Body Parts 3 (3 stars)

RSA, Edinburgh, run ended


The essence of performance art is its unpredictability. From the medium’s rise in the 1960s and 70s with early shock tactics, such as artist Chris Burden’s infamous ‘Shoot’ where the artist was shot in the arm at close range, to work like Yoko Ono’s ‘Cut Piece’ where the audience snipped off bits of her clothes, the form relies on a certain alchemy of control and impulsiveness of its audience as much as the performer.

The Body Parts festival, now entering its third year, has already proved its ability to occasionally harness such a combination and, with a bigger audience than ever before, its latest programme hopes to reflect past success. But dogged by lateness, repeated technical errors, and ill health, the festival’s third edition is clearly not above the unpredictable disasters of live art that undermine the strength of its performances.

Certainly, Michelle Horacek’s piece ‘Still/Desire’ embodies boldness, where the stripped and powdered artist performs a series of simple gestures that are profane and hypnotic. Alberta Whittle’s ‘Subversive Anthropology’ counters such mysticism with a sinister line-up of uniformed soldiers marching under the anti-exotic slogan of ‘pure mongrel’.

Shame, then, that Body Parts lacks any discussion or context of what contemporary performance art is, or what the festival is trying to do. While bringing together a wide number of performance practitioners, it seems a waste not to enter into a public debate, and a pity to undercut a medium that relies on the dialogue between artist and audience for progress.

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