Milo Moiré's performance: is it possible to talk about art?

The performance through which Milo Moiré presented herself nude at Art Basel has caused discussion. We try to understand if it is possible to talk about art.

The performance that Milo Moiré gave in Basel at the contemporary art exhibition Art Basel caused a stir: the artist showed up at the entrance to the fair completely naked, and with the names of the clothing worn on various parts of the body written on her skin. She was turned away on the grounds that she had not been selected for the fair, and the organization felt it was unfair to the selected artists to accept her performance. For those who want to learn more, an article in Tafter explains it all.

Il tempio di Minerva ad Assisi
Milo Moiré before starting her performance in Basel.
Photo: Sébastien Amex

Surely, however, Milo Moiré’s performance publicized Art Basel better than any other artist officially present at the the way, someone try naming an artist in attendance. And of course, comments condemning the performance broke out on websites and social media. However, before we even ask ourselves whether we witnessed an artistic performance, it would be worth asking ourselves a question: why do art enthusiasts get so heated about the display of the naked body? Who is really the worse off: the artist, who puts himself on display without filter, the well-wishers who are outraged by a body put on display with artistic intent (however much we may or may not agree) when society offers us every day female bodies put on display for surely less noble purposes, or all of us who strive, albeit perhaps unwittingly, to ensure that this dichotomy between bodies shown and passively accepted and bodies shown and about which discussions are heated? And the further question is, why is it so difficult to accept that one can show a naked body for artistic purposes, if this display of the body is moved by a creative act, by a message one wants to send to the public, by an attempt to move minds and procure delight, i.e., the fundamental traits (or some of the traits, although many may disagree) that characterize the work of art?

From Marina Abramovic to Hermann Nitsch via Vito Acconci, the use of the body as a means of expression has, for years now, been codified as art. After all, the exposure of the human body, more or less clothed, presupposes a stronger relationship with reality, and the reactions of the public are there to prove it. This is the key to understanding so-called performance art. Having posited, therefore, that it is art, it remains to be determined what is the limit that distinguishes true performance art from what is not art, and which is configured more as exhibitionism or a marketing stunt.

Milo Moiré (who, by the way, has a degree in psychology and is also a painter of some interest) had already made a similar performance at Art Basel in 2013, in Düsseldorf, when she traveled on the German city’s subway naked and wearing the usual clothes name tags, in a performance entitled Script System. The artist’s goal then was to test the reaction of passersby following the breaking of a routine (buying a ticket, stamping it, entering the train... ) through an unusual event. Is it art? Perhaps, but if the goal is the testing of a reaction, then in the world anyone doing social experiments can be called an artist. And the (stated) goal of the artist also defeats the far more refined notion that clothes conceal the beauty of the human body, because it goes without saying that this message ends up becoming secondary if not completely neglected, so much so that the tendency is always to talk about the nude and not the message it conveys. Performance art must be based on a solid message, otherwise it is pure exhibition. Or at the very least, it must be creative and original. Also: is it original? No, because on the topics on which Milo Moiré is expressing himself in the 2000s, Marina Abramovic had probably already said almost everything in the 1970s.

It is, however, interesting to note how the “relationship between morality and nature,” to use Milo Moiré’s words, still manages to configure itself as a “seemingly unsolvable paradox,” and especially how it manages to catalyze attention on itself: in this case, in spite of the other artists in the review. Original or not, the Basel performance, even more than the Düsseldorf one (albeit with the same modalities: it is the context, however, that changes the message), manages to instill some questions in the most attentive observer. How can this division between morality and nature be resolved? With indifference, perhaps? But is it morally right to be indifferent to nature? And again: despite its unoriginality, why does performance art that presupposes the use of the nude body still cause a stir? Is it the context that makes a work of art such? And most importantly: in an art that nowadays is driven more than ever before in history by the market, can stirring performance art still be a way for the independent role of the artist to be affirmed? It would seem so, since the artist most talked about at this edition of Art Basel was indeed Milo Moiré. Can the creative act, the implicit message, and the ability to raise these questions then make Milo Moiré’s exhibition qualify as performance art? The question is open... :-)

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