Type of activity: Conference and action series
Date: 11 October - 4 November 1994
Place: Sabatini Building, first floor, Auditorium, Hall A and Hall B
By its very nature, the ‘action’ (its synonym, performance, is acquiring an increasingly more complex nuance) is contrary to any definition: it reinvents itself constantly, questioning the notion of genre in each of its concrete manifestations. However, in most cases, the artists (acting persons and not actors, since their disposition rejects any theatrical approach) commit to a real, direct act that is neither simulated, dramatised nor necessarily ritualised and that uses time and space as the principle media, submitting at times to the risk of spontaneity or some provoked chance, thus stimulating surprise in the audience and perhaps themselves. Moreover, the action usually breaks down the boundaries between the art disciplines and genres, moving from one sphere to the other without prejudice.
From a historical perspective, the action has its genesis in glorified futurist manifestos, in the nihilism of Dadaism’s Cabaret Voltaire and in the absurdity of surrealist acts. It evolved from John Cage’s classes at the mythical Black Mountain College in Nevada and from the spiritualism of the art interventions (akin to action painting and happenings) of the Japanese group Gutai, with their motto “copy nothing; invent everything”. During the 1960s, Sensationalism and the brutality of the scandals surrounding the harsh physical and ceremonial actions of the Viennese Actionists clashed against the taboos of the body like excrement, sex and blood. This was also the time of Yves Klein’s poetics, Piero Manzoni’s living sculptures and especially the spontaneous neo-Dadaism of the Fluxus movement, which gave action entity and coherence by bringing together a series of artists from around the world (including Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik and Joseph Beuys) who combined experiences from fields as diverse as painting, music, theatre and dance.
Finally, during the 1960s and 70s, Conceptual Art took action and turned it into an extremist execution of its ideas, until it was accepted as a medium with the triumph of ‘multimedia’ and became the primary example of an anti-art or counter-art that was expressly non-commercial and anaesthetic, an art away from art, the non-artworks on the margins of the prevailing canons, transcending the boundaries of aging art and disavowing the finished artistic piece.