What people will do for art

An Indonesian performance artist Melati Suryodarmo does a routine where she wears a tight black dress and heels and then dances on top of 15 blocks of butter, accompanied by rhythmic drumming. As you can imagine, she slips and falls heavily, picks herself up and resumes dancing, slips and falls again, picks herself up, and so on. Each time she crashed to the ground I cringed, because it looked like it must really hurt.

I do not have much of an artistic sense but am pretty open-minded about what can be called art. In fact, I admire artists because they are the ones who seem to be always pushing the boundaries of the permissible, sometimes shocking us in the process. But I am not a fan of people putting their bodies and even their lives in jeopardy for the sake of art or in order to entertain others. This is the same reason I don’t like daredevil acts at the circus or elsewhere and refuse to watch.

The video of the 20-minute dance is edited down to only about six minutes and Suryodarmo walks away, seemingly unhurt, at the end but I fear that over time she will do herself serious damage and for this reason, and this reason alone, I hope she stops doing this performance.


  1. says

    I know she doesn’t get hurt but, after some morbid curiosity, it still made me cringe and I stopped it a little bit over halfway through.

    Is it about being, as much as possible, on verge of standing, slipping and falling in the butter as the Youtube description claims? It does seem that way. Interesting idea, I suppose; but it does look rather dangerous if it’s meant to be anything more than a one time performance.

  2. Mark D. says

    This is not art; this is not “pushing boundaries; this is “Three Stooges” level of slap-stick entertainment.

    There’s nothing at all wrong with that at all, but it’s not art.

  3. godlesspanther says

    I saw an interview with Tom Teller of P&T in which he stated that he does not approve of a person risking injury or death to entertain an audience. I can see his point, on the other hand dare-devils stunts have been a part of entertainment for who knows how long.

    This woman is not risking death but certainly in danger of breaking a limb if she lands wrong.

    Chris Burden, a performance artist of the 70s actually had himself shot in the arm, nailed to a car, and locked in a small box as art. At this point, I would say, that box is checked. It’s been done.

  4. Inflection says

    I’m looking at this video and while I couldn’t watch the whole six minutes — it was painful to watch — I find it considerably more serious than some of the previous commenters. Perhaps a reference to the churning of milk? I can think of at least two interpretations:

    Hey girl, want to be sexy? Put on a tight little dress. Put on heels. Now here’s the beat — dance. Sexier. Writhe. But it’s dangerous, I could fall; I’m not in shape for this, I’m big. I don’t care about that, this is what we expect girls to do. That’s what you have to do if you want to go out in public and be a woman. Fall if you have to. I don’t care.

    Or perhaps it’s about the effect on all our bodies of the ocean of butter our food swims in. We want to dance, but the grease is making us slip and fall.

    At any rate, it doesn’t seem like a stunt to me. It’s dangerous, and I agree that I hope she doesn’t do it often, but I get a serious vibe from it, not slapstick or pain porn.

  5. Mano Singham says

    To the extent that interpretive dance requires the member of the audience to participate in constructing its meaning, it failed for me at least. I was so apprehensive that she would fall and hurt herself that I was bracing myself and shuddering each time she did so and so could not even think about the meaning of it.

    Now that I have stopped watching, I can perhaps afford the luxury of thinking about what it all meant as you have suggested. But I still can’t get over the pain aspect.

  6. Trebuchet says

    I couldn’t get past about two minutes. Please tell me she’s not getting funding for this from some tax supported foundation.

  7. stonyground says

    Are we sure that she is doing this voluntarily? I am not sure of the culture that this video represents but it seems to be the kind of thing that you would force someone to do in order to humiliate them. Is this woman being made to do this as a punishment?

  8. says

    Perhaps that discomfort level is exactly what she was aiming for?

    (Disclaimer: Haven’t watched it)

    I guess for me it depends somewhat on the surface she is falling onto. Though I will say, having badly broken my elbow after slipping on icy pavement back in January, I am definitely more receptive to your opposition to this piece than I would have been a few months ago!

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