|▲ “Non Grata does not underestimate the audience,” says Paldrok. “They think that Jeju Islanders are new to performance art so they need a soft start, but I don’t think so.” Photo by Lee Yeo-jun
[Al Paldrok and Non Grata were on Jeju to perform at the 12th Korea Experimental Arts Festival.- Ed.]
If there were a list of things on earth that are hard to define, art would undoubtedly be near the top. Appraisals of art differ according to what society values. Masterpieces turn into clichés and the unaesthetic and blasphemous become symbols of beauty and creativity. Art works such as “Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp, clearly make us consider these boundaries, yet there is even the argument that anything can be art.
Furthermore, some believe that art expresses pure human emotion and should be distanced from worldly desires. However, others insist that art cannot be dislocated from the world, even for the sake of the art world itself. Despite these everlasting debates around the nature of art, there are some things we should never forget: Creative freedom and the audience.
This is a belief clearly held by the world-renowned performance artists group Non Grata, and they express it through their entire bodies. Their leader Al Paldrok (aka Anonymous Boh) studied sculpture in his homeland Estonia and various art media in Finland. Although he didn’t receive formal education in performance art, he founded the alternative art academy Academia Non Grata in 1998. Over 500 artists from all over the world have now attended the academy which led to the founding of the Non Grata performance group.
Reflecting the founder’s background, the group’s membership is diverse and many members used to pursue standard careers before joining. Even considered in isolation, Non Grata’s performances are unique in indescrib-able ways, not least because they are never repeated. Some are out of this world, some can be violent. Regardless, one can feel an explosion of unaffected creativeness that comes from a natural flow of thought and mind, an expression of Non Grata’s “creative freedom,” which the group strives to foster to counterbalance art’s commercialization.
“Artists have become market monkeys, toys of organizers and circus performers. They try to satisfy the aesthetical needs of society,” says Al Paldrok.
However, creativeness does not end with the artists and their performance, as Non Grata believes that interpretation of its work is the role of the audience. Although the performers do have intended messages, they still leave the ending open and this lets viewers conceive new ideas and be creative themselves.
Al Paldrok criticizes the fact that many artists and organizers undervalue the audience and conceive of art as entertainment. In fact, he says that one of the difficulties of performing in Korea is that organizers try to lead their performances in certain directions. “Non Grata does not underestimate the audience,” says Paldrok. “They think that Jeju Islanders are new to performance art so they need a soft start, but I don’t think so.”
Non Grata reminds us what art truly is. The focus on art should be about understanding what it’s trying to tell us and its effect on the viewers. Presenting different and new ideas on a single matter has been the role of artists, and audiences have changed through this. Whether performance art, or even Non Grata, can be considered art is unimportant. As Al Paldrok tells us, “Performance art is a symbiosis of life forms,” art is part of our lives.