Miami Performance International Festival: Five Freaky Artists to See

See our interview with Charo Oquet, founder of the Miami Performance International Festival.

Early performance art pioneers were lightning rods for controversy, often creating works that veered from the dangerous to the downright scandalous. During the '70s, American artist Chris Burden took a bullet in the arm fired from a few feet away by an assistant and later had himself nailed to the back of a Volkswagen in a modern-day version of a crucifixion. In the '60s, Viennese artist Rudolf Schwarzkogler famously mutilated his penis, while in 1975 Bard College grad Carolee Schneemann appeared nude before an audience and removed a rolled up feminist text from her birth canal, reading her own version of a vagina monologue to those in attendance. More recently Guatemala's Regina Jose Galindo wowed spectators at the Venice Biennale in 2005, snagging a Golden Lion Award for her video capturing the artist having her hymen surgically reconstructed.

Starting today and running through Sunday, the freshly hatched Miami Performance International Festival (M/P '12) taking place in the Design District and Miami Beach Botanical Garden, aims to follow in that tradition. The fest will showcase more than 50 practitioners of the challenging genre, representing 11 countries. And not unlike their predecessors, the array of talent gathered here for the free, four-day event plan to thumb their noses at the traditional market on a stage they are calling the "Anti-Basel," with works that are ephemeral and visceral in nature.

The theme is "The Art of Uncertainty," and M/P '12 will feature panels and talks on the art of performance and workshops for adults and children. Expect to see plenty of video installations, music, poetry, and other nontraditional art forms in presentations that delve into issues including migration, gender, identity and religion, ecology and feminism, sexual tourism, and living with depression. Some of the works on display will be inspired by early performance art pioneers.

Think of it as an artsy take on "shock and awe." Here are five artists who'll challenge audiences with boundary-pushing works this weekend, describing their projects in their own words.

Jessica Hirst
This artist, visiting from Spain, explores social stigma in a work she calls a quasi-spiritual culinary exorcism. "I am working with the phenomenon of social stigma, which in Erving Goffman's theory of social stigma, is an attribute, behavior, or reputation which is socially discrediting in a particular way: It causes an individual to be mentally classified by others in an undesirable, rejected stereotype rather than in an accepted, normal one," Hirst explains. "I employ that most basic element of performance, my body, on which I write a list of all of my attributes that could be, or could have been, stigmatized at some place or time: female, Jewish, raped, left-handed, mentally ill, on medication, in therapy, feminist, white, American, rich, Protestant, short, left-handed, artist, immigrant, etc. I employ my body in the nude, both physically and symbolically. I also use the ingredients for cooking a cake: flour, sugar, eggs, leavening, and possibly chocolate. Audiences can expect an intense encounter with their pre-conceived notions about stigma on a personal level."
Translation: Remember that French artist who turned himself into a giant sundae? It's like that, but with more boobies.

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Carlos Suarez De Jesus

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