in Process, Research

4D II | Controversial artist of the late 20th and 21st Century

Controversial art video, installations and performances.

My post today centers around three contemporary artists that have created controversial works and stirred a storm amongst critics, viewers and the internet. These modern artist that I will be talking about are known for their contentious works on current issues be it politics or feminism etc. A common occurrence amongst these artist is that they may have been targeted by the police in one way or another. Let’s wait no more and let me introduce these artist.

1.Petr Pavlensky

An overtly political artist, Pavlensky has pulled of several stunt performaces in response to certain political actions in Russia. He is known to have sewn his lips shut to protest against the Pussy Riot’s incarceration. Recently, he nailed his testicles to the Red Square in 2013. Critics have said that “Palvensky is more than an artist – he’s a hero who’s more than happy to nail his colours to the mast.” However, he had to face charges of hooliganism, which was later canceled.

Pavlensky was educated at the Industrial Academy and Institute of PROARTE. He has many works in the collection of State Museum of Political History of Russia. In an interview with Dazed, he said “In projects, I try to reveal the hidden contradictions surrounding my system and submit their true form, pushing each other, thereby providing a disarming effect.” He is currently a practicing contemporary artist and uses his body to show the tight situation of Russia’s ban on publicity, tightening of censorship and suppression of public statements. Rather, he has a practicing history of self-harming art.

In the first image, you would be able to see Pavlensky sitting at the Red Square where his testicles have already been nailed to the floor. In preparing for this performance, he rehearsed the speed of removing his clothes. He decided to nail his scrotum before he was completely naked. This allowed him to lower the chances of being noticed. He took of his pants and quickly nailed his scrotum to a gap in between the cobblestones. It was calculated that 33s went by unnoticed since he still had his clothes on. Afterwards, he removed everything and threw his bag as far as he could. At that point, the action started as if he suddenly materialised in the middle of the square.

The leading Russian theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov wrote on his Facebook page that the performance was a “powerful gesture of absolute despair”. Another response to his work was from a law enforcer who tendered his resignation to train as a lawyer in order to defend Pavlensky’s work.

Pavlensky’s work impacted and spoke for many who were caught in the tight political system of Russia. Though many critics may define his works otherwise, his work brought may bring a revolution that responds to the situation in Russia.

2. Clayton Pettet

This is an art piece which I particularly like. Performed only once by Pettet, he says “Performance art is only meant to be performed once.” Pettet, a student in prestigious Central Saint Martin’s in London, prepared this piece named “Art school Stole my virginity.”

It was said that he would be having sex with his partner and will be holding a Q/A session after. He said to have prepared this piece for a long time prior to the performance and had pushed back the date of the performance due to galleries not believing that he’ll carry out what he said he would do.

However, during the performance, there was a turn of events. Instead, he and several other performers were labeled in different ways. Words like “Anal Virgin”, “NSFW” and “teen whore” marked them. Pettet went on to scrub the words written on his body while the other performers stood by him. Soon after a few other events that happened, the troop went to the basement of the gallery and in about an hour and a half, the audience was led to a small room in the basement.

The highlight was a booth where Pettet sat in. He was surrounded by piles of bananas in front of him. He asked each person to penetrate the banana in his mouth, after which, he took the banana out and snapped into half and then asked the individual in the booth to leave.

Many people were disappointed as can be seen by the responses in the tweets above. In an interview with Pettet, he said “i’ve always said in interviews there’s this partner I’ve never identified. I think if people were expecting something else, it shows what they really wanted. They didn’t want an art piece, they wanted to see me have sex. If they came for the art, they wouldn’t be as disappointed – they’d know there were things to read between the lines for.”

In an analysis of his act, Pettet said that “The nerves and feeling forced to penetrate my mouth with a banana foreshadows what society made me feel about my own virginity. It was interesting doing this to the audience to see how they’d react. It was incredibly intimate and mentally exhausting.” These vast response of the audience and what the audience thought they were in for is surprising. It makes us think what actually is a performance art, or how society defines art to be.

This is an example of a modern artist who represents the young society and questions the common notions and ideas that have been around for far too long. His ideas and thoughts about sexuality have raised interest and I was particularly interested in how the audience had responded to his work. I personally felt that it was a good point to make and it brought forth the definitions society placed on sexuality.

3. Tracey Emin

A British contemporary artist who studied fashion initially in Medway college of Design is now known for her confessional art. Her work “reveals intimate details from her life to engage the viewer with her expressions of universal emotions. Her ability to integrate her work and personal life enabled Emin to establish an intimacy with the viewer.” Several artist that influenced her work were painters Edvard Munch and Egon Schiele whose work centered around sexuality and naturalism, and in 1989, she had her Masters in painting at the Royal College of Art.

Her well know pieces are known to be Everyone I have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 and My Bed 1999. 

My Bed, 1999 is now displayed at Tate Gallery. This piece was inspired by a sexual yet depressive phase in the artist’s life when she remained in bed for several days without eating or drinking anything but alcohol. She then looked at the vile and repulsive mess that she had accumulated and realised what she had created. To some critics, they treated it as a farce and claimed that anyone could exhibit an unmade bed. However, she retorted with “Well, they didn’t, did they? No one had ever done that before.”

A critic, Liz Hoggard, wrote “A lot of male artists have brought their studio into the gallery. But she brings in the contents of her bedroom.” This bed represented her mental state and her reaction to the everyday thing she had to face and it had a powerful effect for women where it broke many taboos about the body, sexuality and shame. She placed very intimate details and elements of life in the center stage of the art gallery.

Her art works and installations were inspired by her own life experiences and the effects it had on her for whatever she was going through at that point of time. I think it also shows that there is weight to how a female reacts to situations whether it is a positive response or a dark one. One shouldn’t be afraid to show her emotional response to the situations that loom over.

Hope you enjoyed reading about these artists!