P01. Difficult Task Performance

Watching in class:

Matthew Barney “Drawing Restraint”

Alison Knowles “How to Make a Salad”

Shigeko Kubota “Vagina Painting” 1965, (red paint on white paper, paint brush attached to crotch of underpants)

Why we’re doing this

Performance-as-task developed out of the Judson Dance Theatre of 1962-64, where artists focused on incorporating elements of the everyday into their pieces in reaction to traditional artistic frameworks. Performance-as-task originally had feminine connotations because it developed as a reaction to the masculine performance-as-action from Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock, whose work was seen as affirming the heroic status of the artist. In contrast, performance-as-task worked to demystify art and make it as close to everyday life as possible. It was originally characterized by non-spectacular bodily routines utilized as dance moves by dancers such as Simone Forti, Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, and Steve Paxton. Fluxus was also operating at this time and concerned itself with everyday actions and the empowerment of everyone to function as artists. Well-known artists pushing this idea forward include Alison Knowles and her iconic Fluxus event score, “How to Make a Salad” (1962), as well as Shigeko Kubota with her work “Vagina Painting” (1965).


Think about the intersection between gender and difficult tasks. Select or create your own difficult task. As you create this work, consider what it will take to create, sustain, and carry forward the difficult task you choose. What are you fighting for? What does it mean to fight in this case? What do you need to do to ready yourself? Why are you executing this difficult task? Will you be able to complete the task? Will performing the task change you? How will you know when it is done? Be prepared to discuss these ideas in your artist statement and critique.

  1. Brainstorm ideas for your difficult task performance in a sketchbook. Do research on your favorite ideas. You will present this brainstorming and research to the class for feedback.
  2. After selecting your idea, you will perform your difficult task on your scheduled day. Feel free to engage the class or others as necessary.
  3. In addition to your performance, please prepare an artist’s statement for incorporation into, display alongside of, or distribution with your work. Your statement should consider the following questions:
  • What is this work about? (This is the idea, theme, message, or concept for your piece. Think of this as the thesis statement for your work.)
  • Why do you want to do this work? (This is your explanation of the importance of the work and what it means to you)
  • How will you do this work? What is it made of or out of? (This is how you envision the performance happening—medium/a, actions, texts, audience/performer relationship, etc.)
  • What do you want this work to do or accomplish? (This is the outcome or experience you anticipate for the work)
  • How does it relate to gender?

4. Make sure you have arranged for someone (probably someone else in the class) to document your performance (probably, though not necessarily via video and still photographs)

5. There will be a class critique of the performance.

6. After completing the performance, you will complete a self-analysis on Angel of elements/principles of design in the piece you performed.

  • Discuss your work in terms of the components of an artwork (subject/form/content/context)
  • How does the work engage with elements and principles of design continued from the study of 2 and 3 dimensional design such as balance, color, contrast, direction, reflection, repetition, scale, shape, value/brightness, and space?
  • How does the work engage with the elements of 4 dimensional design (architecture, topography, light, movement, sound, and time)?
  • How does the work engage with the principles of 4 dimensional design (causality, duration, energy dynamics/intensity, interactivity, musicality, simultaneity/juxtaposition, spatial relationships, speed, and transitions)?

7. Upload documentation of your performance to our YouTube Channel.


  • sketchbook planning – 2pts
  • artist statements – 3pts
  • completion of the performance – 4pts
  • self-analysis of elements/principles of design in the piece you performed – 8pts
  • participation in critique – 2pts
  • documentation quality and on-time upload – 2pts