Today, online video clips are consumed at a rapid pace, infiltrating every possible social feed with shocking visual information designed to be immediately understood and ultimately shared. The more we digest, the more difficult it’s become to decipher between genuine artistry and a Vine captured for an audience’s surface level delight.
Chicago artist Oscar Chavez has indirectly tackled this conversation through his three-part performance series, My Own Personal Catalyst, where he paints his body in public spaces, exploring the lines between artist, art piece and viewer.
Instantly accessible and seemingly mindless, the funny 30-minute videos look like something you might see racking up a million views on Facebook, but Chavez has backed this work with more thoughtful intent than today’s average content creator. His series was inspired by the Catalysis performance works of Adrian Piper in the ’70s, which aimed to implicate the viewer into a painting in progress.
“They occupy spaces such as elevators, street corners and storefronts, in which viewers must choose whether to confront the artwork that is in their way, or continue on without any acknowledgment,” Chavez explained. “Rather than view a painting on four white walls in an art environment, viewers are now expected to confront an interactive body becoming the artwork in a space that gives them no art context.”
By documenting these works, Chavez said they now exist as a reflection on the public sphere and its relation to art more than the performance itself. When he was asked by passersby what he was doing, the artist simply answered, “painting,” which he said raised questions about what art is acceptable for public consumption.
“The reactions of people were not in my mind as a part of the piece when I began, which is a sign of my own naivety,” he said. “But as I reflected on them, the mix of genuine interest, general haggling and confusion as to what exactly I was doing interested me as an important facet of the work. I allowed the general public in on an extremely personal act that at times feels sacred, and in turn included them in the art making process.” Watch, below: