes of the performance, cops came and forcibly removed him from the cell, ultimately showing much more humanity to the artist than to this country’s incarcerated millions.

Billy X Curmano (top), a performance artist from Minnesota, had the audacity to take a 24-hour nap on a bed of nails. Meant as commentary on the how hard it is to rest in our hyper-connected age, 24 Hour Worldwide Rolling Nap becomes all the more impressive when you realize that the artist enduring the physical pain isn’t in his youth; Curmano’s in his mid 60s.  

+ Everything Burns was a piece by Central Saint Martins art student Brooke Purvis. The title says it best; Purvis received grant money from the university and plans to do with it what any other student would, burn it all to the ground. An obvious commentary on the financially burdened state of higher education, Purvis' project states is scheduled to commence in 2016. Maybe this is all an elaborate ruse to get some money and keep it, but either way the artist is bringing attention to an ever-growing issue.

+ Five parrots and human artist duo Liesbeth Bik and Jos Van Der Pol came together earlier this year in a performance titled Speechless. For the performance, happening since August and continuing until February, the parrots have been taught to blurt out phrases from "The Waste Land," a poem by T.S. Eliot regarded as “one of the most important poems of the 20th century.”  Head over to the Pérez Art Museum in Miami if animal-poetry-performance art is your medium of choice.

Image courtesy of the artist

+ This year’s aviary performance art extended beyond parrots with Brazilian artist Laura Lima’s Gala Chickens and Ball, which saw costume-adorned chickens intermingle with one another in a gallery space for a few days. The performance culminated in an inter-species gala, cementing itself as one of the more peculiar events of Performa 15

+ The West Loop gallery of the Chicago Art Coalition became home not just to art, but to an artist as well. Cuban artist Alejandro Figueredo Díaz-Perera lived and slept inside a small crawlspace for 3 weeks. His collaborator and partner Cara Megan Lewis assisted and fed Perera during his art-meets-life performance, titled In Absence of a Body.

+ Performance provocateur Jaimie Warren sang a bizarre duet as part her show Somebody to Love at American Medium. Dressed in a Freddie Mercury outfit alongside a GG Allin lookalike, Warren and her performance partner sang “On My Own” by Michael McDonald and Patti Labelle, an act that sought to “bring the installation to life” according to the artist.


Labeouf, Rönkkö, and Turner were up to quite a few performances this year. The most buzzworthy was #allmymovies, which saw Shia publicly screen and watch all his movies in a rented out movie theater, 24 hours a day, for 3 consecutive days. More recently, the trio conducted #touchmysoul, an open invitation for the public to call Shia and try to touch his soul in a personal conversation. A tad bit self-indulgent, but what performance isn’t, I guess.

+ Earlier this year, British artist Poppy Jackson held an open call for menstrual fluid donations in the name of art. Part of Constellation, a performance piece at Fuse Art Space, Jackson used the donated fluids to make a “painted constellation” within the space, live streaming the performance to “explore menstruation as a collective and unifying experience”.

GIF courtesy of Electric Objects

+ Finally, for Friend Crawl, artist and hacker Lauren McCarthy essentially creeped on other Facebook users for hours on end. More than just an emulation of common behavior, the live-streamed performance honed in on the profiles of over 1,000 donators to the Electric Objects $5 Commision Campaign. The result is a meditation on virtual socialization and an exploration of the far too common feeling of online stalking.


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