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What Is Performance Art?

From Laurie Anderson to Lady Gaga

By Sara Bookin-Weiner

What exactly does it mean to be a performance artist? Whether visual art, music, theatre, dance or a variety of other “performance” forms, these interdisciplinary artists also often find themselves labeled as experimental, edgy or avant-garde. Laurie Anderson, who brings her latest work Delusion to the Paramount Center Mainstage this week, creates multimedia theatrical blends that have earned her the performance artist moniker. To give audience members a sense of what performance art can be, we take a look at some examples from pop culture.

Amanda Palmer: Also known as “Amanda Fucking Palmer,” this Boston-based living statue busker turned international cult singer developed her following of fans as the more vocal half of her band The Dresden Dolls. Her musical performance often showcases her theatrical flair, seen full tilt in parts such as the Emcee in Cabaret at the American Repertory Theater in 2010.

Auto-tune: A few years ago hip-hop musician T-Pain brought his “auto tune” vocal synthesizing technology to the masses with a smart phone app. But Laurie Anderson’s male alter ego Fenway Bergamot also comes to life with the use of live vocal changing technology in performance.  Watch Laurie as Fenway in Paris here, then enjoy the application of auto-tune.

Lady Gaga: Perhaps the best example of a performance artist in the mainstream, Lady Gaga’s elaborate outfits, provocative music videos and ridiculously high heels have launched her into stardom. This interesting article from the New York Observer further examines her categorization: is she performance artist or performing art? Watch one example here.

Can you think of other performance art examples in pop culture? Know of others who have been influenced by Laurie Anderson? We invite you to comment with your own thoughts and suggestions.

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