Live Streaming is the Future of Performance Art

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The ways in which we consume entertainment, social media, and even food (you have to Instagram it first) are changing. It only makes sense for art to follow, and it has been—modern art has evolved in waves over the past decade with the advent of the internet, and performance art is no exception. In an interview with Huck Magazine, Nick Tee, who is the creator of online performance art piece #cam4art, said that while performance art largely involves performing to a camera, it hasn’t generally involved live streaming—until now.

#cam4art is a passion project of Tee’s which allows artists to broadcast their art via live stream from anywhere, whether it be their studio or their bedroom. Using nothing but a webcam and an internet connection, artists have the opportunity to share their projects with a global audience who can also access it from anywhere. Tee is one of many artists who have realized the potential of live streams, and the previously unprecedented reach they can provide to artists and art consumers alike.

For anyone who is a fan of modern art, Marina Abramović is somewhat of a household name. In 2010, Abramović was the artist behind “The Artist is Present”, a performance piece spanning eleven weeks at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibit consisted of her sitting in a padded wooden chair at a small table for up to eight hours at a time, with another chair directly across from her. One at a time, visitors took turns sitting the chair opposite Abramović as they sat in complete silence. Some cried, some laughed, it was the best of times, it was the most uncomfortable of times.

A live video feed captured every second of the piece, and this was the main source of viewing for many who wanted to experience the exhibit, as lines were considerably long—people waited for hours to sit in a chair across from her—and many could not head to New York to physically visit the museum. (Suckers! We live here). Abramović sat in her wooden chair for a total of 750 hours.  While the footage itself is no longer available, photographs can be previewed on the MoMA site. “The Artist is Present” was (and still is) talked about for years after and launched Abramović into superstardom earning her the title of the ‘grandmother of performance art’ and inspiring an HBO documentary chronicling the exhibit.

In 1974, Abramović constructed a similar but far braver exhibit. In this piece, she sat at a table, but this one was strewn with 72 different objects. This included regular objects like roses, and some were very much not regular, like a pistol pre-loaded with bullets. She invited the audience to use the objects on her. Abramović stated then that she was ready to die. At the end of the exhibit, she left in tears, bloody from rose thorns being used to prick her, her clothes cut up by scissors.

This courageous piece of performance art spoke volumes about human nature and what people are willing to do when there are technically no consequences. How might this have differed if the exhibit was broadcast live? Would the watchful eye of a global audience incite a fundamental change in the dynamic between artist and participant?

Oh, and then there’s Shia LaBeouf. What can we say about Shia LaBeouf? On a personal level, as someone who grew up watching Even Stevens, I have always been fond of him. In more recent times, he’s better known as the buff guy in the Sia music video or the guy behind the “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE” mask. At one point, he wore a monitor while attending the SXSW Music Festival and live streamed his heartbeat.

In November 2015, the then 29-year-old actor launched the art installation called #AllMyMovies, in which LaBeouf watched all of his movies back-to-back over a period of three days at the Angelika Film Center in New York, broadcasting himself live via webcam. This was met with a ton of online enthusiasm. Aside from the thousands of people who spent hours waiting in line to share a theater with the, tens of thousands more were watching LaBeouf’s reactions to his own work via live stream, which was the focal point of the project.

Because the stream was online and readily available to anyone who’d be interested in watching someone watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which is torture in and of itself, the project gained tons of momentum via Twitter using the hashtag #ALLMYMOVIES. Users on social media were quick to make gifs and jokes. They were also present for the less gif-able moments on the 24-hour livestream, like when the actor couldn’t stay awake said Indiana Jones remake, or when he took a nap on the floor.

Anyone who has gone to see a movie in a theater with a loved one (or at least anyone who has seen the movie Amelie) has experienced the joy of watching other peoples’ faces contort, laugh, cry, or laugh from crying in a shared experience in the dark. The intimate close-up of LaBeouf’s reactions to his own work put us in touch with our own livelihoods: after all, how would we feel watching ourselves working in our offices, accomplishing goals, or failing spectacularly? Some moments might be cringeworthy, others may be funny, few may turn out glorious.

Last but not least memorable, there was HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US. On January 20th, 2017, the same day as the inauguration of the current President*, LaBeouf debuted his installation at the Museum of the Modern Image in Queens, New York. It was a relatively simple concept, a white wall with a webcam attached to it bearing the phrase “HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US” in bold black text. The live stream was set up to run 24 hours a day, with LaBeouf encouraging the public to visit the exhibit and chant “he will not divide us” into the camera for a watchful global audience.

This was no abstract concept. It was a direct criticism of Donald Trump and his cronies through an art installation based entirely on live streaming. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, it was taken down by the museum no more than a month later following violent incidents at the site, including one instance with a neo-nazi and LaBeouf himself.

Perhaps demonstrating that there may already be a gaping ideological divide was the intended outcome.

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