Controversy comes as part of the package in art, considering that it is often art that challenges our perceptions, dares ask provocative questions and resultantly paves the way for science and changes in our psychological landscape.
Due to art’s inherent nature of treading new ground, some subjects are taboo, like the Western conception of death, as explored by Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde sculptures. At the time of their release, the dissected animals grabbed headlines. Yet, controversy was a by-product, sort of a necessity to making a larger point. That it was even considered controversial only fed into his concept’s strength.
Hirst got headlines after he made art that worked, but how do we feel about artists who look for controversy? Artists for whom controversy itself is the concept? Swiss performance artist Milo Moiré is one such artist whose controversy doesn’t only come from outside of the art world, but inside it too. Moiré is a model, tall and elegant, the epitome of Western beauty ideals. For many, her parading through public spaces nude is jarring. Why is she doing this?
That ‘why’ is what all the hype, intrigue and discussion surrounding the artist hinges on. The criticism waged against her is that Moiré’s why doesn’t substantiate a solid enough answer. For a great many art critics, it isn’t even art, it’s just performance porn.
Jonathan Jones of The Guardian cites the large void in meaningful performance art since many pioneering acts of the form reached their crescendo in the 1970s. Whether it be Marina Abramovic or earlier Dada artists - the latter of whom drew parallels to the absurdity of war by the absurdity of their own performances - performance art has gone through a dry spell. No longer, if Moiré can help it.
In one of her most iconic performances, ‘PlopEgg’, the artist drops eggs filled with paint onto a surface below to create splash paintings, albeit powered by her vaginal canal rather than the dexterous wrist flicks Jackson Pollock would have relied on. Her nudity is part of the statement. Fertility, freedom, feminism.
Jones remarked on the Swiss artist’s spectacle, “And yet it's not a strong statement at all. It is absurd, gratuitous, trite and desperate. Anywhere but an art gathering, this would be regarded as a satire on modern cultural emptiness.” If an alien were to land, and this particular act had to be explained in only a few words, many would probably begin to see the overruling humour of it all.
Not everything has missed the mark though, which to many, is exactly what 'PlopEgg' did. In ‘Mirror Box’, Moiré paraded around major European cities with a mirrored box cover her breasts and vagina, armed with a megaphone beckoning passersby to grope her. Anything goes for the 30 second period under the caveat that they’d either be looking her in the eye or looking back at themselves. A very literal reflection of what a person looks like who is willing to do what any said individual chose to do with their time-slot.
Controversy is a cornerstone of these performances, but, especially in ‘Mirror Box’, also something functional. Maybe Moiré wants to force us into something uncomfortable. It’s not the depravity of the act that we find repulsive, but our own complicity in them. We are an active audience, we have bought into a culture that has made these acts possible. With a master’s degree in Psychology, there’s every chance that Moiré will turn around soon and say ‘Ha! I got you all’.
Even criticising her is proving the point that anything can and will be viewed as art. For what is art if not something we talk about in relation to its ability to affect change? Maybe the mirror is an even deeper symbol that doesn’t just highlight what people are doing to her, but what she is doing to the entire institution of art.
Then again, having just released her first porno on PornHub, it’s possible that Moiré is just an artist with a predisposition for exhibitionism and attention-grabbing. In these paradoxical traits - the vacuity of seeking that attention and the possibility of an extremely smart piece of satire - is where Moiré is most interesting.
We consume beauty and body rapaciously. It’s a currency in contemporary life, something that, like cash, you can only really get so far without. At least, life is easier when you have it. So, why would it be okay to click on any other kind of porn, accessing any desired fetish as simple as ordering a book on Amazon, but not the kind of porn that provokes discussion? Do we prefer our high-brow discussions to be orgasm-free?
The very public nature of her performances are what makes people click (see riding a bike through the streets with a dildo replacing the seat). In that case, is it a matter of rationalising what should be public versus what should be private? Surely, then, the same should stand for giant billboards and x-rated magazines in shops. Never mind ads online.
Maybe the point isn’t what points Moiré’s works try to make, but what questions they raise. Whether we agree or disagree - something people tend to do passionately on either side - having something to look at and talk about that galvanises a discussion on the nature of art - that is also as accessible as Moiré’s performances - must be a positive, right? Of that question, I’m certain the answer is yes. Is Moiré a wild departure from the bubble-gum reality shows or carbon-copy Netflix dramas? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows?
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