Performance art is art in which the actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work. It can happen anywhere, at any time, or for any length of time. Performance art can be any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer's body and a relationship between performer and audience. It is opposed to painting or sculpture, for example, where an object constitutes the work. Of course the lines are often blurred. For instance, the work of Survival Research Laboratories is considered by most to be "performance art", yet the performers are actually machines.
Although performance art could be said to include relatively mainstream activities such as theater, dance, music, and circus-related things like fire breathing, juggling, and gymnastics, these are normally instead known as the performing arts. Performance art is a term usually reserved to refer to a kind of usually avant-garde or conceptual art which grew out of the visual arts.
Performance art, as the term is usually understood, began to be identified in the 1960s with the work of artists such as Yves Klein, Vito Acconci, Hermann Nitsch, Chris Burden, Carolee Schneemann, Yoko Ono, Joseph Beuys, Wolf Vostell and Allan Kaprow, who coined the term happenings. But performance art was certainly anticipated, if not explicitly formulated, by Japan's Gutai group of the 1950s, especially in such works as Atsuko Tanaka's "Electric Dress" (1956) In 1970 the British-based pair, Gilbert and George, created the first of their "living sculpture" performances when they painted themselves gold and sang "Underneath The Arches" for extended periods. Alongside pioneering work in video art by Jud Yalkut and others, some performance artists began combining video with other media to create experimental works like those of Chicago's Sandra Binion, who elevated mundane activities like ironing clothes, scrubbing steps, dining and doing laundry into living art. Binion has performed all over the world and is highly regarded as an artist in Europe.
Western cultural theorists often trace performance art activity back to the beginning of the 20th century. Dada for example, provided a significant progenitor with the unconventional performances of poetry, often at the Cabaret Voltaire, by the likes of Richard Huelsenbeck and Tristan Tzara. However, there are accounts of Renaissance artists putting on public performances that could be said to be early ancestors to modern performance art. Some performance artists point to other traditions, ranging from tribal ritual to sporting events. Performance art activity is not confined to European art traditions; many notable practitioners can be found in the United States, Asia, and Latin America.
In performance art, usually one or more people perform in front of an audience. In contrast to the traditional performing arts, performance art is unconventional. Performance artists often challenge the audience to think in new and unconventional ways about theater and performing, break conventions of traditional performing arts, and break down conventional ideas about "what art is," similar to the postmodern art movement. Thus, even though in most cases the performance is in front of an audience, in some cases, the audience becomes the performers. The performance may be scripted, unscripted, or improvisational. It may incorporate music, dance, song, or complete silence. The audience may buy tickets for the performance, the performance may be free, or the performer may pay the audience to watch the performance.
Roselee Goldberg states in Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present:
Performance art genres include body art, fluxus, happening, action poetry, and intermedia. Some artists, e.g. the Viennese Actionists and neo-Dadaists, prefer to use the terms live art, "action art", intervention or "manoeuvre" to describe their activities. These activities are also sometimes referred to simply as "actions".