5 Absolutely Horrifying Performance Art Pieces / by Andreas Kopriva

Hello and welcome to this post where we'll be sharing 5 pretty provocative, and yet absolutely horrifying, performance art pieces that we've recently discovered. 

As illustrated in a previous post, I developed a fascination with performance art at some point last year. In the past I had considered it to be somewhat frivolous, the type of activity that someone who hasn't invested the time and skill to master a traditional art form engages in so as to be part of the 'art scene' (whatever that might be). This was ultimately an opinion stemming from a position of almost complete ignorance regarding the whole concept of self-expression and I find myself holding a fairly different perspective. 

From what I've come to understand, performance art is a liberating process in that it facilitates certain different mechanics as opposed to a painting or a sculpture. One can play with audience interaction such as the majority of Marina Abramovic's work (Rhythm 0 for example) and allow those interactions to reaffirm, or in some cases even create, the artist's message. Those messages are usually quite powerful such as Yoko Ono's Cut Piece performance where, through allowing visitors to cut her clothes with scissors, she aimed to illustrate the violent treatment of women in society. 

Personally I related to Abramovic's work, primarily her Artist is Present project, where the simple activity of looking into someone's eyes is imbued with a certain gravitas that is often not considered. It's this focus on focus, outlined in her recent TED talk, that proves to be refreshing in its simplicity, especially considering the context of the world that we live in now, where we, apparently, require constant stimulation and gratification, to quiet our mind's unspoken narrative. 

That said, some artists appear to take it a bit too far (again - a potentially debatable point) and its these that we'll be looking at today. So without further ado : 

5. The Crucifixion of Sebastian Horsley

In what should be considered the most dedicated bit of researching, British painter Sebastian Horsley decided to get crucified so as to be able to paint the crucifixion. This involved traveling to the Philippines and paying so as to 'enjoy' the experience of having nails driven through his hands and being hoisted up on a cross. Say what you will about his controversial musings, that is dedication and takes some balls to commit to such a level.

Speaking of balls...

4. PyoTR PAVLENSKY - Fixation

Pavlensky's performances revolve around the sociopolitical issues prevalent in Russia. In the work featured above, he sat in Moscow's Red Square, near Lenin's mausoleum and proceeded to nail his scrotum to the cobblestones. In an interview with Dazed he outlines the reasons which characterize most of his work, in that he wants to make statement regarding the repressive climate prevalent in Russia relating to artistic expression. 

For the particular performance, Pavlensky has stated that this act was "a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference and fatalism of modern Russian society". He has gone on to set fire to the wooden front door of Russia's secret-police headquarters (Lubyanka) this past November which ultimately led to his short-term arrest. Prior to that, in an act to criticize the forced use of psychiatric treatments on dissidents, he cut off part of his ear lobe.

The testicular fortitude exhibited by Pavlensky is truly awe-inspiring, especially considering the state's reactions to similar protests in the past

The next artist however... 

3. Mao Sugiyama - Testicle banquet

Yeaaaaaa. Well, here goes - in 2012, the then 23-years old self-described asexual Mao Sugiyama proceeded to serve his previously surgically removed genitals, to a series of interested cannibals who paid 100,000 yen to consume this most unorthodox dish. 

The justification provided for this act was to raise awareness for sexual minorities, x-gender and asexual people. I guess that's one way of doing it. 

What I find most interesting about the particular act is the showmanship involved. After having his genitals removed by a physician in March, two months prior to the event, and ensuring that they are disease free, they were kept frozen until the scheduled event in Suginami was to take place. 

Mao and a number of associates conspired to have the genitals on display prior to their consumption at a music club during which 71 guests attended. 

Mao served the portions with a button mushrooms and some parsley while dressed as a chef. 


Right. Ok. Ummm, basically this project was a final thesis by Aliza for her graduate degree from Yale University and it involved her artificially inseminating herself from anonymous donors and taking an abortive agent prior to the completion of her menstrual cycle. 

She would then document the bleeding out process in video form and hold unto the samples for future presentation (?). 

The particular performance has been mired in controversy ever since it was carried out close to a decade ago, with Yale University distancing itself from any representation of it and officially stating that it was ultimately a fabrication. She outlines the reasoning behind her work in an article she wrote here

Though it is pretty easy to dismiss this particular work as overtly pretentious, or even completely fabricated as the final installation was banned, there is some cleverness involved here since the reaction to the mere intent of the work has generated a lot of buzz. Now whether this qualifies this as a work of art or of provocative PR (or both even) is entirely up to you to determine. 


1. Guillermo vargas - exposicion no.1

This one will definitely upset quite a few people - it certainly upset me when I discovered it recently. The particular exhibit revolved around tying up a stray dog, its restraints set in such a way that a bowl of food was just out of reach. The phrase 'Eres Lo Que Elles' ('You are what you read') adorned one of the walls, painted in dog food. 

A ton of controversy was generated from this exhibit, with over 4 million signatures being gathered to ensure that Vargas would not be allowed to attend the 2008 Bienal Centroamericana in Honduras. This is where things get a bit inconsistent as there are a number of conflicting reports regarding the events of the exhibit. Firstly the director of the Codice Gallery had stated that the animal was fed regularly and had been tied up for only 3 hours before escaping. The Humane Society of the United States stated that the dog was already in an emaciated state when captured and that it escaped a day later, before condemning 'the use of live animals in exhibits such as this'. 

Vargas has not disclosed the fate of the dog, stating that it was not fed, and that no one tried to call the police to report the incident, something which highlighted the hypocritical nature of people as no one would bat an eyelid should they see a starving dog on the streets. 

Considering that the setup of the scene is what actually sparked the controversy and how attendees would normally not get quite so riled up should they see an emaciated dog on a street sidewalk, does support this point. Nevertheless, the usage of an animal in such a way is morally dubious at the very least, deplorable at worst, and I'm pretty sure a similar point could have been made through the usage of a different medium. 


That wraps up this collection of controversial, and often horrifying, performance art pieces. If you've been outraged or upset by any of these (especially Vargas' work) bear in mind that this was probably the intended outcome of the particular work. Personally, despite the despicable nature of some of these, I ended up thinking of a few things, after the initial shock/anger subsided, so I guess that this exercise proved to be beneficial!