A Brief Survey of Incredibly Shocking Performance Art Pieces

By now you’ve probably heard the news that in the next few weeks artist Marni Kotak plans to give birth at Bushwick’s Microscope Gallery in front of a live audience. Whether you’re a fan of the unabashed concept or skeptical if the audience alone warrants this being called art, certainly it has grabbed your attention. Suddenly, this usually private, explicitly corporeal physical ordeal/bodily function/miracle has turned into a public spectacle. How could you look away? It’s not the first time that a performance artist has incorporated a shock element into their work. Sometimes, the results have been amazing and mind-freeing. Sometimes, not so much. Let’s take a look at some of the physically daring, sexually risque, disturbingly disgusting, and potentially deadly performances.

When Marina Abramović first performed Rhythm 5 in 1974, she leapt into a petroleum-drenched star as part of a purification ritual, and lost consciousness inside from the lack of oxygen. Obscured by the smoke, she wasn’t noticed by the audience for some time, until the flames got dangerously close. On this near-accidental-self-immolation, Abramović has commented: “I was very angry because I understood there is a physical limit: when you lose consciousness you can’t be present; you can’t perform.”