In 2011 the theme of Guangzhou Live was “human scale”, as it is a poignant quality in action art. This year our curatorial theme is Body & Mind in Time, as to accentuate these two first qualities as being ONE and inseparable to our existence. But also inseparable in action art, since they are the prerogatives without which no live action work can be realized. Beyond art, these are further the two qualities that makes us human, uniting us as beings.
The notion of body & mind as one, is as we know anchored in Chinese philosophy and thought. But it is also a notion of common sense. How is it possible to separate the mind from the body, to see the body as an envelope and as something separated from the mind ? It is the human that unites both, and this unity is in action art the use of body and mind in the expression of the work.
The fact that action art is an art where the artists is not acting or pretending to play a role, not being somebody else, not using other people as actors, but being one with the actions, makes it the most stringent expression of the unity of body and mind in art. Maybe it is also the reason why this art form has such a strong anchorage in contemporary chinese art, why it appeals to chinese artists, being a media where one finds a unity of thought and of physical existence.
Primarily, action art is an immediate expression of the human. A creative process in which body and mind are inseparable. In this process the artist starts out to reflect upon what to express, creating an idea, and then reflecting on how to express it. What materials to use or not to use, what motions to execute, which action to do.
In the moment of the live realization of the work, the creative process usually changes from what was originally intended. A change decided through the body and the mind, being at that instant united as One. The action artist very seldom follows an outlined choreography, like in dance or theatre. Instead her or his body and mind are influenced by the immediate context, the surrounding people, the location of the work, the mood at the moment of the execution.
The artist follows at that moment an instant flow of emotions and thougths, a united body & mind, and changes the action or not as it goes, in the direction of their unification. Of course, expressing this unity is not simple, it does not come automatically, but when the artists succeeds to do so, it comes with emotional and intellectual force. It does not always happen, since this is an immediate here and now process of creation. But if risk is a part of the live action work and one of its inherent qualities so is courage, honesty, intuition, and instant improvisation.
Body & Mind are unified in the moment of creation, and it is maybe this aspect of action art that makes it such an exciting and attractive art form. Being confronted with the unknown, where one do not know what will come next, of not being able to predict what the artist will do. That we simply witness the act of creation in tempo and in situ. The unpredictability and the unexpected, and the possible instant change of direction in a work, are qualities which stimulates our own imagination. We can only imagine what will happen next. So we continue to see and experience what follows…
Then we have to think about the signification of an action. Where all details are equally important for our understanding. The artists outfit and clothes, the object or matter used, the motion or the non-motion of the action, the gaze, or the time used. Yes, they are all equally important parts for our understanding.
If there is something that action art works with it is time. Which besides our body & mind probably is our most valuable resource. What do we do with our time, how do we spend it ? Efficiently ? With quality ? Slowly, fast, in motion or in no-motion ? How do we give it value ? Do we give it away or do we sell it ? How do we use it ? What does it mean to walk fast ? What is the signification of moving slow ? And what is the intrinsic meaning of doing what appears to be nothing ? When we experience a work of action art our conscience about time grows. And indirectly about how we use time ourselves.
Another important quality in action art besides the artists body & mind in time, is the absence of a dominating material/tool/media. It is an absence that allows the artist to move freely between any, and to embrace all, or for that matter none. This quality is a singular one, where the artist is not bound to repeatedly use a specific mtm (material/tool/media) but where the creative process goes beyond the material and its intrinsic limitations and repetitions.
In action art what matters is the signification of the the body & mind, of the action being pursued, the time given to it, its focus. This differentiates it from other art media, limited to the object-trace of an emotion or a thought whether it is a painting, a sculpture, a photo, a film or an installation. Which finally, signifies the physical separation of the artists body & mind from the created work. In action art this alienation of the body & mind in time never happens.
Body & Mind in Time consitutes the basic tools with which the action artist work. Time incorporates here the process, the ”what will happen next” experience we have when following a live action. But it is also this experience, as an effect of the time we give to the work and the subsequent feeling of waiting, of a continued waiting, that connects us to our own body & mind and as such unites us to the artists actions. A unification which accentuates the feeling of participiation and sharing that is so strong in action art. Of belonging, and togetherness with the Other.