‘Self-harm performance’, a blog by Leticia Izquierdo Díaz

Leticia Izquierdo Díaz is an international researcher, cooperator and artist. Leticia recently undertook a  three-month research residency in LADA’s Study Room between August and November 2019. Leticia’s research into ‘Self-harm performance’ forms part of her international Phd at the University of Salamanca, Spain. Her research project is an exhaustive four-year work that contributes to the development and apogee of performance as a current artistic discipline in constant evolution.

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Self-harm Performance

To talk about self-harm performance, it is a timely explanation of the underlying mechanism of this type of action. It is not by chance that artistic performance often recovers and re-elaborates repertoires of religious expression or representation, which have long preceded them in time. We must emphasize reflecting on the idea of sacrifice that is linked to religious culture. The human offering that ends up disappearing in the Christian culture was frequent. Not so the physical autocastigo, as a way to atone for guilt or control primary drives, which continues to be practiced, privately (sackcloths, self-flagellation) and in public, to feed collective piety: like the believers in the northern Philippines where they are really nailing to wooden crosses to emulate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, or the processions of the “Picaos” in La Rioja, Spain, (something similar to a “religious performance”).

Self-harm or contemplate the pain of others has been part of our culture: from Roman circus to boxing there is less distance than it seems, although gladiators or prisoners eaten by wild beasts are forced to suffer and die, while, theoretically , the boxers voluntarily go up to the ring, just as the religious flagellants are today volunteers.

Art, a powerful expressive tool and form of plastic language, does not necessarily look for beauty, but to give way to the artist’s concerns and emotions and establish a dialogue with the viewer.

So we investigated the autoviolence in the performances in order to determine, through the case study, the meaning and expressive objective of this type of artistic representation, denying the drive of pleasure or the institutional rejection of body pain, more frequent among women artists or the queer community of this genre than among heterosexual men.

For hermeneutic purposes we use the method of “analysis of plastic discourse”, discovering the personality of the performers and their mediation or conditioning by the environment, or context (contextualized biography), discovering and formally describing their actions, trying to understand what they intend to convey with them and what they manage to generate in the public, depending on the decoding or recoding capacity of their spectators (interpretive reworking), also culturally and socially conditioned.

The artists react to a reality by executing a series of artistic representations that involve acts of bleeding and painful violence against their own body, which allows them, in addition to expressing their dissatisfaction with reality, to achieve self-control and the supposed superiority or strengthening arising from a learning to overcome suffering, offered as a recipe, for himself and for his audience, to obtain a state of mental calm.

They produce a plastic discourse claiming “self-perfection” at the expense of their own lacerated flesh. The autoviolence practiced in the performance seeks to generate adrenaline and pain, according to the words of several artists such as Ivana Ranisavlevik or Arturo Ledesma, who feel it as a physical necessity, and live it as a search for personal balance. But artists also speak to us, in their live art manner, of multiple themes, from the subtle, personal concerns, to face the identity conflict, or social criticism.

His body enters a kind of shock, but a shock that they define as “positive”, as defined by artists such as Rocío Boliver or Paco Nogales, when they immerse themselves in the performance, they pass the barrier of their physical limitations, and then they stop feeling , and overcome that pain.

The injuries that occur live without a doubt impact on the viewer, producing in them two types of reaction: disgust, horror and rejection: from a part of his audience that sometimes leaves even the show; or, admiration, fascination and inflation of attention: an achievement for the performer, who intends with his “sacrifice” to reinforce a certain personal, moral, social or socio-political message, or establish an emotional bond with the public, to which It gives its pain, they are, in short, a form of evasion, personal growth and impressive artistic production.

Banner image credit:

Rocio Boliver and Collaborators: Between Menopause and Old Age, Alternative Beauty, image by Alex Eisenberg

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