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Performance Art MFA

[“Best of Chicago Art Magazine” re-post. Originally appeared 5/16/10]

Minami Furukawa

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago performance department is a mystery to some. Try explaining what happens in the basement of 280 Columbus Drive to your grandma. “No grandma. They aren’t actors. Well, not quite. It’s not dance. They move around. It’s conceptual. It’s art.”

The Fundamentals of Performance Art for the Curriculum

Thousands of books have been written on the topic of performance art, probably because from the outside it looks like it’s constantly being redefined. But the foundation of performance art can be broken down into fundamentals; in the performance artist’s toolbox you will find: the performer’s body, time, space, a relationship with audience, and, as opposed to 2D art, the work is not the work alone. Performance art is a term that was adopted in the 1960’s to describe a combination of disciplines being used at the same time, for mostly ephemeral works of art, though today, with video and documentation becoming part of the process the word “ephemeral” is not always appropriate.

Only School to Offer MFA in Performance [Art]

Although there are other MFA programs for Performance, which are based on more traditional theatre programs, only the SAIC’s program is geared towards Performance Art.  SAIC has one of the highest rated graduate programs in the U.S and is known to push its students conceptually, rather than aesthetically. The performance department, founded in the spirit of experimentalism, is very competitive, accepting 8 to 10 students a year.

The Students

One student, who will be graduating this Spring with her MFA in Performance Art, said she wanted to come to SAIC because “Most schools in the U.S. only offer MFAs in theater or dance or performance studies, but performance art is not any of these.”

Two other students graduating from the MFA performance department, twins Michael and Alan Fleming, received their BFA’s in painting from University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana but found themselves doing performance collaborations.

“When we started collaborating it was in video and performance,” said Michael. “In our collaboration we are very interested in the body, but like to use whatever medium best conveys the meaning of our project. That may take the form of a live performance one day or a sculpture or video piece the next.”

Measurements, Michael & Alan Fleming

The performance art audience appears to be growing, at least in Chicago and New York. The twins will be taking their interdisciplinary show on the road this summer.

“We will be going on a performance art tour with an artist named Tom Albrecht from New York. We will be performing in New York, Chicago and Las Vegas,” says Michael. Albrecht is an international performer and lecturer focusing particularly on the male body. Though not SAIC-affiliated, Albrecht employs the interdisciplinarity SAIC is known for.

After the tour, the twins will be parting ways. Their goal will be to try to continue their collaboration long distance.

The Coursework: What, exactly, do you study?

The electives they share with undergrads in other departments are enviable, and may include

  • Movement/Improv/Comp
  • Puppetry and Performance
  • Guerilla Art
  • Writing for Performance
  • Performative Identity/Cult
  • Sculptural Practices (intersections between performance, ceramics, fibers, and sculpture)
  • “Feedback”, an art history course with David Raskin, which  incorporates performance art and relational aesthetics or engagement art.

Intensive performance programs are also offered through summer institutes.  “Abandoned Practices”, LINK http://www.abandonedpractices.org/  is a three week summer intensive that “looks forward by looking backward”.