Liminal Spaces Within The Transgressive Body

• Colleen Walker (2005)


Is it possible for a body to be described as having liminal spaces? The word liminal comes from the Latin ‘Limen’ (HyperDictionary, 2003) and refers to a threshold, not only the threshold for example of a door entrance but also that of a sensory threshold. The latter definition certainly has associations with the body, for most of us are born with the five senses consisting of sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. The body is also endowed with the physical thresholds of ears, eyes, mouth, anus and vagina, parts of the body where insides and outsides merge, all qualify as liminal spaces.

It is the merging of the inside and outside of the body in relation to abject Performance Art that will form the basis for this investigation. Susan Broadhurst (1999, p.12) refers to some of the features of liminal performance as being “corporeal…marginalised…on the edge”. All of these elements can be recognised in the work of performance artist Franko B, but is it possible for other associations to be made as well?  By examining certain key elements of Franko B’s performances and analysing them within the wider context of the society we live in, can the liminal spaces within the body represent more than the merging of the inside and outside? Is it possible for these liminal spaces to represent the marginalised within society? How is marginalised defined, who are the marginalised and why? Can an artist’s body be used as a catalyst for expressing and highlighting these and other issues within society?

The body in the last ten years or so has become more ‘outer’. It is no longer a genetically given definitive, but can be changed, enhanced, replaced. Genetic engineering and medical/scientific advances are constantly striving to refine, replace and manipulate what was once a “god given” body. Diseased and worn out body parts including heart, lungs, liver, kidney, eyes, hips and knee cap all and more can be replaced. Cosmetically if we are no longer satisfied with our physical appearance we can change it.

The Media represents the body as beautiful, youthful, slim and healthy; there is no room for the sick, old, decrepit or diseased. Modern technology can create computer generated images of bodies that do not exist in real life; if you want it you can have the face of Madonna and the rear of Jennifer Lopez all at the click of a button. The body has become the site on which status, desire, identity and expression are represented, acted out and yet within this hierarchal society one must conform in order to belong is particularly relevant with regard to the latest fashion of tattooing, body piercing and the even more extreme branding. All used as a sign of self-expression, of rebellion against society, but at the same time of conforming to the expectations of ones peer group.

Historically the body has been used as a site of both spiritual and political artifice, in the past there were fasting medieval holy women to the present day when devout shias flagellate themselves using chains and razors in search of spiritual atonement. The body has also been used as a political instrument, the image of the lone student standing in front of an armoured tank in the Tiananman Square uprising in 1989 is replaced today by the recent shocking image in the newspaper of refugee Abbas Amini with stitched up eyes and mouth in protest against being sent back to Iran (Azad, 2003).Í The body as Seat of Power is being compromised, for although we appear to have more freedom of choice, our civil liberty is increasingly being eroded away by state legislation. We daily witness the body as the recipient of violence towards and upon it through television and film, however, these images appear detached from us, distant and unreal.

Since the early 1990’s there has been a resurgence in Body Art and in particular performing the abject. Why has ‘The Body’ in Performance Art become the site for discourse on ‘The Real’ as both maker and material and in particular what does the abject body signify today? We are all fascinated by our bodies and how they work; the recent exhibition “Body Worlds” [1] confirmed this fascination drawing huge numbers of visitors to it. Body Art or Performance Art is historically a phenomenon that developed in the early 1960’s. It is particularly in relation to the abject body and its validity as social political vehicle in expressing and communicating its message in the cultural melange that is life in the 21st century that is intriguing.

Tracing Foundations

The roots of Performance Art can be traced back to Romanticism, when artists and poets wanted to express their inner feelings in relation to nature, inspiring a subjective interpretation of the world around him. Awe, terror, mortality, transformative, self, religious and terror are just a few words that describe Romanticism. Romanticism is described as something that causes feelings that both repels and attracts and this mirrors that of our responses to the abject body in Performance Art.

Art movements such as Dada, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism have all influenced or used the artist’s ‘body’ as material. Ira Licht refers to “Marcel Duchamp’s influence is seminal. It is his career that certified the possibility that the artist himself has an aesthetic reality” (Warr and Jones, 2000, p.251/252). Duchamp’s introduction of the ‘real’ in his ready-mades redefined the art ‘object’. Licht goes on to say “of special pertinence to the brief history of body art are his celebrated impersonations of Rrose Selavy, his female alter ego” and describes yet another performance piece of Duchamp’s “with his head shaved in the form of a star, Duchamp… with painted face and a wooden spoon in his lapel, himself became the art object” (ibid).

Later in the 1950’s the artist Jackson Pollock’s painting placed himself within his work. “So in Jackson Pollock’s dramatic confrontation with the canvas – ‘an arena in which to act’ – the creative moment is more important than the actual work of art”       (Meecham and Sheldon, 2000, p.169) further develops the idea of the artist as both subject and object. Kaprow states “Pollock could truthfully say that he was ‘in’ his work” and goes on to say “but it is perhaps bordering on ritual itself, which happens to use paint as one of its materials” (Warr and Jones, 2000, p.194).

By 1960 Yves Klein had taken painting a stage further by directing two female nudes covered in blue paint to act as the paint brush on paper. “They became living brushes” (Kaprow quoted in Warr and Jones, 2000, p.196). Though Klein as artist had distanced himself from the actuality of painting, the body and the element of performance was united as one.

Happenings and Fluxus performance combined artist’s performance in public places outside of the gallery space.

  1. “Fluxus performances situate the body in the centre of knowledge as the principle means by which to interrogate the very conditions in which individuals interact with things and thereby produce social meanings” (Stiles quoted in Warr and Jones, 2000, p.211).

The artist’s body became ever more pivotal in these radical often chaotic events. The increasingly important role of the body in Body/Performance Art became a reaction against the commodification of the work of art in the Capitalist West able to express social/political issues of the day. These events which took place in real time and real space and could only be witnessed by a live audience. These happenings lived in the memory of those that witnessed them, the only documentary evidence being photographic, and in the early 1960’s this was often sketchy.

By the late 1960’s the artist’s body became a catalyst for representing issues of gender, race and sex. Women artists used their bodies to confront the masculine hierarchy of the art world. Marina Abramovic used physical endurance to push her body to the limit, even on occasion, putting her life at risk, and being rescued only when members of the public intervened and stopped the performance. For example, Abramovic (1998) speaking about Rhythm 5 (1974) constructed a five point star on the ground made from petrol soaked wood shavings leaving a small area in the centre clear. She set the star alight, cutting her hair and nails she threw these into the points of the star and lay down in the centre, unaware that the fire had consumed all of the oxygen, she lost consciousness. It was only when flames were physically touching her legs and she did not react that two spectators entered the star and carried her out. Bringing “the performer and the public into another dimension of reality” (Abramovic, 2003). It is at this point that the abject body in performance surfaces with other artists such as Gina Pane and Chris Burden.

The abject body of the 1960’s has been replaced by the predominantly male abject body in the 2000’s by artists such as Ron Athey and Franko B. It is Franko B’s work that will be the subject for this investigation into the abject.

The Artist’s Body

Franko B’s performances are carefully directed and slickly stage managed pieces. Often the impression is one of high theatricality when reading reviews and articles about these performances, but these can be misleading. The atmosphere during B’s performances is described as contemplative, respectful, thoughtful and quiet. Franko B’s work uses his body, his blood explicitly, but the context in which his work is performed/seen is of extreme relevance to the way the work is read, placing it in both the social and political arena for discussion. B refuses to explain what his work is about “absence of program notes or of verbal texts is significant – words are denotative, they close down meaning; images remain open to multiple interpretations” (Campbell and Spackman, 1998, p.60). What we are presented with is a heavily tattooed and pierced naked body, sometimes painted white, and bleeding, sometimes in a wheelchair, restricted by leg callipers or attached to a catheter. The performance can take place in a gallery space or in marginalised urban public places.

Where do we begin to read meaning into this work? The body as both socially and culturally constructed will always be open to and have complex meanings assigned to it.  Campbell and Spackman (1998, p.57) state “there is no ‘naked,’  ‘natural’ body; the body, no less than language, is prescribed by culture” and they continue by quoting Barthes “even and especially for your own body, you are condemned to the repertoire of its images”.

Broken Boundaries

What is the Abject Body? The abject in Performance Art? The abject body is where the boundaries of the body are transgressed. When the internal becomes external. Mouth, nose, ears, eyes, anus and vagina are all sites where the outside and inside merge. Bodily fluids – blood, urine, tears, saliva, faeces, when they cross the boundary of the skin become repellent to us. These bodily fluids inside the body, becomes problematic to us once they cross the boundary of the skin. Outside of the body, bodily fluids become divorced from their owners body. It is symptomatic particularly of Western culture that the basic functions of the body are denied, hidden, we are almost removed or separated from them, which is in itself impossible, for it is a fact of being ‘alive’.

Bodily Margins Mary Douglas reminds us, are dangerous.

  1.  “Any structure of ideas is vulnerable at its margins. We should expect the orifices of the body to symbolise its specially vulnerable points… Spittle, blood, milk, urine, faeces or tears by simply issuing forth have traversed the boundary of the body. So also have bodily parings, skin, nail and hair clippings, and sweat” (Douglas, 1979, p.121).

Paul Broks refers to a lecture he attended that vividly elucidates the abject.   

  1. “He asked us to consider how often we swallow our own saliva. We do it all the time, of course, without thinking. Then he invited us to imagine that, instead of swallowing, we spat into a tumbler. How would we now feel about sipping from a tumbler full of our own spit?” (Broks, 2003, p.108).

Do you feel disgusted and repelled by the thought of this?

Julia Kristeva (1982) also refers to the boundaries of the abject body as not only bodily margins but also places the abject within the relationship of the maternal and paternal as the foundation of questioning of sexual identity. Kristeva according to Anne-Marie Smith’s analysis places the abject within a wider social context. “As such, the abject is closely bound up with questions of identity, boundary crossing, exile and displacement” (Smith, 1998, p.29). Thus implicating the abject body within a social and possibly political discourse as well.

How is sexual identity designated within Western society? David Harradine places the definitions of sexual gender/identity within Freud’s essay ‘Civilised Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness (1908) in which he examines Sexual Morality in relation to “the suppression of instincts” and that the development of this suppression can be distinguished over three stages.

  1.  “A first one in which the sexual instinct may be freely exorcised without regard to the aims of reproduction; a second, in which all of the sexual instinct is repressed except what serves the aims of reproduction; and a third, in which only legitimate reproduction is allowed as a sexual aim”(Freud quoted in Harradine, 2000, p.71).

Harradine concludes that within this analysis which legitimates “normal” sexuality and which excludes as defined by Freud “different varieties of perverts” (Freud, 1991, p.41) that it is against the perverse that civilised society establishes the heterosexual hierarchy that is normality.

Foucault further explores the ‘normal’ in relationship to society in his discourse on power and normality. Fillingham (1993)  interprets Foucault’s writings on power and normality, that it is only when those that are abnormal described as being for example criminals and the ill are identified (usually minority groups) can the normal in society be defined and the abnormal (the excluded) becomes a constant subject for examination in order to reiterate the normal. In effect the abnormal are spoken about by experts (normal) their voices (of the abnormal) are deemed irrelevant because they have no knowledge (power). Within this hierarchy those defined as normal (the majority) will always exert their authority over the excluded (abnormal) minority.

The abject is often associated with the ‘other’ and the ‘other’ as already discussed is closely associated with matters of sexuality and gender. Franko B openly acknowledges that he is homosexual[2]. Judith Butler refers to the regulatory norms of heterosexual hegemony in her discourse on the viable body. “If the materiality of sex is demarcated in discourse, then this demarcation will produce a domain of excluded and delegitimated ‘sex’” and by doing so “produce a domain of abjected bodies” and she concludes

  1.  “What challenge does that excluded and abjected realm produce to a symbolic hegemony that might force a radical rearticulation of what qualifies as bodies that matter, ways of living that count as ‘life’, lives worth protecting, lives worth saving, lives worth grieving”(Warr and Jones, 2000, p.264).

The result is a correlation between the abject and the ‘other’ which has entered an interdependent discourse, in which the abject defines ‘otherness’ and vice versa. Hal Foster refers to the abject as “crucial as it is to the construction of subjectivity, racist, homophobic, and otherwise” (Foster, 1996, p.153).

This can be interpreted to signify that those excluded, those that do not conform to these norms, the homosexual, disabled, socially degenerate all qualify as the ‘other’ the alienated, and that in Franko B’s work it is possibly this ‘underdog’ in/of society that his body represents. Can the breaking of the boundaries in the abject body symbolise the breaking down and confrontation of social prejudice?

This association relies very heavily on the context in which Franko B’s work is presented and which is so vital to his performance. For example, images of B in marginalised public places with graffiti walls with existing established associations with the homeless and poverty are re-emphasised by B’s standing naked body clutching a hot water bottle. Franko B confronts our prejudices by using marginalised places used by marginalised people within society.

Religion, Ritual, Shaman

Franko B’s act of wounding himself has shamanistic, ritualistic and religious inference. The role of Shaman is symbolically one of healer. It is possible to find connections between B’s performances and those associated with that of a Shaman. Franko B’s body is heavily tattooed and is often painted white and presented already in its bleeding wounded state. “The public performance of taboo acts is also an ancient religious custom with roots in shamanism and primitive magic” (McEvilley quoted in Warr and Jones, 2000, p.225). McEvilley also refers to the role of Shaman as a ritual scapegoat figure and refers to the body of the shaman as being frequently “tattooed or scarified or painted” (ibid). 

It is not surprising that articles written about Franko B’s performances make reference to that of Shaman “The shamanic root relates to the recognisable traits of performance as ordeal, inspiration, therapy or trance, as the artist executes a ritual of cleansing or communication” (O`Reilly, 2003, p.2). B’s life/death experiences through his performance epitomises those of the Shaman “Shamans do not only think about death: in a symbolic, yet somehow lived manner, they have been through it during their initiation” (Tucker, 1992, p.79).

References to religious painting, the sacred, stigmata and ritual have all been used to describe Franko B’s performance work. B’s body is often bandaged these bandages are then removed to reveal his already bleeding body or he may be bound and suspended upside down both have religious associations.

  1.  “With palms held upwards, a powerful spotlight shining from above and an artificial mist hanging around his naked body, he seems to be imitating an accepted posture of the risen Christ of the New Testament” (Morgan quoted in Keidon and Morgan, 1998, NPN)

In some performances B ritually washes his hands in a bowl which he then empties over his head this image has strong religious associations with cleansing and baptism.

Blood is the main element in Franko B’s work and this is laden with symbolic religious imagery and associations.  Kristeva refers to “the artistic experience, which is rooted in the abject it utters and by the same token purifies, appears as the essential component of religiosity” (Kristeva, 1982, p.17). Blood as both sacred and profane is where Kristeva (1982) emphasises the relevance of rituals and religious protocols which function within society as defining the sacred and the profane. John Lash (quoted in Clarke, 2000) discussing the relationship between sacrifice and scapegoat observes that in Biblical terms a scapegoat is symbolically marked with blood, weighed down with the sins of the community and cast out, and that within society, scapegoating is a most convenient form of transposing blame onto an individual/group and then ostracizing them for it, an extreme example of this would be ethnic cleansing recently witnessed in countries such as Bosnia. Under these circumstances the correlation between that of ‘other’ and Franko B’s abject performance and its role as representing the marginalised within society may not be that improbable.

Anyone with some knowledge of Christian belief systems will find it easy to recognise and associate parts of Franko B’s work with those associated with religious iconography. It is impossible not to connect the abject with religion, when it is within religious doctrine that the status of the abject is both designated and defined.

Both Mary Douglas (1979) and Julia Kristeva (1982) quote biblical writings as the source on which the status of unclean and impure practises are demarcated. Whether it be the bibles teachings on what foods/animals can or cannot be eaten because some are deemed to be unclean, Kristeva’s (1982) analysis traces the evolution of religion and its continuum of restrictions whereby prohibition begets prohibition from the dietary (no meat) to blood, concluding with Western Christian belief systems where sexual identity is also condemned when it involves sexual intercourse between same sex partners. Abjection that appears in religious structures as exclusion because of unclean or impure status concludes within Christianity as ‘otherness’. Thus homosexuality is morally condemned; the homosexual becomes a sinner (an ‘other’). But these prohibitions if broken create an anomaly within the Christian belief systems in which these issues must be able to be both resolved and absolved. Kristeva speaks of “Christian sin, tying its spiritual knot between flesh and law, does not cut off the abject...Meant for remission, sin is what is absorbed” (Kristeva, 1982, p.127). When condemning the sinner the bible asks each of us to examine our own consciences asking who of us is without sin when resolving the plight of the transgressor, the church offers forgiveness to those that repent their sins, thus placing the absolution of the abject within an infinite reciprocated discourse between that of the sinner (mortal) and the absolver (the spiritual church). “A source of evil and mingled with sin, abjection becomes the requisite for a reconciliation, in the mind, between the flesh and the law” (ibid).

Never-the-less it seems ironic, that today the church is more divided than ever in its deliberations on homosexuality. Franko B as homosexual is already defined as ‘other’ within the heterosexual hierarchical ‘norms’ of society and also the ‘norms’ of Western biased Christianity.

Nudity and Nakedness

Franko B’s body is presented in its unclothed state, its naked state. Nude, naked, both describe the unclothed state of the body. Mario Perniola describes the significance of clothes in respect of giving humans status “anthropological, social and religious identity, in a word – their being” and the unclothed state as the opposite “nudity is a negative state, a privation, loss, dispossession” and further develops this state of exclusion as “denuded, stripped and divested describe a person who is deprived of something he or she ought to have” (Feher, et al 1990, p.237). The unclothed state becomes one of representing degradation, shame and possibly the state of abjection and otherness.

Nude within the ‘fine art’ context is usually assimilated with that of the female unlike the description of naked. Rob Cover (2003) makes the same signification between clothes and the status of the body but places greater emphasis on the difference between naked and nude, citing Kenneth Clark’s analysis that it is within the context of “high art” that the difference between naked and nude can be identified, portraying the naked as nude and implying that ‘nude’ as a genre in its own right becomes another form or style of clothing, the remaining naked being the only true definition of unclothed. Cover also refers to the underlying influence of religion still pertinent in contemporary society today when assimilating nakedness with shame, quoting from the book of Genesis regarding the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, although both were naked, they were “not ashamed” it is only after they have eaten the forbidden fruit that “the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Cover, 2003, p.55).

The naked state has the ability to be not only literally understood as unclothed but also has a secondary state, that of being emotionally naked which becomes more significantly charged implying a state of vulnerability. Not only can nakedness be related to that of ‘otherness’ but it can imply much more. This is corroborated in an interview between Franko B and Gray Watson, B refers to being “totally naked” Watson reiterates “not literally and physically, but really… It felt absolutely 100% there”. B replies “Definitely, I think it was” and goes on to say “But I think the most important thing is that you are honest in what you are doing. That’s why I am totally naked and, as you said, we aren’t talking about literally” (Franko-b, 2003).

There are other concerns regarding Nudity and Nakedness and it is that of censorship, but as this does not have direct associations with the status of abjection it will not be investigated in this paper.


  1. “All around, silent, still, intense, people are watching him, as blood trickles from his arms. He stands at their centre. They surround him. Not too close, never too close. Separated by an invisible boundary, as blood trickles down his arms. Out from inside. Trickles down, quickly” (Harradine, 2000, p.72).

Blood flows through the performance of Franko B. As previously discussed it is laden with religious symbolism but today it also has political significance. Blood is charged with many meanings especially since the endemic spread of HIV and AIDS within the predominantly homosexual (as initially reported in Western Society) community. The body as socially constructed within the norms of the heterosexual hegemony is engaged within a constantly included (normal) discourse as opposed to those of the excluded (other, homosexual).The abject is associated with those that are excluded, and the continuing hysteria between blood, HIV and AIDS, infection and contagion and homosexuality continues to reinforce homophobia within the heterosexual hegemony. It is perhaps too easy to connect Franko B’s work with HIV and AIDS. B openly admits his homosexuality but strongly denies his work has any link with AIDS succinctly stating “my work has fuck all to do with AIDS” (B quoted in Campbell and Spackman, 1998, p.67).

Artists have consistently attempted to represent the corporeality of the body; religious iconography depicts the wounded flesh and blood of Christ. Christopher Prendergast refers to a remark made by one of Titian’s contemporaries regarding his representation of flesh and blood “It is to me as if Titian in painting this body has used flesh to make his colours” (Cohen & Prendergast, 1995, p.9). More recently Francis Bacon has created harrowing paintings of the human form in its most carnal state. Roy Boyne refers to Bacon’s representation of the body and in particular the mouth “a side to side slash in a mass of suffering meat, bone, blood and nerve”  (Featherstone et al, 2001, p.290).

For Franko B his blood is used in the same way as a painter uses pigment, it is a material he uses to make his work, and he describes his body as a canvas. B’s performances are closely monitored by his doctor, there is no threat to his life, but obviously, each performance is of short duration. B states “Because I am using blood it is very important in a way that I use my blood (sic)” (Franko-b, 2003).

Blood is as much a symbol of life as it is a symbol of death. In a situation that is beyond your control, how would you react when confronted with and witness the reality of a wounded bleeding body? We exist in a society that has become desensitised to images of violence and death, we are constantly subjected to these images but observe them in a detached way. For death is as much a part of living, but particularly in Western culture it has become removed and separated, almost hidden away, it is viewed negatively within society, it is something we would rather not have to experience! Regardless of all the keep-fit regimes, medical procedures, potions and dietary supplements we are encouraged to subject our bodies to in pursuit of the perfect body and eternal youth the only true certainty in life is death.

This ‘real’ body that Franko B presents to us challenges our perceptions of the unreal body presented to us everyday in the media and in technologically generated images. Baudrillard (Poster, 2001) refers to this simulation as threatening the difference between the ‘real’ and ‘unreal’. How aware is society that the body, our own bodies have become the only true reality.  Franko B presents his body to us, it is not re-presented. Isn’t B’s performance saying this is a ‘real’ bleeding /wounded body.

Franko B (Heathfield, 2003a, p.38) refers to his performances as presenting his body in its most carnal, bloody, extreme state; he affirms that his work is not about death, he says he wants “to make the unbearable, bearable”; that he wants the viewer to question their comprehension of “ beauty and of suffering”.

For Franko B the abject is a state of being both subject and object, in effect B can be seen to be almost dissolving in his own blood, dissolving the boundary between inside and outside, and does not this dissolution of these boundaries emphasise their fragile state? Is it also possible that these dissolving boundaries refer not only to the body’s boundaries but also to the abjected ‘other’ within society? Can the wounds on the artist’s body become a metaphor for the wounded in the wider context of society today?

The Gift

Why would you choose to go and see Franko B’s work? Elements of Romanticism can be recognised in relation to the audience and the work, feelings of fear and apprehension as well as curiosity and fascination may be a compelling enough reason.

Live Performance Art implies the necessity of an audience and in the work of Franko B; the audience are an essential part of the performance. There is a complex relationship between B and his audience. B refers to his work as being about “sharing and survival” (Heathfield, 2003a, p.38).The act of cutting is never witnessed; only the evidence on the body is seen, the presence of the wounds is significant. The performance situation, the context, setting and imaging are all extremely important and implicitly conveys meaning to the way Franko B’s work is read. B titles his work but does not write programme notes leaving the role of interpretation open to those watching. For example Franko B (Franko-b, 2003) describes the piece Aktion 398 (1999) his naked body is painted white, he has a cut to his stomach and he is wearing a plastic collar (the type animals wear to stop them licking their wounds). The public encounter this work one at a time spending two minutes alone with B in this intimate and uncompromising situation.

Audience response is described as one of fear, respectful, intense, contemplative, and emotional, of concentration in both the audience and artist. Franko B (Franko-b, 2003) refers to his relationship with the audience as being one of give and take but not on the level of “an offering”. Campbell and Spackman (1998, p.65) also refers to this emotional exchange and make reference to Marcel Mauss’s term ‘depense’ which describes “the excessive gift that lies beyond exchange value, but which nevertheless demands response”. In this context there lies a certain responsibility not only between artist and audience, but also between audience and artist, and that this interaction works in a very personal and intimate exchange. Adrian Heathfield (2003) refers to the relationship between the artist and spectator entering a state of suspension in which the open ended form of abjection is able to have different associations projected onto the work. Referring back to Aktion 398 (1999) the wound can symbolise not only personal and physical violation but possibly be interpreted as a reflection of society generally. The audience/artist relationship is one of complicity in which the audience witness the performatively embodying presence of Franko B’s body, a body laid bare, that emphasises and highlights the fragility of our own bodies, and also represents the marginalised ‘other’ within society.


  1. “At the present time everything would seem to indicate that the body has become an object of salvation” (Baudrillard quoted in Berthelot, 2001, p.393).

Performance/Body Art and its continuing evolution can be placed within an Art History context, with its roots established in Romanticism, where interpretation and experience are expressed as a subjective emotional response. The artist’s use of his own body and the significance of that body throughout the 20th century have become increasingly prominent as a conveyor or conduct for highlighting, reflecting and articulating the state both socially and politically of society today. Significantly it is since the late 1960’s that artists have increasingly used their bodies in ever more extreme and direct ways as both maker and material to express this. Franko B’s use of his own blood as material is laden with symbolic meaning. Associations with religion flow through B’s performance work, from the wounds on his body to the carefully presented gestures all convey and articulate meaning. It is within religious doctrine that the state of the ‘abject’ is defined, homosexuality also defined as the ‘other’ continues to be a controversial issue and subject for debate within the church today.

We live in a society where the body is so highly mediated that our grasp on reality is becoming compromised. The status of the ‘real’ body is constantly being undermined to the point where any image whether it is seen on television, in film or photography can, due to computer technology, be manipulated and changed. The internet further extends and fragments this feeling of dislocation and threatens our perception of the ‘real’ body.

The body within society is subject to a continuous discourse which has shaped and changed our understanding, acceptances, tolerances and prejudices. The state of abjection has its foundations established within Western Religious doctrine it is from designated taboos and exclusions that religion and society has constantly refined and redefined the body’s status. With each experts analysis from Freud to Foucault each expressing their philosophy and beliefs the resulting implications for society, whether it be on sexuality, gender, race, normal or abnormal are profound. With each interrogation there are identified minority groups within society to which are applied labels setting them apart, and this continues to reinforce prejudices within that society. The result is a whole host of minority groups that exist outside of our accepted understanding of the social hierarchy.

Franko B’s use and abuse of his body is direct, extreme and uncompromising. The abject state not only refers to the boundaries of the body but also has associations with that of identity, alienation and the ‘other’, even the state of nakedness is charged with meaning. Is it possible for this body to convey so many meanings? Arthur Frank writing about the communicative body refers to “The body continues to be formed among institutions and discourses, but these are now media for its expression” (Featherstone et al, 2001, p.80). Franko B symbolically presents his body to us as the site in which the only ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ resides. He challenges our own preconceptions about death, implicitly, his use of his own blood and its associations with HIV induces a state of heightened awareness of risk to those present rather than one of complacency.

Is it possible for the broken boundaries of Franko B’s body to represent the wider interpretation of the ‘other’ the marginalised? In all of Franko B’s work it is the context in which his work is experienced that is most vital. Derrida (2000) refers to the concept of context as one of never being able to have a fixed or certain understanding. If this is true then other associations relating to the socially excluded ‘other’ may well be projected onto the work, but this can only be a subjective response, and as a witness  to Franko B’s work it very much relies on the exchange that takes place between audience and artist. All that B (Franko-b, 2003) asks of his audience is that they are “honest with themselves and open” and it is within this emotional interplay that Franko B’s performance work may become a catalyst for representing much wider issues in society. As Franko B opens up the boundaries of his skin, it is up to the spectator to cross the threshold in order to make these connections.

The liminal spaces that puncture the skin of Franko B open up complex and diverse questions, not only about the validity of such extreme practises but also about our place and responsibility in society, it should also prompt us to question and re-evaluate attitudes and prejudices towards a whole host of humanity that exist in a state of alienation and exclusion as a result of the hierarchical hegemony that regulates and shapes society today.


[1] Professor Gunthard Von Hagen’s exhibition at the Atlantis Gallery, London in 2002 featured human bodies that had been treated using a Plastination process and anatomically displayed.

[2] 1 See Campbell and Spackman, 1998, p.60. Franko B’s work in relation to his homosexuality and its association with ‘gay’/queer performance is discussed.


A: Works referred to in the text.

Abramovic, M. (2003) Video Acts. Exhibition display notes. London: I.C.A.

Abramovic, M. (1998) Artist Body. Milan: Charta.

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