When the New Zealand parliament passed the bill allowing same sex marriage, the people stood in the gallery and sang its appreciation, its involvement. As a Maori song, undoubtedly, it has ethno-specific ritual meanings. However, it demonstrated the will of the people, something that institutions of democracy are designed to do.
All through the 1980’s I collected, played and appreciated the albums of Euro-electronic rock group Depeche Mode. The name means “fast forward” in the French section of a tape deck manual. I recently watched the group perform on YouTube; earlier tracks showed the foursome with little musical instrumental ability, unashamedly miming in front of a recorded version of their music; the audience which had bought expensive tickets being reimbursed by an elaborate light spectacle. However, in a recent concert in Cologne, the lead singer tipped the mike towards the crowd and invited them to sing: “here in my arms”. The otherwise wooden performance suddenly became an experience that the audience created. By repeating a DM song while participating in a sing along would be the best of both worlds, the comfort of tradition, combined with innovation.
One suspects that a lot of performance art has a similar logic at its core: the artist shows little developed artistic ability, but by involving the energy of the audience, a new experience is created. Simultaneously, it bypasses the need for the artist to exercise discernment and discrimination; the artist need not display knowledge of recent art history, or demonstrate intrinsic understanding of what has been recently created; that most difficult feat, of intelligently assessing what would logically progress from such events. Instead, it is easier to simply copy a recent work, to acknowledge indebtedness by calling one’s work an homage. Look at the safe offerings of contemporary artists online: seamless tastefulness, spiced at judicious intervals with a dash of irony or substitution when imitation becomes obsequious.