The works in this section draw on a European tradition of performance art. The artists use their own bodies as a medium, connecting with a language that is universally recognisable. The images created are deliberately disturbing. 

Films showing in this section: 

4.13 Michael Curran Amami se Vuoi 1994
4.19 Stuart Brisley Arbeit Macht Frei 1973
4.39 Stephanie Smith and Ed Stewart Mouth To Mouth 1995

Michael Curran Amami se Vuoi 1994

4 minutes. Collection: Lux 

Interdependency is one of the themes in Michael Curran’s simple but shocking tape. The exchange that takes place between the two performers is perhaps a reminder that risk is always a part of art, not least in this age of AIDS


Michael Curran was born in Scotland in 1963. He studied sculpture and video at the Camden Institute and Fine Art at Goldsmith’s College London, then electronic imaging at Duncan of Jordanstone College, Dundee. He has taught at the Jan Van Eyke Akademie Maastricht. 

Stuart Brisley Arbeit Macht Frei 1973

20 minutes. Collection: Artist 

Stuart Brisley’s work takes its title from the terrible irony of the motto above the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp, ‘Work Makes Free’. The artist’s performance constructs a complex political and social metaphor about freedom. Paul Overy wrote: ‘the artist has turned his body into an object; virtually emptying it of its humanity…[yet] the effect, after the gruelling performance is over, is to make one aware of the humanity of the body, which the film seems superficially to deny.’ 1974 


Stuart Brisley was born in 1933. He studied at Guildford School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London. He was a founder member of Artists Information Registry (AIR) 1967 and the Artists Union 1972. Active as a performance artist since the mid-60s, Brisley has made several films, some collaboratively with Ken McMullen. He was formerly Professor of Media Fine Art Graduate Studies at the Slade School of Art, London. 

Stephanie Smith and Ed Stewart Mouth To Mouth 1995

3 minutes. Collection: Tate 

Stephanie Smith and Ed Stewart have developed a series of tapes which explores the boundaries of eroticism and pain through repeated gesture. Mouth to Mouth, which is usually shown on a wall-mounted monitor, adds the themes of trust and interdependence.


Stephanie Smith was born in 1968 and studied at the Slade School of Art, London.

Ed Stewart was born in Belfast in 1961, and studied at Glasgow School of Art. Both then studied at Rijksakademie, Amsterdam.