Encountering Déjà vu’ and the Performance Art Cliché: Shannon Cochrane and Márcio Carvalho’s “Untitled”

S+M_Photo by Daniel S. DeLuca-12

photo by Daniel S. DeLuca 2013

Encountering Déjà vu’ and the Performance Art Cliché:

Shannon Cochrane and Márcio Carvalho’s “Untitled”

by Sandrine Schaefer

Márcio Carvalho enters the space wearing a white t-shirt and white boxer shorts.  He stands on a plastic tarp that has been spread across the floor.  On top of the tarp is a collection of objects and materials familiar to the medium of performance art: a bucket of water, a roll of tape, a roll of string, a spool of ribbon, bread, raw meat, a bottle of syrup of some sort, a carton of eggs, and a bag of flour.

Carvalho engages in the following actions:

Action 1: Drink red syrup- allow it to pour out of mouth

Action 2: Gift Stones to the audience, one by one

Action 3: Connect audience physically using pink ribbon.

Action 4- Tape an X on floor

Action 5- Place Bucket on X

Action 6- Submerge head in bucket of water and emerge gasping for air

Action 7 – Wrap head with string

Action 8- Attach bread to head with the string

Action 9- Attach meat to head with the string

Action 10- Crack eggs on head

Action 11- Gaze at the audience

Action 12-Dump a bag of flour on body

Action 13- Leave performance space (designated by tarp)


Minutes later the objects are reset and Shannon Cochrane enters wearing a black t-shirt and black underwear.  As the red syrup trickles from her mouth and splatters on the floor, it becomes apparent that she will be engaging in the same series of actions with the same materials that we just witnessed.  This offers the opportunity to observe the subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences between the artists’ execution of each action.  This structure also requires the audience to contemplate ways in which different actions are read on different bodies and all of the cultural baggage that comes along with this notion.


Performance Art is a medium that often plays with the boundaries between artist and spectator.  This can result in creating confusion around the act of witnessing.  Audiences who are unfamiliar with performance art often rely on behaviors presented and preserved by mainstream entertainment.  Although performance art may operate with strategies that are similar to those utilized in the entertainment industry, foundations of the medium are rooted in moving beyond holding the audience’s attention alone and creating opportunities to inspire a deeper level of critical thought.  This tension around the etiquette of witnessing is echoed through the strategic role of documentation in “Untitled”. One audience member diligently takes a photo every 5 seconds, even if the performer is out of frame.  Another positions themselves only inches away from the artists’ face to get the “Money Shot”.  The experience of watching the performance being documented becomes a spectacle in itself.  These planted photographers set off a chain reaction throughout the audience.  People begin to follow their behavior, using their own cameras and phones to document what they are flagging as “important”.  Of coarse, this becomes frustrating.  The shear quantity of photographers overpower the piece, altering the context so that it is difficult to witness the piece in the way performance art is intended to be experienced; unfolding in real time and space.


S+M_Photo by Daniel S. DeLuca-26

photo by Daniel S. DeLuca 2013


While the treatment of documentation in “Untitled” acknowledges the confusion around the relationship between entertainment and performance art, the structure of the piece creates an interesting solution to the act of witnessing.   Carvalho and Cochrane invite a unique level of focus and analysis through the presentation of the same series of actions consecutively enacted by two different bodies.   While engaging in a sort of memory game, the audience observes Cochrane more critically. Not only had Carvalho set the precedent for each action, his part in the piece exists in the realm of the absurd.  Many of his actions ignited laughter among the audience that vanished when Cochrane executed the same actions.  When the audience is asked to reconcile what they had previously seen and to look again, to look closer, this invites a fundamental shift of paradigm.


The structure of “Untitled” presents an exaggeration of binaries. The differences in the artists’ perceived gender and race is not only enhanced by their choice to wear black and white, but also highlights an element of competition.  The performance ventures into the territory of “who did it better”.  As albumen and yolk fly through the air each time Cochrane slams an egg on her head, she becomes the clear winner in the sport of egg cracking.  Meanwhile, Carvalho takes home the gold for submerging his head in a bucket of water, burping and pounding his ear to release the water that has seeped in.  This impulse to view the piece as if it were some kind of competition seems absurd, but not far off.  The format of the international performance art festival can be likened to a kind of performance art Olympics.  Artists from all over the world come together to share their best work that will inevitably be compared to the other work presented in the festival even if the work is incomparable.  Each artist wears an invisible badge of honor for the place where they come from and are transformed into a representative of their country.  When you are communicating across language barriers and geographical borders, this is a way to establish networks and relationships with like-minded individuals.  However, like all formats, the performance art festival has its own set of pros and cons.


S+M_Photo by Daniel S. DeLuca-36

photo by Daniel S. DeLuca 2013


“Untitled” critiques this format, simultaneously offering potential for a dialogue around the growing interest in performance art in the mainstream.  As institutions gain interest in including performance art in their collections, the subject of reiterations and re-performances have become frequent topic of conversation and consideration.  Coupled with a rise in delegated performance, questions around the necessity for the artist’s own body to be present in a piece of performance art is a frequent topic of inquiry.  Many practitioners of performance would argue that without the artist’s presence it is not even their work, while some argue that the concept of the piece is primary and that the actions can be implemented by anyone who is able.    These conversations lead into the murky territory around ideas about authorship, technical skill, and attempting to locate a collective intention within the medium.


Performance art is a medium that has been relegated to the corners of society, perceived as half joke, half avant-garde.  We are just now seeing the US learning to speak its language in the mainstream.   A large part of performance art’s history has been rooted in activism, providing an alternative to making “Art” deemed suitable for the art market. This concept is at the core of performance art history and still encourages artists to take responsibility for writing and archiving their own histories.  Cochrane and Carvalho are well versed in this language, even beyond their individual art practices.  They have contributed efforts to evolve the medium through their curatorial work and discourse.  Working with the notion of the performance art cliché, each action in “Untitled,” is an action that is frequently used in performance art.  If anyone is going to define the clichés in the medium, I feel most comfortable with it being individuals with their credentials.  Although at first glance, “Untitled” may appear to be a performance art roast, it is offering something different.   To assess, to judge these actions, to create a consciousness around actions that have history and to identify them as cliché, is ultimately useful.  They are offering an experience that directly desensitizes these actions.  After seeing someone wrap their head in meat twice, does it still hold the same weight as it did the first time? This usage of time is an interesting one.  “Untitled” asks how long does it take for an action to become cliché?  How long does it take for an action to become irrelevant, or perhaps, even gain relevance?  Does it require decades or can this happen over the duration of mere minutes?  By archiving these loaded actions into their own bodies, Cochrane and Carvalho open up territory that supports dynamic contemplation around the history, present state, and future of performance art practices.






Rope Series: Xray Aims

“I use string and ribbon to draw. To draw images. To draw things

together. To draw conclusions. To draw actions. I love the way it

feels, the way it looks, the way a lot of it piles up. I love the

process of dealing with it, the time it takes to connect one thing to

another, the care it takes to not get tangles or knots. The time it

takes to undo the mistakes. It creates the timing, it is it’s own

timing mechanism.” – Xray Aims

"Let : Bleed" 2009

Xray Aims’ work investigates flesh, the body in space, and the built environment.  This work often reveals that which is hidden or unexplored due to societal pressure or personal boundaries.  Needles are used to pierce the skin; to break through and anchor the body to the space.  Ribbon or thread is used to connect the subject/ body to the built environment and to illustrate a story or concept.  Although the concepts that this work is built on is generated by Aims, collaboration is an integral part of the work’s execution. Others contribute to these pieces, offering their bodies, blood, and in the case of “Let: Bleed” an opportunity to do something constructive and reviving in an evolving space.

"Let: Bleed" 2009

Let : Bleed was a  cleansing and renewal performance by Xray Aims for artists, art and the envelope (body/gallery) that houses us.  This piece occurred at Samson Projects in April 2009.  The following text was present for the witnesses of this piece:

“Blood is our life source.

Flesh holds it in.

The blood of the artist is let into their work.

The work is sustained and nurtured by the gallery.

The gallery connects artists to each other and to the community.

The connection is through their blood.”

"Let: Bleed" 2009

“Come make an offering of your blood to the art gods.

-for sustenance in desperate economical time

-to be released from jealousy and competitive feelings

-to purify the gallery and bless the new one

-to connect with your community

-for endurance, nurturance, and stimulation

-your reason

-your other reason”

"Let: Bleed" 2009

Aims went through a process of piercing the skin of 3 performers and several patrons and installing them into the space by connecting the piercings with ribbon.  When the participants were cut free, the needles were removed, and their blood was placed on the walls.

"Bearings" 2010

In “Bearings” created at the Femina Potens Gallery in San Francisco, CA in 2010, Aims investigated the myriad meanings of the concept of “orientation”.

"Bearings" 2010

"Bearings" 2010

“Pure”, created for “Pure: Art, Medicine, Technology. An Experiment” at the Temporary
Gallery, Brighton, MA in 2006 further explored the idea of the built space and body as the envelope.  Flat white ribbon bled from the walls, round red ribbon bled from the body.

"Pure" 2006

Xray Aims was born, and currently lives, in Boston. Aims studied art

and architecture at RISD and holds a BFA ’91 and B.Arch. ’92. Aims

has many years of design experience. Aims was nominated for the ICA’s

Foster prize in 2010, has had work in galleries (MEME, Femina

Potens, Samson Projects, Deitch Studios, Art Interactive), has

performed on stages (The Tank, The Theater Offensive, NYC MIXfest, WOW

Cafe Theater, Galapagos). Aims has performed and taught in the US,

Canada and Germany.

Rope Series: Kristina Lenzi

The Present Tense first had the pleasure of showing Kristina Lenzi‘s work at the first Contaminate Festival. Lenzi created “Wrapping Paper” a disturbing, humorous, questionably erotic, and unseasonable (the festival took place well after Christmas had passed) piece.

Recently, Kristina Lenzi’s has been making performance work about fatal accidents.

"Fatal Accidents" 2011

In “Fatal Accidents” Lenzi uses string to attach a helium balloon to her left foot.  She attaches a long string of small Tibetan bells with a fairly heavy rock attached to the end of the string on her right foot.  The helium balloon bounces about in front of her face while she walks slowly, dragging the rock behind her, and carrying a palm-sized lit candle cupped in her hands.  She enters through a front door and exits through a back door.  Her mental focus is mindful of the candle flame and of the potential for fatal accidents.

Kristina Lenzi is a performance artist and painter living in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Lenzi’s performance art work employs live action with painted images and often includes audience participation.  Lenzi examines troubling current affairs such as war, anger, mental illness and the economy.  She uses satire, athletic endeavors, meditation, various personae, painted images and symbolic materials to explore her content.  Lenzi often draws from her personal experience, frequently referencing feminism, sexism, religious bigotry and her Utah upbringing.

Lenzi is an adjunct professor of drawing at the University of Utah and an adjunct professor of drawing, collage, performance art  and color theory at Weber State University.  Lenzi has presented her works in festivals and venues across the United States, including the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mobius in Boston, Waterloo Center for the Arts in Iowa, Performance Studies International at Brown University and New York University.  Lenzi has acquired an international reputation with a performance in Warsaw, Poland.  Lenzi is a 2008 Tanne Foundation Award recipient for her work in performance art.  Lenzi holds a BFA degree in drawing and painting from the University of Utah and a MFA degree from Tufts University.

Call To Artists Using Rope/ String

Are you creating ephemeral works with Rope and/ or String? If so, The Present Tense wants to see what you are doing and consider your work for an upcoming blog post on Rope as a performative object. Please send the following information to thepresentiseternal@gmail.com

by April 4th, 2011.

1.  Artist statement (100 words)

2.  Artist Bio (100 words)

3.  Examples of past work using Rope/ String: Images and/or video

  • Maximum of 10 images (150 dpi no larger than 8×10 inches)

Still images must be accompanied by an image list containing the following information:

  1. Title of piece
  2. Year it was created
  3. Location
  4. Brief description of piece

  • 1-2 Links to Video not to exceed 10 minutes each (hosted on Vimeo, Youtube, or similar site).

Please provide the following information for each video submitted

  1. Title of piece
  2. Year it was created
  3. Location
  4. Brief description of piece if needed

4. Answer the following question:

  • Why do you use rope/string in your work?