Performance art is often met with skepticism, and perhaps that is the reaction that artists want to engender. But perhaps it goes too far, when skepticism turns to fear, to anger, to disgust, even. These emotions tend to be the taint on the history of Wiener Faktionismus (Viennese Actionism).
With Hermann Nitsch as its face, it is a defiant movement, whose perpetrators stood behind it as long as they spoke. It was a collaborative effort, mainly involving four artists (including Nitsch). Born in the age of rejecting capitalistic, commodification-based art, it sought the ultimate identity of ‘self’, the truly unsellable.
It seems to have come to the conclusion of using the human body as both, the medium and the canvas. The artists involved all tended to use images of blood, violence and sexual gratification. In the Vienna of the 1960s, this resulted in legal action being taken against the artists. One of the members, Günter Brus, served a 6-month sentence for singing the Austrian national anthem while masturbating and covering himself in his own feces.
The part-fascinated, part-disgusted response of the future audiences looks to have been a motivating factor for future artists. Art has not ceased to experiment with the human body (as Mediamatic might tell you). It might be said that the Wiener Faktionismus movement has prompted a conversation on whether it’s fair to use the human body as art just to shock the audience.