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An Introduction to Performance Art and INVERSE

The Momentary champions contemporary art’s role in everyday life, embracing art in all its forms. In this blog, we take a moment to shed some light on performance art and introduce our readers to INVERSE and our new virtual INVERSE Challenge. 


What is performance art? 

Many attempts have been made to contain performance art to a single definition. Momentary Dance & Theater Programmer Cynthia Post Hunt encourages us to contemplate the experience as a better way to understand, rather than defining it by what it is or is not. “The moment at which the encounter is elevated to a shared experience that lasts well beyond the gallery walls, and transforms the way you and I see the world. This is when the performance begins. And this is why the performance exists.”

For a deeper dive into the history of performance art, we suggest you research some of the following performance artists: Marina Abramovic, Laurie Anderson, Marilyn Arsem, Vanessa Beecroft, Chris Burden, Joseph Beuys, Allan Kaprow, Yayoi Kusama, Tehching Hsieh, Guillermo Gómez-Peña…to name a few. On such a journey, you’ll note the vastness of the medium and why trying to define it may be a bit complicated.

© 2010 Scott
Marina Abramović, The Artist Is Present (2010), Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abramović's former partner Ulay joins her during her performance. Courtesy of Artnet.

Performance art is tied to four main components: time, space, the performer’s body or presence, and the relationship between performer and viewer or audience. Salient performance art pieces of the twenty-first century such as Marilyn Arsem’s 100 Ways to Consider Time and Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present sustain a single piece for an excruciatingly long time, while offering thought-provoking relationships between the artist and their body, and between the artist and the audience.

A still from the new documentary Burden (2016), showing the artist performing Shoot (1971). Courtesy Magnolia Pictures. © 2019 Chris Burden / licensed by The Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Artnet.

Chris Burden’s Shoot piece, in which a fellow artist is asked to shoot Burden in the arm, highlights the authenticity of the artist performing real actions. This work specifically (performed in 1971) was in response to the Vietnam War, an indication that performance art has the ability to react to real-time, current events while also asserting authenticity in performing real actions.

When engaging with performance art, Post Hunt says to “try to frame yourself in your environment by asking a few of the following questions: ‘Where am I? What is happening? Why is this here? How does this make me feel? How can I engage with it? How does this piece actively engage time, space, the body, and you as the audience?’ I strongly encourage you to act on any what-ifs you may be considering. Remember, it is real, live art.”


What is INVERSE?

In addition to her role at the Momentary, Post Hunt is also a co-founder of INVERSE, an artist-run, community-supported inclusive platform and works with artists from around the world. INVERSE strives to foster local dialogue about performance art on an international scale and build a community of performance artists and supporters, providing opportunities for performance work to be cultivated in the community.

“My dear friend and collaborator Emma Saperstein and I began INVERSE Performance Art Festival in 2016 in the hopes of expanding the conversation about performance art,” said Post Hunt.

inverse logo

The festival, held in both Northwest Arkansas and San Luis Obispo, CA, has been received warmly in both communities, sharing a love and mutual interest in the pursuit of learning and interacting with performance art.

The Momentary will offer INVERSE programming later this year, including the INVERSE Lab series and the INVERSE Festival, coming this fall.

Have you participated in the INVERSE Challenge yet?

5 weeks. 5 artists. 5 prompts. INVERSE and the Momentary invite you to explore the medium of performance art from your own home with the INVERSE Challenge. Every Monday, a new prompt by a different artist will be shared on the Momentary’s Instagram (@theMomentary). It will be up to you to respond with your own 30-second video in response to that week’s artist-led prompt. All expressions are welcome! 

Share your video creation on Instagram using the hashtag #MOINVERSEchallenge, and tagging @themomentary and @inverseperformanceartfestival to be featured on the Momentary’s Instagram each week! We will share video responses throughout each week.


Our first INVERSE Challenge took place last week. Chicago-based artist Marcela Torres prompted Momentary followers to record a 30-second performance that considers how to use an orchestra, a sound-based morse code, and a communication device. Here are some of the creative responses we received during the week:




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#moinversechallenge I am participating in the INVERSE challenge. Organized by @inverseperformanceartfestival and @themomentary – the prompts challenge us to respond with performances that can be created at home. This week’s prompt is by artist Marcela Torres: Record a 30-second performance that considers how to use… * an orchestra * a sound-based morse code * a communication device My Orchestra: water in a glass jar. With no one else around except – me, this performance is for my internal body. I curiously ask my body, “I hear you have all this water inside you. I can hear the water as it goes inside and outside of you, out of the two directions I do try to mute the sound of one of them sometimes(smirk)…but when I move around or dance or jump or when I roll in my sleep, does the water inside me make such similar sounds?” #performanceart #moinversechallenge #quarantineart #quarantineartist #videoart #soundart #indianartist #bentonvillearkansas #themomentary

A post shared by Nupur Sachdeva (@nupsinstastudio) on



Artist Esther Neff is leading the prompt this week. Read their story and prompt below.

INVERSE Lab - Esther Neff
Esther Neff. Courtesy of the artist.


“How are you doing?” and “How are you holding up?” we ask each other. To what extent can we communicate how we are? How can we attend to the states of others amidst shared (yet unequally distributed and diffracted) crises?  How can we substantiate each other’s experiences? What presences can we realize, what spaces of appearance are available to us and how are they materialized? For your video, perhaps don’t think too hard about hard meanings or significance; let associations with substances, textures, moods, and the sensory roots of your embodiment surface. 


Record a 30-second performance that considers your current STATE(S):

  • A state of mind or being
  • States of your body
  • Other state

Via a single action. 

Show off your creativity and participate with a response!

Explore the world of performance art, learn more about the art form, and get involved in it with us! New prompts for the INVERSE Challenge will be shared on the Momentary’s Instagram every Monday through May 24.