Saturday, March 6, 2010


What's the difference between a performance artist and a madman? It was a rhetorical question posed by none other than Guillermo Gómez-Peña, the renowned Mexican born-San Francisco-based performance artist, to a small audience gathered inside UCT's appropriately titled Little Theatre.

"The difference is, is that the performance artist has an audience," answered Gómez-Peña. His punchline was met with roars of laughter from an audience mostly made up of delegates from Pre-Post-Per-Form, a colloquium hosted by the Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA) at UCT, which was designed to survey performance art in South Africa and give artists, curators, choreographers and writers insight into the different ways in which interdisciplinary works are manifesting in different realms of the arts.

Gómez-Peña's performance was one of the most awaited events of the colloquium. Some members of the audience, who associate performance art with physical movement, might have been surprised by his static performance, which played out behind a lectern. The performance art jokes kept coming.
"How many performance artists does it take to change a light-bulb?" piped Gómez-Peña.
"No one knows because no one stayed around long enough to see," he exclaimed. Though it might have sounded like a betrayal by poking fun at performance art Gómez-Peña performed the ultimate anarchistic act. His comedy routine was also a self-reflexive study of performance art that addressed the central query that plagues performance art: How does one define an art form whose most prominent characteristic has been the absence of any fixed character?

Gómez-Peña revealed his musings on the topic when he recollected a conversation he had with a nurse in which he tried to explain to her what it was that he did for a living. He told the nurse that it was an activity that imparted ideas. But ultimately it was his unconventional performance itself which gave audiences insight into how he is constantly renegotiating and redefining his notions of performance art.