Performance Artists See World as a Stage － Insa-dong a SetLike poetry, performance art can demand of its audience the ability to interpret and participate － on an emotional and sometimes physical level. Instead of simply representing a subject in a conventional manner, performance artists express ideas in the form of happenings and experiences outside the confines of theaters and galleries. From Yoko Ono to Lee Bul, performance artists have often been cast as both the enfant terribles and the trend-setters of the art world.
This is one of the reasons that Yun Jin-sup, a former curator of Kwangju Biennale and commissioner of the Pusan International Art Festival, formed the Seoul International Performance Art Festival 2000, which begins Friday and continues for three days.
"Performance artists are like salt," Mr. Yun said. "They stop our society from decomposing. Their work has always been the symbol of defiance and a critique of the establishment."
Held in various galleries, cafes and parking lots throughout Insa-dong, the festival will present street happenings and body art performances, a form which inspired the avant-garde artists during the 1970s. In those days, it was often used to promote anti-war themes and further the sexual revolution.
Like most performance artists, those in SIPAF infuse their work with political purpose.
Orlan, a French-born artist who participated in last year's Lyon Biennale, presents her work called "Self-Hybridations." Known for her controversial plastic surgery series － in which the artist herself undergoes cosmetic surgery － her work is a disturbing critique of artificial perceptions of what constitutes beauty. Orlan often replicates faces from myth and masterpieces, such as Botticelli's Venus and the Mona Lisa. The artist, who first performed at 18 is now 53, and has undergone numerous operations. Video documentation of her most recent "performance" will be presented.
A meaning behind the medium is also apparent in a work by Dastumi Orimoto, a Japanese performance artist known as the "Bread Man." The artist, whose face is usually wrapped in loaves of bread, distributes the edible art to people he meets on his trips around the world, and then documents the process. Reflecting a desire for communal living, Orimoto's work was introduced at last year's San Paolo Biennale.
Stelarc, an Australian artist, also performs body art. On his interactive Web site, the artist installed an animated robot that is directly connected to sensors attached to his body. The system allows the viewer to control Stelarc's body parts simply by moving the control keys on the computer. Despite the work's playful aspect and its technical sophistication, Stelarc questions the term "globalization" and the negative effect the Internet can have on society.
Korea's Kim Suk-hwan will walk the streets of Insa-dong during the festival and sterilize the area with a giant insecticide. Using the sterilizer as a symbol of eradicating government decay, the work will show the roots of Korean performance art, which started out as shamanist exorcisms.
As Dadaists once claimed, performance art is the symbol of artist's spirit. The fifth performance art festival in Asia, the SIPAF 2000 hopes to raise awareness about various world issues. English translators are available. For more information phone 02-739-1425.
by Park Soo-mee