The Art of Disappearing: How Performance Artists Challenge Our Perceptions

The Art of Disappearing: How Performance Artists Challenge Our Perceptions

Disappearing Acts in Performance Art

Performance art has long been known for its ability to push boundaries and challenge societal norms. One way that artists achieve this is through the use of disappearing acts. Disappearing acts can take many forms, from physical disappearances to the disappearance of an idea or concept. In this post, we will explore some of the ways that disappearing acts have been used in performance art and what they mean for both the artist and the audience.

Physical Disappearances

One of the most common types of disappearing acts in performance art is a physical disappearance. This can be achieved through various means, such as hiding behind a curtain or leaving the stage altogether. The purpose of this type of disappearing act is often to create suspense or tension within a piece.

For example, in Marina Abramović’s 2010 performance “The Artist Is Present,” she sat silently at a table for hours on end while visitors were invited to sit across from her and make eye contact. At one point during the performance, her former partner Ulay appeared unexpectedly and sat across from her, creating an emotional moment between them before he left without a word.

This unexpected appearance and disappearance added another layer to an already emotionally charged piece, highlighting both intimacy and loss.

Disappearance of Ideas or Concepts

Another form of disappearing act used in performance art is when ideas or concepts are presented but then seemingly disappear before they can be fully explored. This technique challenges audiences to question their own understanding of what they’re seeing and leaves them with unanswered questions.

In Tino Sehgal’s “This Progress,” performers engage museum-goers in conversation about progress before abruptly stopping mid-sentence when asked difficult questions about how progress should be defined or who it benefits.

Through these abrupt disappearances, Sehgal forces viewers to consider whether true progress exists at all if it only serves certain groups at others’ expense – questioning not just artistic intentions but society as a whole.

Disappearance and Reappearance

Finally, some performance art pieces use disappearing acts in conjunction with reappearance to create a sense of illusion or magic. For example, in David Copperfield’s show “The Vanishing Statue of Liberty,” he makes the iconic statue disappear before bringing it back again.

This type of disappearing act is often used for entertainment purposes, creating a sense of wonder and amazement in viewers who are unsure how the trick was accomplished. But even here there can be deeper meanings: what makes something appear or disappear? What are we willing to believe?


Disappearing acts have been used by performance artists for decades as a means to challenge audiences’ perceptions and expectations. The artists we’ve explored have used these techniques in different ways – from creating suspense through physical disappearance to questioning ideas like progress – but all aim at making us question why things happen or don’t happen, what’s real or not real.
While these techniques can be fun to watch and engage with on an intellectual level, they also remind us that sometimes we need to look beyond appearances if we want truly understand the world around us.

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