KU professor: Performance art has few restraints

Performance art goes beyond the paintbrush and easel to an art form that has no concrete definition.

"It's wide open and that's the nature of performance art," said Roger Shimomura, Kansas University distinguished professor of art.

"It redefines itself every time someone does a performance. That's why it is so fruitless to come up with a description, because the definition of performance art will change virtually every time someone does a performance."

Both performance and installation art break the conventional artistic mold. Performance art uses the self as the primary medium of performance, while installation art adds the elements of space and time to create a specific environment.

"Painting is two-dimensional. Sculpture is three-dimensional," Shimomura said. "What I do with performance art and what Maria Velasco does with installation art is four-dimensional."

Transcending a medium

Shimomura has taught performance art since 1985. The class is offered in the fall to about 12 students. He said he has taught a variety of students � from art to theater to mathematics majors.

A diverse group of about 15 students also take installation art taught by Velasco, associate professor of art, in the spring. She has taught the course for seven years.

Students often take the courses consecutively, Shimomura said. The courses, which transcend a specific medium, further the boundaries of art.

"Art is constantly breaking down barriers before people in other fields," he said. "There is a strange philosophy at the very core of what we are about. If art isn't going to do that, who is?"

Although performance and installation art break down boundaries, Shimomura said breaking the rules isn't what art is truly about.

"I discourage the breaking of rules as the objective for doing it," he said. "But I encourage breaking the rules if it achieves the objective."

The objective of installation art is hard to explain, Velasco said.

"It is concerned with space and time," she said. "It is not centered around a certain medium, but a combination of mediums that work together to recreate a certain experience."

Installation is multimedia and interdisciplinary by nature, she said. There are few restraints, and many times a piece will appeal to several senses. Pieces tend to be a combination of traditional art with media, video and performance. The piece is limited to an area 12 feet long, 12 feet wide and 12 feet high.

A creative challenge

Velasco said the courses are time-consuming. Both meet for three hours, three times a week.

"It is challenging, but it gives them the opportunity to create an experience for themselves and for the viewer that is inclusive of the other art forms they have learned," she said.

At the end of each semester, both courses have a final show and students present a final piece.

Beth Heffernan, Kansas City, Kan., senior, took Velasco's course last spring. Her final piece told the story of growing up in a strict, Christian household.

Heffernan created an altar and carpeted the floor with pages from the Bible. On the wall, she projected layered video-taped performances of her scrubbing her own skin raw in the bathtub, writing lessons repeatedly on a blackboard and searching frantically through the Bible. She also projected pages from the journal and sketch book kept throughout her childhood.

"I just gave the viewer a bunch of little clues � pieces of the puzzle � and hoped that they took the time to really investigate the piece," she said.

She said she would recommend any student taking the class.

"Installation art offers a different opportunity than any other art form," Heffernan said. "It offers so many more opportunities to challenge the artist creatively and is much more challenging and rewarding. I think every major could be bettered by a study of space and environment."

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