From Alice Cooper’s face paint and Iron Maiden’s elaborate stage sets to Watain’s demon-summoning rituals and Ghost’s hooded robes, heavy metal has always had a close relationship with “performance.” Substance comes first, without a doubt, but performance ain’t far behind. Dimmu Borgir dress up like Satanic carnival barkers. Glen Benton branded an upside-down crucifix into his forehead. Robb Flynn had that Insane Clown Posse hair during The Burning Red days. Simply put, the spectacle of creating extreme music seems to be one of its most potent aspects, and countless bands have used it to their advantage.
Of course, heavy metal isn’t the only avenue humans have for dark artistic expression. There’s also film, literature and, over there in the weirdest corner of the room, performance art. The mere utterance of those two words is enough to make many people run away screaming with visions of Yoko Ono racing through their heads. But just like any type of art, there are exciting, thought-provoking things to be discovered if you take the time to dig a little deeper.
And so we raise the question: Is performance art metal? Let’s take a look at some unsettling examples that might just pass your kvlt test.
OLIVIER DE SAGAZAN
This French lunatic is best known for his “Transfiguration” piece, in which he uses clay and paint to turn his unassuming face into something wrenched from the deepest recesses of your nightmares. Check out this clip from the film Samsara—it’ll undoubtedly fuck up the rest of your day.
Recommended pairings: Portal’s Vexovoid and a couple of Xannies.
Primarily known as “that chick who threw up on Lady Gaga at SxSW,” British performance artist Millie Brown has carved a nice little niche for herself in the under-explored genre of “vomit art.” A lot of folks find it disgusting, but Brown has established a loyal fan base by, in her own words, “using her body to create something beautiful.” See her in action below (if you’re confident you won’t spew).
Recommended pairings: Rwake’s Rest and two tabs of Dramamine.
This Serbian legend has been gettin’ weird since the ’70s, but most people know her from her 2010 piece “The Artist is Present,” in which she sat motionless and silent for 736 hours in the Museum of Modern Art as spectators took turns just kinda hanging out with her. Her previous work includes walking the Great Wall of China, lighting a giant star on fire and lying prone in the middle of it, and ingesting pills designed for catatonic patients. Here she is in 1980 demonstrating the terrifying tension that’s created when someone holds your puny life in their trembling hands.
Recommended pairings: YOB’s Clearing the Path to Ascend and a pint of vodka.
WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK?!?
Generally, the value of performance art is assigned by the observer. People take meaning from all types of abstract images and sounds—what’s creepy and disgusting to some may be transcendent and cathartic to others. Who’s to say which is the correct response?
And then there’s shit like this. Sometimes you just need a reminder that nothing makes sense and we’re all just super-evolved monkeys with too much time on our hands. Fuck.
Recommended pairings: Sebkha-Chott’s Nagali Malidi – Opuscrits En 48 Rouleaux and a really long nap.
The mysteries of Shia LaBeouf may never be fully revealed. Is he a wizard-level troll genius who uses his celebrity status to make us ponder the very nature of reality? Or is he just another Hollywood douche with too much money and a bad beard? Either way, dude has produced some of the most glorious moments of performance art (purposefully or otherwise) in recent memory, from his bizarre live exhibit in Los Angeles—in which people stood in long lines for a chance to gawk at him while he sat in a chair with a paper bag over his head—to his Green Screen rant that has already been elevated to legendary meme status.
The Rob Cantor-produced video below is a perfect example of this weirdo’s bizarrely fascinating existence. He is everywhere and everything. Praise be to LaBeouf.
Recommended pairings: Whatever bullshit they put on the Transformers soundtracks and a fuckload of cocaine.
Know more performance art pieces that are metal as fuck? Put links in the comment section below!