Performance Art is Happening: FURNACE #2

You will become a part of the happenings;
you will simultaneously experience them

Allan Kaprow

The Genesis of Performance Art

In 1959, American artist Allan Kaprow sent out invitations for his debut show at Reuben Gallery with a captivating proposition: “You will become a part of the happenings; you will simultaneously experience them.” He described the show as “something spontaneous, something that just happens to happen”. The audience, unaware of what awaited them, arrived at the venue with only one instruction: no smoking or leaving during the event. Upon reaching the second floor of the gallery, they were given detailed directives, orchestrating their seating and movements across three segmented spaces of the gallery. This format allowed viewers to adopt various perspectives and engage in concurrent activities, thereby experiencing a spectrum of unique sensations. Their very presence, voices, and movements became integral to the artwork.


One of Kaprow’s most seminal works, 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, set the precedent for this genre. The audience, deliberately kept in the dark about the proceedings, was orchestrated through a series of movements and interactions within the gallery’s segmented spaces. This participatory element not only blurred the lines between the observer and the observed but also enriched the sensory experience of art.

Kaprow’s Happening Art, a precursor to what we now know as Performance Art, was a playful yet profound departure from traditional gallery exhibitions. This art form thrived on audience engagement, transforming passive viewers into dynamic participants. The Fluxus movement, contemporaneous with Kaprow, echoed this sentiment, championing the idea that “every person is an artist”.

The rebellious spirit of performance art lay in its intention to disrupt and subvert. It challenged the hierarchy and formality of traditional art, replacing it with a living, breathing interaction between the artwork and the audience. This dynamic transformed art from a distant object to be admired into an immersive, collaborative experience.

Pang Jing, a local performance art artist

Pang Jing, a vanguard in the local performance art scene, recently discussed her latest venture, Furnace #2, a workshop cum live performance event. Here, a diverse group, irrespective of background or experience, dives into the world of performance art, culminating in a public showcase. The event, hosted at BASE, a studio repurposed from a classroom, explored the theme “Destroy and Reborn”, allowing each participant an hour to present their unique interpretation.

Carmen, a dancer, articulated this contrast through her piece. Adorned only in white undergarments and armed with a flat brush, she painted herself with white paste in a sun-drenched classroom. As the paste dried, forming a skin-like layer, Carmen’s act of peeling it away was both visceral and symbolic, a stark portrayal of the rawness inherent in performance art.

Pang Jing’s sharing played a crucial role in guiding the participants through this uncharted territory. She encouraged embracing both the energy and the lulls, challenging the audience to reflect on their own perceptions of monotony and excitement in an information-saturated age.

An intriguing question arose during Carmen’s performance: What if the audience was invited to participate in the act of peeling away the paste? Carmen’s refusal to seek such help underscored the autonomy and personal nature of performance art. As Pang Jing noted, audience intervention could fundamentally alter the piece, offering a different narrative and visual experience.

Another participant, Merry, themed her performance 𖠁⌘ The Cage ⌘𖠁,  delved into themes of duality, struggle, and loss. It was a response to an insignificant yet impactful personal incident, reflecting the intimate and cathartic nature of performance art. Her willingness to embrace the spontaneity of the moment highlighted the art form’s capacity for genuine, unscripted reactions.

The themes explored in art can be intensely private and raw, while behaviour becomes a form of practice. Presenting such behaviour requires immense courage. Merry’s total immersion in her creation resonated deeply with the audience, creating a connection and empathy. Post-performance, there seemed to be a tacit agreement not to delve into the exact message of the work or the symbolism of various materials. Perhaps, what you perceive at that moment is all you need to know.

Jack’s use of bamboo screens to explore spatial relationships further emphasised the medium’s versatility. 

“I had some ideas about what to do, but many things happened spontaneously,” Jack shared. His performance, enhanced by an impromptu collaboration, illustrated the profound impact of non-verbal communication, transforming a solitary expression of confinement into a shared experience of liberation.

“That moment, I felt like he was inviting someone to join his work, so I went,” said the intervenor, Silo.The performance, initially dominated by a sense of oppression from a single person, shifted entirely with the addition of another, evolving into a release for both. Together, they created a beautiful scene with the bamboo screens, adding another layer of meaning to the piece.

Furnace #2, in essence, was an exploration of self through the act of creation and destruction. It posed a fundamental question: Can we truly rediscover ourselves only after stripping away our preconceptions and starting afresh? This event not only showcased the transformative power of performance art but also its role in facilitating personal and collective journeys of discovery and rebirth.

Information source: Furnace #2, The Case for Performance Art by Pang Jing

Photo source: ArtPlastoc, BBOLD

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