The Cartoonist Performance Art Manifesto

The Cartoonist Manifesto:
Performance Art for the Fin de Millennium.
Written - Patrick Lichty

For the past three or four years, there have been a number of artists, interveners, performers, (or whatever you want to call them), who are performing in virtual worlds. Second Life, World of Warcraft, Active Worlds, OpenSim - all these places are merely meaningless names that stand for the fact that there is a portion of the world that is embracing a “New Flesh” of pixels and nothingness. There are communities of “bodies without organs” writhing in a Tron-like fog of shapes and colors in imaginary spaces. But still, here we are - revisiting performance art, Happenings, interventions and the like, dragging the shadows of Dada, the Surrealists, Fluxus, the Situationists, Abramovic, Anderson, Barney, Burden, Export, Gilbert and George, Wiebel, and all the rest into the Virtual on our backs. It is again, like the seminal scene of Tron, where the hacker Flynn's flesh is ripped apart by the laser of virtualization and pulled into the computer world, upgraded with new, luminous bodies.

But wait! Wasn't performance art supposed to be the last bastion of authenticity in art? Wasn't the viscera supposed to be the final resting place of immediacy and affect? This is probably the truth. But with the coming of the 21st Century, it's obvious that humanity has become cynical about its own flesh; the body has become desensitized to its own suffering; simulations truly have supplanted the physical, whether in the form of games, virtual worlds, or CNN. As Marina Abramovic herself has said, the shift from the body to the avatar reduces performance to the gesture of the Cartoon, and she wished she had thought of it first… And rightly so! That is exactly what we are; As Nitsch, Weibel, Export et al were Actionists, perhaps we are “Lack of” Actionists, or Cartoonists!

We are:
Cartoons for those who hate cartoons.
Performance art for a post-embodied era.
Visceral art after the discard of the body.
Endurance for the mouse-enabled.

What exactly is this, then? It is Bugs Bunny shooting Daffy Duck, reenacting Burden's “Shoot”, Betty Boop submitting herself to Yoko Ono's “Cut Piece”, or Olive Oyl standing fiercely with the Red Star cut into her belly as in Abramovic' “Lips of Thomas”. It is Mickey Mouse holding the skull of Yorick, pondering his existential state. It is the cat and mouse, Itchy and Scratchy, eviscerating one another, whacking each other with mallets, holding you accountable for your gaze. It is the culmination of a society that has become exhausted with itself, with its own cruelty, with its own desensitization; an ironic stance armed with the arrow of its own cynicism, bow taut, aimed at its own heart.

This is the point of Cartoon Performance, though. Is this to say that the virtual gesture is abject of meaning, of affect? No. As children cry when playing with dolls, boo the amoral Punchinello at puppet shows, laugh at Donald Duck's fits of rage, we identify with the avatar; the reality of the simulated body. While we know that regardless of how many times Daffy gets shot in the arm, there is still the residual connection to the blood and sinew that creates the momentary flinch before the pull of the trigger before the flash of the barrel and the crack of bone. There is still the question of whether to face the nude Eva or Franco Mattes avatar when passing through the door, the urge to run when the fourteen Gaziras rush at you with the giant wooden mallets, or the vertigo of virtual Ciccciolina atop the simulated Empire State Building in the grasp of the digital Kong. The immediacy of the flesh is gone; but the feeling still remains.

We are Cartoons, and we bleed, scream, fuck, laugh and sing.

Or at least we remind you what that was like.

Patrick Lichty, 2010

Patrick Lichty
Gazira Babeli
Bibbe Hansen
Scott Kildall
Eva and Franco Mattes
Second Front