Diego Bowie performing “Defuse Magnifique” at Tantalo Hotel’s opening, March 15th.
“It’s live art. It’s a matter of time. It happens in the moment and will never happen again. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about performance art,” Diego Bowie said near the end of last weekend’s class on the medium. Create Invest sponsored the event and provided key supplies like paper, pens and after-class juice boxes.
So I’ll begin the imperfect process of describing what really ought to be experienced.
We, the seven or eight students plus Mr. Bowie himself, sat on mats in a circle in the new theater space in Casco Viejo’s Santa Familia, while two others in the corner busily sketched the class in progress.
The theater space is incomplete but full of potential: all open windows onto two courtyards and cracked plaster walls covered with stenciled designs.
I’ve never loved a spotlight and before the class I feared I would have to scramble to impersonate an idea or emotion before a group of seasoned performers. In reality the afternoon was nothing like that. We meditated in order to be better in touch with ourselves, did various exercises to be in touch with our environment (these I’ll leave as a surprise for the future except to say they were lots of fun) and listened to a mini lecture to put us in touch with the art form itself.
Diego explained the difference between theater and performance art.
“When people find out I’m a performance artist, they always say to me, ‘oh, so you do theater,’ Diego said. That, however, is not at all the case.
“In theater a knife is plastic and the blood is ketchup. In performance art the knife is a knife and the blood is blood. It’s all real.”
Diego always wanted to be a painter until 12 when, “I realized that I don’t need paint – I could do art with my own body. Some artists love visual media, but it just wasn’t for me,” Bowie said. So he took up theater and improv classes instead, although neither was meant for him. “I loved [them] but it didn’t fill me,” Diego said. He was, however, particularly interested in the immaterial nature of the improv classes. Then two years ago at the age of 18, Diego discovered another transient medium (performance art!) and began to explore the form.
So, what IS performance art then? Let’s begin, as the class did, with what Diego explained as the “four elements of performance art, like the composition of paintings.”
We began with a meditation exercise during which, among other things, I lost any sense of time. All the better to focus on what was taking place before me.
I only know that around 4 p.m. we finished and I wandered out clear-headed and hungry.
The time of a performance, “has to do with social context,” Diego said. “It has to do with creating your own time.”
Diego spoke to us about the development of performance art as a medium and its long-time exclusion from museums.
“I have a colleague who lives in Costa Rica who does performance art in the streets. At 5 p.m. [one day] he took his mirror and did a piece in the plaza. It’s not an exhibition but it’s still a space,” Diego said.
All that’s needed is an awareness of the location, whatever it is, and work that speaks directly to it.
THE ARTIST’S BODY
“In performance art your tool is your body. It’s not just about being there. It’s about being conscious,” Diego said before leading us in another activity to coordinate our bodies to our minds.
THE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE AUDIENCE*
*“Note,” Diego said, “it’s not the audience themselves. The fourth element is the toughest and it doesn’t always go right.”
As an example, Diego told the story of Marina Abramović’s famous 1974 performance “Rhythm 0.” (The story of “Rhythm 0” is crazy and I’m not going to dare to recount it myself – listen to Abramović tell the story herself here.)
“The audience is like a dog. They can smell your fear. They can tell whether you are committed or not. The way you build a relationship with your audience is through preparation,” Diego said, carefully emphasizing that last word.
In preparation for a recent five-hour performance, for instance, Diego had to train himself to go hours without water so he could be free of all distractions.
After all performance art, like any other discipline, requires practice.
Diego must have been real busy in the past two years because I left class feeling plenty connected – to myself, to my fellow classmates and to the idea of performance art itself.
I can’t see myself performing in the future (remember, not into the whole spotlight thing) but I would love to take more classes. Tell Diego Bowie if you feel the same. After all, what he really wants he says is a community of performance artists in Panama. Join up.