The Fascinating Art of Reality

There’s often talk that the world of art might just be going a little too far, particularly when it comes to the, often controversial, scene of the performance piece. Back in 2010, the video of Marina Abramovic and Ulay’s heart-wrenching reunion during ‘The Artist is Present’ was quick to go viral after it made us all feel things. However, the publicization of such a personal moment was not considered unusual. In fact, when it comes to performance art, more and more uncomfortably intimate moments of everyday life are being exposed to the masses on the regular.

In 2011, an actual baby was birthed in Bushwick as a live performance piece, and, more recently, three sleeping girls in a Ukraine gallery vowed to marry the ‘prince’ who awoke each of them with a kiss. And then there’s Amelia Ulman, the performance artist who so cleverly used Instagram as a mirror to reflect our own perpetuating criticisms. She’s now laughing her way into the exhibition, ‘Performing for the Camera’ currently on view at the Tate in London.

With performance pieces edging closer and closer to home, I started thinking about the relationship between art and the reality TV show. I wondered if instead of going ‘too far’, radical performance pieces may just be taking influence from the performance-based reality of today’s society.

With this seed planted in my brain, I began to search further for examples of performance pieces that had been considered an unsightly overshare. However, from the dark depths of the second and third pages of a Google search, I actually stumbled across a couple of surprisingly insightful pieces exploring the instances where the two, seemingly juxtaposing, worlds of art and reality TV have collided.

Did you know, for example, that reality TV shows centred around the world of art have actually aired? No, you didn’t? Well, no surprises there. Both ‘Work of Art’ and ‘Gallery Girls’ were considered a flop, and although I can’t find many ratings for current show, ‘Art Breakers’, I don’t have a great feeling about two legally blonde sorority sisters taking on assignments such as finding an artist to make an original work inspired by Mario Lopez’s (AKA AC Slater from ‘Saved by the Bell’) tequila brand. So, art may not have done so well as a reality show topic, but what about when reality TV enters the art gallery.

Kate Durbin is an LA-based writer and performance artist and her 2014 book, ‘E! Entertainment’ offers a poetic annotation of reality TV shows. Durbin presented the book through a performance piece in Bushwick gallery, asking audience members to join her in recreating classic reality TV moments such as “Kim’s Fairytale Wedding” and “Lindsay’s Necklace Trial”. Her thought process behind the piece came from her belief that “reality TV is arguably the most important medium of our time”. Durbin believes that the stigma around reality TV has masked the fact that it has changed the way we see both each other, and ourselves. Like all TV shows, the reality genre uses the archetypes and conflicts from classic mythology or Shakespearian comedies, yet because of the context, we tend to denigrate the crises. During her performance, Durbin acknowledged the dark undertones of most reality shows and how they are set up to mock the stars. She commented that, “We build these people up to destroy them; we love to blame celebrities for the evils of society instead of looking at ourselves. They are these sort of beautiful mirrors that we can look into when we don’t want to look at ourselves.”

Instead of going too far, perhaps the art world is in fact offering us a mirror, much like the reality TV shows we love to hate. Perhaps we’re living in a surveillance society, where we set ourselves up to perform on screens on a daily basis. And don’t get me wrong, I myself, have fallen victim to this big time -  I want to live in my Pinterest boards, the 11th like on Instagram is my Mecca, and, much like a tree falling in an empty forest, if I don’t Snapchat my drunken nights out, did they really happen?

So, instead of hating on radical performance pieces and accusing the art world of taking art ‘too far’, maybe we should view them the same way we look at reality TV - as a refreshing reminder not to take this performance that is life too seriously.

Written by Amsterdam based freelance writer Robyn Collinge for The Public House of Art. To read more from this author click here or click here

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