Body and Performance Art: A Brief History

Body Art

Body art forces the physical and mental borders of the body to liberate the human being. The modernist mentality is an attitude that involves overcoming it against the way of sterilized life and imposed homogenization. The aim is to touch the trustworthy world where the spectator takes to protect himself, to remove it from the atmosphere of indifference. It provoked a sense. Beyond doing things that people would like, they were suggesting the void creating to reveal artistic value. They are using all sorts of materials they need, seeking ways to communicate with the public with potential audiences, and benefiting from advancing communication technologies in addition to Futurism and Dada.

Body Art artists have made the body the subject of artistic production, in the boundaries between life and death, consciousness and subconscious, art and anti-art. Because modernity holds that in the power of history, the authority holds the body, the body can use the body, and this authority is in the state’s hands. In this sense, artists see the body as political. It should be the thought behind it, not the violence that appears. So the state can arbitrarily torture or decide on behalf of others.

As a criticism, the artist must do what he wants to his own liberated body, but beating the fear of death and suffering and getting rid of the restrictions the body has made to man.

Border violations of body art artists are the hallmark of public and private space. It brings non-conformity to the public space, which is under the government’s control and violates the rules of living the sterilized life. The aim is to catch the truth and prove that they are not acting.

The common characteristics of performances follows such as rejecting the rules of society and resident rules, being against and contrary, not holding power, not belonging to the customs, disorienting traditional arts, being new and pioneering, being irregular, being anti-conventional. Everything is the truth itself.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon

Brief History of Performance Art

If we want to know where the performance art is coming from, we need to look at the art history. While eliminating the uniqueness of it, reproducing the artwork has abolished the limitation of art to the handicraft.

Now there is no room for concepts such as singularity, aura, etc. After escaping from the traditional art atmosphere, especially after Duchamp’s ready-made objects, he moved the art to a thoughtful floor. In this sense, since the 60s and 70s, Performance Art, Conceptual Art, Poor Art, Fluxus, etc., which oppose Formalism, have emerged to give importance to thought.

Along with these insights, the lines of separation between the arts have also begun to disappear. These new artistic approaches take advantage of different material and technical possibilities and exhibit an interdisciplinary approach and offer alternative tendencies that give an active role to the audience. Artists’ actions included in this framework and presented to the audience live in the 1970s, including other areas such as music, dance, poetry, theater, and video, are called “performance art.” ( Amen, Ahu, Movements in 20th Century Western Art, 2008)

The performance, which is interdisciplinary and intercultural art, carries the character of an open artifact that is unknown beforehand. The artistic approaches that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s were a response to formalism and presented alternative techniques and materials to them by questioning the assumptions and assumptions about the prior art. Thus, they have reformed the artist and the viewer’s role and expanded the definition of art and artwork.

One of these artistic approaches, Performance Art, has an interdisciplinary approach covering other art areas such as music, dance, poetry, theater, video, and contemporary art as live artist acts.

In the 1980s, the art of performance, which was a subject of interest, began to be mediated in the 1990s. Performance art has not developed in a single country or region as an approach, showing a similar development worldwide, especially with developing communication means. Turkey is one of those countries affected by the powerful means of performance art. Domestic and foreign artists’ performances from abroad immensely contributed to the introduction and understanding of this art. Later organized exhibitions, biennials, and similar organizations have carried these developments to a more advanced level.

Performance artists such as Joseph Beuys, Gina Pane, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Chris Burden, Nitsch, Marina Abramovich, Ulay, Yves Klein, Yoko Ono, and Allan Kaprow are among the most popular performers in the world.

Different Perspectives from Turkey

Related to this topic, we need to look at the history of Turkey in the performing arts. The first examples of performance art belong to Adnan Çoker in 1961-1966 in the Istanbul Fine Arts Academy and by the students working in various disciplines.

In those years, Çoker returned from Paris. To give an image to music audiences and inspire the students to display objects interspersed with space was expected (18 May 1961). Similar actions have taken place outside the Academy by some groups; various professions such as theater, music, law, and guide organized various performances in Beyoğlu and Kumkapı.

In his performance called ‘Broken Heart’ performed by Kadir Demir, he references the relations in the art environment by responding to artwork with money. In the ‘crucifix’ performance conducted by the painting department students at Mimar Sinan University in 1988, they used wood, crosses, fire hoses, fabrics, and various costumes. By doing that, they were representing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Moreover, since 2003, The Istanbul Performance Arts Center ‘Galata Perform’, founded by Yeşim Özsoy, has been established as a center and has also served as an open alternative show for employees in these fields. That program was focus on performance art, innovative theater, contemporary dance, and music.

Galata Perform also organized “Performance time of 07” in Istanbul. Performance time of 07 used to gather around performance art, theater, dance, music, contemporary art, and Turkish or foreign artists worldwide.

Further, since 2005 “Kargar’t Performance Days” are held regularly. In their first year, under the concept of boundaries of the body, the second stage was organized with different works from various disciplines such as theater, dance, performance, video, etc., of the 16 independent artists. They consisted of Stephanie Parent, Aydan Türker, Aytuğ Civan, Su Güneş Mıhladız, and Irmak Arkman, as well as workshops of dance artists.

New Platforms for Performance Art in Turkey

After the Galata Perform, The Istanbul-based international performance platform Performistanbul, established by Simge Burhanoğlu in 2016 to communicate with performance artists and institutions, focus on producing performance artists and creating a professional working environment for them.

Performistanbul aims to promote performance art, to reach more people by pushing boundaries and creative performance works. Also, to increase flexibility by developing collaborations with different art institutions worldwide, bringing together art institutions and institutional firms with performance artists to produce performances specific to the venue. They have developed projects with many local and international art institutions. Performistanbul has been a commune consisting of the artists, institutions, and people from different disciplines we have gathered over the past two years. These projects put into practice the community and was a milestone for developing both local and global performance art in Turkey.

Author: Neslisu Erdal


Amen, Ahu, Movements in 20th Century Western Art, 2008


David Le Breton, Skin and Trace,2008.

Images :

Marina & Ulay

Marina &Ulay

Yoko Ono

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