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A brief history of temporal art, including the birth of performance art written on the occasion of Franklin Furnace's
10th anniversary in 1986. By Martha Wilson

At the end of the 19th Century, the solid, dependable Newtonian world began to break up: Einstein postulated that matter was made of energy; Heisenberg advanced the "Uncertainty Principle"; Freud discovered the mystery of the unconscious; relativity made its way into philosophy and art. For example, Stephane Mallarme, in writing "Un coup de des jamais n'abolira le hasard," (A throw of the dice will never eliminate chance) cast the words of this poem upon the page, making the space as meaningful as the words and meaning dependent upon the choices made by the reader. When F.T. Marinetti, the Italian poet and founder of Futurism, saw this work, he perceived that the pages of a magazine had been transformed into visual space as well as sequential, but indeterminate time. His influential manifesto, "Parole in Liberta,"(Words in Freedom) was published in 1912, connecting words, the page as art space and reader-controlled time in one document -- which was published in thousands of copies and intended for a mass audience.

Throughout the 20th Century, avant-garde artists' groups such as the Russian Constructivists, the Dada artists, Surrealists, COBRA, Letterist, Fluxus, creators of "Happening," Conceptual and Postmodern artists of our present time, have published books and magazines to contain and distribute their ideas, and to give the reader some measure of control over sequence. Many of these artists from the Futurists onward, also prepared site-specific installations, the meaning of which was "gathered" by the viewer over time; and performances presented to willing and unwilling audiences in "real" time.

Performance art was born in a fistfight in 1910 between the Italian Futurist painters and poets and the Venetian townspeople who reacted in anger when 800,000 manifestoes, "Against Past-Loving Venice" were scattered upon them. Performance art remains confrontational today; further, the form may be understood as the opposite of theater, the purpose of which is the "wilful suspension of disbelief." At the same time, performance art throughout the century has raided literature, music, dance and theater (while theater has borrowed from performance art conventions) spreading confusion. But, in general, performance artists remind their audiences: THERE IS NO ARTIFICE HERE. THIS IS HAPPENING NOW "IN REAL TIME." In the 1960s, "Happening" artists went so far as to make audience and performer one and the same: people licked jelly off a Volkswagen, or exhibited "backstage" activity as the performance itself, as in John Cage's "chance operations."