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Postmodern artists Mike Parr and Stelarc

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People usually expect to see paintings and sculptures in Art Galleries. Imagine the surprise one finds when they are presented with a man stitching his face into a bizarre caricature, or connected to a machine which controls the artist’s body. These shocking pieces of performance art come under the broad umbrella that is Postmodernism. Emphasis on meaning and shock value has replaced traditional skills and aesthetic values evident in the earlier Modernist movements.

Like many other Postmodern artists, Mike Parr and Stelarc create confronting, shocking, bizarre artworks that provoke a gut reaction from their audience. Their performance pieces make use of few traditional skills, but instead place emphasis on a concept, require immense feats of endurance, and utilize modern technology.

“In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.” (Sol LeWitt - Artform, 1967)

Mike Parr, an Australian performance artist, creates shocking pieces that “...challenge the limits of body and mind, and question the nature of creativity itself.” (Bruce James - ABC Radio, 2001). His work is confronting, and often involves sensory depravation and/or self-mutilation. “His performance works have often tested the limits of the artist’s own body and often impact deeply on his audiences.” (Sherman Galleries, 2004). An example of this is his performance piece, Close the Concentration Camps, 2002, in which Parr had his face sewn together whilst in solitary confinement. Parr’s work often “...protests the inhumane treatment o...

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......” (Flash Art online). This enraged animal rights groups such as the RSPCA, and was intended to confront and shock the viewers with “revolting situations” (Mirror/Arse Exhibition), including footage of Parr slicing his arm with a blade, holding his hand over a flame, and vomiting blue dye. This emphasis on shock tactics is central to Postmodernism, and many, but not all, Postmodern works intend to confront the viewer and provoke a strong reaction.

Controversial artists such as Mike Parr and Stelarc place emphasis on shock-value and meaning rather than traditional skills and aesthetics, and use their own bodies as a medium, while working with new mediums and technology such as video, performance, sound, and robotics. As Postmodern art continues to push the boundaries of what is - and isn’t acceptable as art, the general public is left to wonder ‘what comes next?’.