Evidence over performance: is the body really on edge if it’s only there to be documented?

Bodies of Difference Essay – Link to essay PDF.

Evidence over performance: is the body really on edge if it’s only there to be documented?

The question of whether Carolee Schneemann really had to pull a scroll from her vagina in her piece “Interior Scroll 1975” is one that I will investigate throughout the duration of this text, asking whether the body on edge without evidence is really on edge, or the body is just there for evidence purposes. I will also be thinking about questions such as does body art exist only in the moment? And does documentation count as performance? Throughout the text I will be exploring a number of concepts through the comparison of two artists and their work, looking at the truthfulness of a photograph, when performance has its biggest impact and if once a performance has been fabricated into reality, is this when it becomes a ‘real’ piece of work – once it is finally physical. Moving through the chapters I hope to compare Carolee Schneemann and Hayley Newman’s work, eventually concluding on points that address whether the public is still affected by the documentation of a piece that may not have taken place as oppose to work that has. How can the difference be told between the two? And would reactions change if they knew one ‘performance’ piece did not take place but was followed by fake documentation.

Carolee Schneemann, a trained painter turned performance artist “introduced the body of the female artist as the source of her creative and imaginative energy as well as the site and subject of the work.”[1] Schneemann’s piece “Interior Scroll 1975” involved a performance where she read aloud from the book Cezanne, She was a Great Painter and continued to paint her body. These actions were then followed by the production of a small scroll from her vagina, in which she read aloud. The writing on this script was thought to be a response to a male artist/critic who had previously labelled her pieces as ‘messy woman’s work’. While creating her piece “Interior Scroll” Schneemann set out to think about the ‘vulvic space’ writing:


I thought of the vagina in many ways – physically, conceptually: as a sculptural form, an architectural referent, the source of sacred knowledge, ecstasy, birth passage, transformation. I saw the vagina as a translucent chamber of which the serpent was an outward model: enlivened by its passage from the visible to the invisible, a spiralled coil ringed with the shape of desire and generative mysteries, attributes of both female and male sexual powers. This source of ‘interior knowledge’ would be symbolized as the primary index unifying spirit and flesh … the source of conceptualising, of interacting with materials, of imagining the world and composing its images.”[2]


Carolee Schneemann used different areas of her body, areas that most would not use for art, thus putting her own body on edge. This particular piece was documented via black and white photography. Schneemann performed her piece in a place that she knew there would be people to document her work, leaving the question; did she only push her work and herself so far because she knew that evidence would be produced after the event? The documentation aspect of this particular piece decreases the ‘shock factor’ from the point of the live performance –the people there would have been the only ones to really feel the impact of the live work. However without photographic evidence the wider public would not have been impacted or shocked in such a way, although it is difficult to not think about how the work would have been received if it were filmed or even re-performed occasionally –giving more viewers access to the raw emotion of the live event. Was this piece supposed to be seen as performance only? As the following documentation has left the public with only glimpses of the real thing, without these small insights of physically fabricated photographs would her work have been classed as ‘real’?



Connotations’ is the title of a series of photographic images made by Hayley Newman from 1994 through to 1998; it is within these images that Newman “addresses ideas of authenticity and forgery.”[3]Connotations’ is a collection of images put together by Newman alongside a body of text claiming that each had been a performative piece of work where she parodies performance documentation. In creating the supporting documentation to a number of ‘fake’ performances her work questions the ambiguity of using photographs to capture an entire live performance. However Newman did not mislead the audience at her final showing of ‘Connotations’ as alongside the ‘performance documentation’ she had placed a plaque confessing that all the surrounding work was untrue to its captions. It was the critics in the show that took no notice of this addition and continued to review each fake image as though it were a previous performance piece. Does this aspect of her work create an urge among performance artists to re preform their work? Essentially proving they’re not ‘fakes’. Questioning the shock factor of the documentation of Newman’s work is difficult, as the lines have been blurred from the start. Perhaps the images and captions did pull reactions from the audience initially like the works of Carolee Schneemann, but once the plaque was placed in the show and members of the public knew that these were fakes the shock factor would have dropped. But if this plaque had never been revealed would the work of Newman have been questioned at all? As after all the photographic evidence was enough to blind the critics even with the answer in front of their eyes. Newman’s honestly about her artificial performance works, raises awareness and sparks questions within the art world. Could this be currently happening with other performance artists? Or better yet could this already have happened with previously famous performance artists? The real documentation photographed, exhibited and critiqued all without a performance actually taking place. Just because this series of work is fabricated in to reality via photographic documentation doesn’t make it real. Not a single body was placed on edge or in danger although we are led to believe so, allowing us to question the truthfulness of a photograph and whether evidence over performance is really what matters most. Newman’s work has been critiqued, stating that:


Whether or not a specific performance really happened (or whether it even needed to in order eventually to ‘exist’) is not an easy question to answer. Newman, at the very least, asks it in an intelligent, playful and entertaining way.”[4]


When comparing Newman’s Connotations and Schneemann’s Interior Scroll surprisingly there are a lot of similarities. Both pieces include physical photographic documentation of the work and a detailed description alongside of the happenings, each piece was seen to have the shock factor, and if the public saw the documentation today the shock factor would remain in tact. Each work was reviewed and critically rated as a performance piece and on paper they appear very similar. The differences only start to appear once you understand that Newman did not have to put her body on edge or in danger, contrary to her physical work however Schneemann did. Could Schneemann have created work that appeared like her body was on the edge, keeping the shock factor intact without the risk of harming herself? One of the questions I am exploring throughout this essay is did Carolee Schneemann only put her body on edge because she knew that it would be documented? If nobody was around with a camera at the time of the performance would her piece Interior Scroll have been so dramatic and shocking, if she knew nobody else would ever see it again, live or in evidence? These questions are ones I cannot give a definitive answer to, just ideas that allow the mind to delve deeper into questioning the body on edge and its documentation.

In conclusion to my question “Evidence over performance: is the body really on edge if it’s only there to be documented?” I do not have a definitive answer. I feel the following paragraphs explore ideas and open questions to the reader to consider and revise. In my own thoughts however I feel that the body is still on edge when being documented but perhaps with the wrong intentions. Physically the body is being pushed to extremes during a number of performance art pieces but probably for all the wrong reasons. To me it seems that the artists are putting themselves in pain or in shocking situations purely to get reactions from the public which raises questions about the efficiency of the work itself. Only a few artists are true to the nature of their performance work and do not merchandise any products or photographs as ‘proof’ that it happened. I believe it is a rarity when artists occasionally re preform their pieces live but if you miss it, it’s gone as they do not fabricate their work into the reality that is evidence. Although I think that artists push themselves harder when a camera is presented in the room to document them, without this documentation the wider public would never really know what happened during a number of performance art pieces, as not every work can be attended.


During the previous paragraphs I opened questions exploring the truthfulness of photographs. Hayley Newman has both explored and exploited the fact that we as the public instantly trust a photograph as actual evidence. As a public we assume that it is the truth and anything photographed is real without any other proof, a point that Newman played upon in her own work. The fact that these boundaries are being pushed and tested by artists is both amusing and interesting, proving that sometimes it is the evidence of a work that can make it successful. For me putting the body on edge is all about this ‘shock factor’ and artists are frequently pushing themselves to shock the public in even more daring and dangerous ways, because of this the art of putting the body on edge is moving forward as the artist knows that someone will always be standing there with a camera to prove exactly what happened. To conclude this body of text has been difficult as the lines between body art and documentation blur together so much. Throughout this essay I hoped to have explored the truthfulness of documented works via photography and if it’s even possible to really find out how a performance piece happened without being there in the moment. I have raised questions on the public and how much we believe what we are shown because of the evidence provided by a famous name, even if this material has been fabricated we as the viewers will still believe it to be true. In opening up a number of questions about body art and documentation I have provided a platform for further discussions about the role of photographic evidence as a means to document and exhibit the artists’ intended concepts and ideas. Performance art’s true success should be in the moment. The sight, emotions and messages delivered by the artist cannot be transmitted successfully via any other medium other than in live view. This scene may be recorded and documented several times and shown in many different ways but ultimately it will not have the same effect. Therefore we must ask performance artists to push their boundaries, by delivering their piece of work in front of us with as many spectators as possible. This is what photography can never truly re create and is where performance art flourishes with extraordinary impact.



Schneemann, Carolee, “Carolee Schneemann Interior Scroll 1975”, Tate.org, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/schneemann-interior-scroll-p13282


Newman, Hayley, “Live Cultural: Organizers and participant: Hayley Newman”, Tate.org



Suchin, Peter, “Hayley Newman, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK”, frieze.com, 11 November, 2002


[1] Carolee Schneemann, “Carolee Schneemann Interior Scroll 1975”, Tate.org, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/schneemann-interior-scroll-p13282

[2] Carolee Schneemann, “Carolee Schneemann Interior Scroll 1975”, Tate.org, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/schneemann-interior-scroll-p13282

[3] Hayley Newman, “Live Cultural: Organizers and participant: Hayley Newman, Tate.org, http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/live-culture/live-culture-organisers-and-participants/live-culture-3

[4] Peter Suchin, Hayley Newman, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK, “frieze.com”




On Resistance by Howard Caygill

“No word is more central to the contemporary political imagination and action than ‘resistance’. In its various manifestations – from the armed guerrilla to Gandhian mass pacifist protest, from Wikileaks and the Arab Spring to the global eruption and violent repression of the Occupy movement – concepts of resistance are becoming ubiquitous and urgent. In this book, Howard Caygill conducts the first ever systematic analysis of ‘resistance’: as a means of defying political oppression, in its relationship with military violence and its cultural representation.

Beginning with the militaristic doctrine of Clausewitz and the evolution of a new model of guerrilla warfare to resist the forces of Napoleonic France, On Resistance elucidates and critiques the contributions of seminal resistant thinkers from Marx and Nietzsche to Mao, Gandhi, Sartre and Fanon to identify continuities of resistance and rebellion from the Paris Commune to the Greenham Women’s Peace Camp. Employing a threefold line of inquiry, Caygill exposes the persistent discourses through which resistance has been framed in terms of force, violence, consciousness and subjectivity to evolve a critique of resistance. Tracing the features of resistance, its strategies, character and habitual forms throughout modern world history Caygill identifies the typological consistencies which make up resistance. Finally, by teasing out the conceptual nuances of resistance and its affinities to concepts of repression, reform and revolution, Caygill reflects upon contemporary manifestations of resistance to identify whether the 21st century is evolving new understandings of protest and struggle.” – http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/on-resistance-9781472526564/

Critique Of Violence

Pages 236-252

“Critique of Violence” is notorious for its obscurity, which, at least partly, is due to the impossibility of translating several of the key terms used by Benjamin into English. The immediate encapsulation of the task of a critique of violence conveyed in the German title and the first couple of sentences is entirely lost in the English translation. An etymological clarification is therefore important if we aspire to understand what a critique of violence consists of. – http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/10/11/notes-thought-walter-benjamin-critique-violence/

When reading this text I was very confused as it is very difficult to understand, however once discussed in our seminar I found myself understanding it slightly more, although not entirely.

The Wretched Of The Earth.




“Fanon’s book, “The Wretched Of The Earth” like Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish” question the basic assumptions that underlie society. Both books writers come from vastly different perspectives and this shapes what both authors see as the technologies that keep the populace in line. Foucault coming out of the French intellectual class sees technologies as prisons, family, mental institutions, and other institutions and cultural traits of French society. In contrast Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) born in Martinique into a lower middle class family of mixed race ancestry and receiving a conventional colonial education sees the technologies of control as being the white colonists of the third world. Fanon at first was a assimilationist thinking colonists and colonized should try to build a future together. But quickly Fanon’s assimilationist illusions were destroyed by the gaze of metropolitan racism both in France and in the colonized world. He responded to the shattering of his neo-colonial identity, his white mask, with his first book, Black Skin, White Mask, written in 1952 at the age of twenty-seven and originally titled “An Essay for the Disalienation of Blacks.” Fanon defined the colonial relationship as one of the non recognition of the colonized’s humanity, his subjecthood, by the colonizer in order to justify his exploitation. Fanon’s next novel, “The Wretched Of The Earth” views the colonized world from the perspective of the colonized. Like Foucault’s questioning of a disciplinary society Fanon questions the basic assumptions of colonialism. He questions whether violence is a tactic that should be employed to eliminate colonialism. He questions whether native intellectuals who have adopted western methods of thought and urge slow decolonization are in fact part of the same technology of control that the white world employs to exploit the colonized. He questions whether the colonized world should copy the west or develop a whole new set of values and ideas. In all these questionings of basic assumptions of colonialism Fanon exposes the methods of control the white world uses to hold down the colonies. Fanon calls for a radical break with colonial culture, rejecting a hypocritical European humanism for a pure revolutionary consciousness. He exalts violence as a necessary pre-condition for this rupture. Fanon supported the most extreme wing of the FLN, even opposing a negotiated transition to power. His book though sees the relationship and methods of control in a simplistic light; he classifies whites, and native intellectuals who have adopted western values and tactics as enemies. He fails to see how these natives and even the white world are also victims who in what Foucault calls the stream of power and control are forced into their roles by a society which itself is forced into a role. Fanon also classifies many colonized people as mentally ill. In his last chapter he brings up countless cases of children, adults, and the elderly who have been driven mad by colonialism. In one instance he classifies two children who kill their white playmate with a knife as insane. In isolating these children classifying there disorders as insanity caused by colonialism he ironically is using the very thought systems and technologies that Foucault points out are symptomatic of the western disciplinary society. Fanon’s book filled with his anger at colonial oppression was influential to Black Panther members Newton and Seale. As students at Merrit College, in Oakland, they had organized a Soul Students’ Advisory Council, which was the first group to demand that what became known as African-American studies be included in the school curriculum. They parted ways with the council when their proposal to bring a drilled and armed squad of ghetto youths onto campus, in commemoration of Malcolm X’s birthday, the year after his assassination, was rejected. Seale and Newton’s unwillingness to acquiesce to more moderate views was in large part influenced by Fanon’s ideas of a true revolutionary consciousness. In retrospect Fanon’s efforts to expose the colonial society were successful in eliminating colonialism but not in eliminating the oppression taking place in the colonized world. Today the oppression of French colonialism in Algeria has been replaced by the violence of the civil war in Algeria, and the dictator of Algeria who has annulled popular elections, a the emergence of radical Islam which seeks to replace colonial repression with religious oppression. But this violence might be one of the lasting symptoms of Frances colonial brutality which scared the lives of Algerians and Algerian society; perverting peoples sense of right and wrong freedom and discipline.” – http://www.novelguide.com/reportessay/literature/novels/wretched-earth


HR Giger

After looking at this weeks Posthuman bodies, an artist instantly came to mind – Giger.


Giger Biography

For me looking at Giger’s artworks makes me think about the posthuman body, although mostly paintings/ film pieces just the look of these makes me think that these human bodies are combined with some sort of technology within the piece its self. Wires, tubes and veins coming out of these pieces at all angles – something is happening here, and its not human.


The Posthuman Body.

This week we were looking at the body and its entanglements with science and technology.

key words we thought about this lecture are:

– Posthumanism
– The posthuman
– Transhumanism
– The cyborg
– Cyberfeminism
– Cybernetics
– AI (artificial intelligence)
– Biopower
– Necropolitics
– Genetic modification

The belief that the human being occupies a natural and eternal place at the very centre of things, where it is distinguished absolutely from machines, animals, and other inhuman entities; where it shares with all other human beings a unique essence; where it is the origin of meaning and the sovereign subject of history

The belief that human beings are the central or most significant species on the planet (in the sense that they are considered to have a moral status or value higher than that of all other organisms), or the assessment of reality through an exclusively human perspective.

The term Posthuman challenges this idea of Anthropocentrism.

The Anthropocene is a proposed epoch that begins when human activities started to have a significant global impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems.

The Anthropocene is based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now altered by humans.

Humans have managed in our short life time on earth, to affect all aspects of the environment. Humans have basically ruined everything so much that we are now in a new geological era. When our generation is looked back on on years to come they will find things such a plastic bottles, chicken bones and radioactive elements as all we left behind.

For me this is quite a hard hitting fact, are we not ashamed as a generation, as a species that we have let this happen? That we have changed the environment and the very thing that is keeping us alive so much is such a negative way? I personally feel great shame when reading this! What kind of example are we setting to those in the future looking back at our life time.

“a reflection on how the effects on and of contemporary technoculture and biotechnology force through a rethinking of the integrities and identities of the human”.
– Ivan Callus and Stefan Herbrechter, guest Subjectivity (journal), 2012

Through technology and science today we have gone beyond being human, this creating a lasting shift.

The posthuman is, most simply, the desired endpoint of transhumanism. That is, a posthuman is a new, hybrid species of future human modified by advanced technology. The posthuman entails the blurring of distinctions between humans and machines.


This is quite a scary concept/ reality for me, as a ‘human’ I would never want to alter my body to become more like a computer but I guess through my frequent use of technology since 1995 I have constantly been surrounded by it. I spend probably more time with technology than I do with other humans, or even while with them I still have my phone. This is something that I am trying to change ( as I sit here on my own on my laptop), I often find myself leaving my phone off or in a different room and just enjoying time spent with other people, as I personally do feel that everyone can get wrapped up in technology. Some people to the point where they alter their bodies to become “posthuman” or “Transhuman”. This is a very scary but very real concept and one in which the world is heading towards.

Examples of people/ artists combining/ adjusting their body to technology.


This man lost part of his finger and decided that it would be more useful if he had a USB inserted in place of his finger. I personally think this is ridiculous for a number of reasons:

  1. What if it rains, and your hand gets wet – will this ruin the memory stick?
  2. What happens when the memory stick gets full?? then you’re left with an even more useless finger than beforehand.
  3. How on earth are you meant to type on the computer properly or get any work done if your hand is stuck in the side of your laptop.

The list could go on.

Apparently there are a number of ways one can become posthuman, the list is as follows:

Microchipping (animals, employees, oneself)

subdermal magnet implants

nightvision eyedrops

Google glass

plastic surgery

drone warfare

digital tattoos

gender reassignment (hormone/prosthetic technology)

IVF reproductive technologies


activity trackers (Fitbit)

sleep trackers

chimeras: an organism that contains cells from two different species




“The Gaze”

The male gaze is a concept coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey. It refers to the way visual arts are structured around a masculine viewer.

this is also a term I have heard before reading the book “The Ways of Seeing” by John Berger talking about the male gaze, I personally really enjoyed reading Berger’s book.

“John Berger observed that ‘according to usage and conventions which are at last being questioned but have by no means been overcome – men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at’ (Berger 1972, 45, 47). Berger argues that in European art from the Renaissance onwards women were depicted as being ‘aware of being seen by a [male] spectator’”





The Body Observed

During this weeks lecture we were looking at the body from the point of view of it being a social construct. Unfortunately I was not well enough to make it to todays lecture but after looking at the online powerpoint and researching into the artists this is the conclusion of the topic I have. The body observed is the act of looking and being looked at, this relating to last weeks lectures as I have been an observer of art during each class, therefore playing my role.

‘Womanliness as a Masquerade’ Joan Riviere (1883 – 1962)

‘Womanliness therefore can be assumed as a mask, both to hide the possession of masculinity and to avert the reprisals expected if she was found to possess it’

I found this piece of text very good to read, although not long it summed up her point. The piece may be written about herself and is a solid base text for gender and feminist theory. This text notes that woman can still be feminine – doing the housework, being a mother, a wife, a daughter in law, a woman who cares about her appearance and indulges into makeup and pretty clothes. But also can go to work in business and compete with males at work. This mask she is talking about suggests that women need to hide behind this feminine mask not to intimidate men in the work place.

Claude Cahun

Claude Cahun was a French artist, photographer and writer. Her work was both political and personal, and often underminded traditional concepts of gender roles. Cahun’s writing suggested she identified as agender.

Claude Cahun was involved in one of the reading we were given, written by Amelia Jones. Here Jones analyses her pieces, looking deeper into the masked heads and the gazing they are doing, there is meaning behind all the masks that needs to be peeled away.

Gillian Wearing

Gillian Wearing (1963) examines her own family by being photographed as the different members (sister, brother, father, uncle etc) in her 2003 series Album.The make up and clothing are remarkable and misleading – the viewer has to question which is the real self-portrait and what a self-portrait means. These examples are from her 2003 Album in which she explores her family through a series of self-portraits

“I was interested in the idea of being genetically connected to someone but being very different. There is something of me, literally, in all those people—we are connected, but we are each very different.”