CLUTCH Vol. 5: Power in Performance


During one of our first CLUTCH meetings, we met with performance artist, educator, mother and scholar Marissa Largo. Performance art has been something that I have personally become interested in during my studies. Just from hearing Marissa utter the fluidity, body politic and public space, I knew that I was in for a treat and looked forward to what the afternoon’s discussion had in store for us.

Prior to this workshop, we were given an assigned reading by Tim Manalo who would later host the studio segment of our meeting that later this day. The reading was titled The Filipina’s Breast: Savagery, Docility, and the Erotics of the American Empire and written by Nerissa S. Balce. The writing pertained to the Filipina breast, comparative to 19th century Sarah Baartman (the Hottentot Venus). This reading spoke specifically about the Filipina body as a site for constructing difference as a means to further subordinate and “other” the global south overall as a strategy for building empire. In other words, the body, both physically and figuratively represented a nation. Though a long and dense article this proved to be a helpful resource along the way.

As a reaction to the post-modern condition, and predecessor to what we now deem as contemporary art, the 1960s avant-garde used performance as a tool against consumerism, and market capitalism that was saturating the art world. By relying on ephemeral elements such as time and chance they sought to dematerialize the art object.

Marissa wanted to emphasize the works of women of colour working in the performance art field. Besides the obvious names, such as Marina Abramovic and Ana Mendieta, we were also introduced to Filipino artists like Racquel De Loyola and painter and collage artist Mideo Cruz. Despite having studied art history for four years, this was the first time I’ve heard of these names and it was great to learn about the type of work they are doing. It is seldom we learn about art coming out of the Philippines--especially contemporary--that is strong, political, critical and unapologetic.

Early in the conversation two points were brought up and discussed:

  1. Performance art is not theatre, but
  2. Performance can be theatrical.

With that being said, there is a performative aspect in our everyday lives and how we carry ourselves and take up space in the world. Our identity and culture are assigned to us as much as we think of it as a choice. This is where the reading came in hand: similarly to how the Filipina’s body stood for a nation, the body of the performance artist stands as both form and function of a piece. Using the words of Marissa, performance art tests the limits of who you are physically, emotionally and mentally. By actively pushing these limits we resist the objectification and docility placed on the racialized body. The way in which we are made to define, contain and present ourselves is not a one way street--it is layered in history of colonialism, immigration and acculturation.

There is no doubt that themes of race, identity, culture and gender are not easy topics--nor are our bodies, and how we use it. This talk resonated with me a lot and I see a lot of what we discussed here further explored in future Clutch discussions and carried into the studio. Furthermore, performance art, as I see it, has a capacity of opening up of meaning and growth, and if one is still confused at least it leaves you with a feeling and a question.