VR Performances in Art : Actions in Endless White

What remains of performance art when it takes place in virtual reality? With its group exhibition “Whiteout”, the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf is putting performance art to the test.

The white space in the virtual world, which museum visitors can enter in the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf, expands infinitely. First the emptiness seems absolute, then human figures appear. Slowly they move closer until the viewer can observe the people thrown into nothingness in what they are doing: Four caribbean women lying on the floor around the artist dance their bodies into each other and knot themselves into a living sculpture.

Falsnaes – is spending himself on the commands of a woman in ever wilder movements; and elsewhere a black man dressed as a woman, Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi, who appears under the pseudonym crazinisT artisT, steps onto a white toilet bowl and begins to dive into it for underwear. Since performance art began to blur the boundaries between the free theatre scene and the museum in the 1960s, it has focused on physical presence – more radically and in a different way than traditional spoken theatre.

This kind of VR art is not new, recently there was a performence of a new yorker artist who showed how a female orgasm feels like in VR.

An actor who plays a stage role disappears behind the figure he embodies. According to theatre theory, his real body is covered by a semiotic one.

In the performance (which of course had an effect on the theatre), things are different: approaching the ritual, its actors physically bring themselves in completely. Marina Abramović, probably the best-known performance artist, keeps practicing this self-disclosure anew.

  1. The viewer is transformed from a passive observer into an involved participant.
  2. The physical presence of the audience, which can at least potentially interact with the actor, creates a temporary work: the performance.
  3. But what happens when the here and now of the event is transferred into virtual space?
  4. Filming or photographing performances was always an unsatisfactory solution that had more documentary value.


It makes a fundamental difference whether one watched Joseph Beuys in a silent conversation with a dead rabbit, then, on November 16, 1965, at the Schmela Gallery in Düsseldorf, or whether one now loads traces of it onto the screen. Being there is everything in action art; videos and photos can only conditionally overcome the spatial and temporal distance.

The actual work remains ephemeral No wonder, then, that virtual reality technology is now being discovered as a new medium for performances. Equipped with VR glasses and headphones, one dives visually and audibly into another world. VR creates the illusion of really being somewhere else, in a situation, not outside the frame: this is the much conjured immersion.