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Parallel Realities: The Development or Performance Art in Australia

BY Neil Howe | 04-Sep-2017
Parallel Realities is the first book to comprehensively examine the development of performance art in Australia within a social and political context. Written by Neil Howe and published by Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978 0 500 500934, this book has been presented as a series of chapters covering different time periods beginning in the 1880's up to 2016, that lead to a collection of 30 artist's performance work documented in the last section of the book. This introduction examines in detail the development of performance art in Australia through its links with experimental theatre, the social and political changes in the society in which the artists live, the effects of influences from overseas, the influences and occasional alliances with popular culture and the pop music scene, and major developments in the visual arts.
Parallel Realities: The Development of Performance Art in Australia. A book by Neil Howe. Publisher Thames & Hudson, Aust. 2017. ISBN 978 0 500 500934

Synopsis: This book traces the development of contemporary Performance Art forms in Australia, from the 1950s to the 70s, and into the 1980s up to today where it comes of age as an established and universally recognised genre of Art. Unlike Europe or America where performance art has been traced by numerous writers and critics from it's origins in Futurist evenings, and Dada soirees through to the Bauhaus, Happenings and Fluxus, to so called seventies performance, the Australian development of this art form has followed no such parallel sequence of events. It is a story that more closely follows the development of an Australian social and political identity and the arduous task of developing an Australian art and culture within a predominantly materialist, pastoralist, pioneering society.

This history has been presented as a series of chapters covering different time periods that lead up to the collection of performance art work documented in the last section of the book. This 'Introduction', so to speak, examines in detail the development of performance art in Australia through its links with theatre, the social and political changes in the society in which the artists live, the effects of influences from overseas, the influences and occasional alliances with popular culture and the pop music scene, and major developments in the visual arts.

By expanding the narration into areas of sociology, politics and general history, the author has endeavored to paint a broad picture of the social and political events that were occurring concurrent with important changes and developments in the visual arts, and thus provide some insight into the sequence of events which has led to the appearance of performance art as a major art form. Until very recently most books on art history have rigidly narrated their facts and observations strictly within the context of previous works of art. However successive movements in art and art philosophy have not developed as hermetically as many writers and historians would want us to believe. Art after all, in all its many faceted forms, has always been a complex integrated component of everyday life and society, and the artist, once all the mysteries and popular romantic delusions have been stripped away, remains an ordinary person living and working within a complex social structure; influenced by his or her social environment, it’s values and politics, just like any other person.

The story begins in chapter one with Nationalism and the Heidelberg school, and the social and political stage that became the foundation of an Australian art world which chose to isolate itself from the influence of war torn Europe and stem the tide of modernism, dada, surrealism and the perceived decay of art values. But as this generation of pioneers age a younger generation rebels, and modernism creeps in through the backdoor. The Angry Pengions and the scandal of the Ern Malley Affair fling open the doors, and young Australian artists embrace the modern art of Europe and post war America.

With chapter two Barry Humphries brings Dada to Melbournians in the 1950s, and the Antipodean Manifesto announces the battle between the Sydney abstractionists and the Melbourne figurative artists, the stage was set for the evolution of live art.

With chapter three the sixties begin to transform Australia, and so does experimental theatre, pop and Happenings transform the Australian art scene. This chapter examines the University Revues, New Theatre, Australian POP, Oz magazine, Happenings, Savart, The Yellow House and more.

Chapter four brings us to the seventies and the crisis in art that leads to the dematerialisation of the art object, the art of the idea, conceptual art, fluxus, body art and the numerous forms of what has become known as Performance Art.

Chapter 5 continues the story from the mid 80's to current time and examines the reasons for both the decline, and the resurgence, of performance art through this period. It also looks at the influence of the Sydney gay & alternative sex party & club scene, feminist performance, the underground art scenes in various cities, the ARI network, and the influence of contemporary politics on art.

Chapter six examines in detail the complete work of 33 of Australia's leading pioneers in performance art including, Stelarc, Peter Kennedy, Kevin Mortensen, Jill Orr, Dale Frank, Tim Johnston, Lyndall Jones, Aleks Danko and Tim Burns with descriptions of all of their events and large numbers of photographs, many of which have never been published before.

Written in a language that is accessible to both students and the general reader, this book is aimed at the education sector, artists, historians and the average art/theatre enthusiast. 352 A4 size pages with colour and bw photos. Funded by two Australia Council for the Arts grants. RRP $65