As I get further into my research topic, I'm amazed at how well the discourse of the body in art applies to the wrestling. Artists have a dense history, especially post-war, of invoking physical danger to get at some deeper truth or challenge normative body images.
What I didn't realize until very recently, is that artists largely adopt the same strategies of dialectics between face and heel with this work. Some of it is meant to shock, to create disgust or distaste for the artist. This is true of Gina Pane, who engages in acts on her own body that invoke anger or disgust in her audience very deliberately. “Put in the right condition by several months of theoretical preparation (notes, sketches, reading and daily practice of existence), as well as by physical preparation (swallowing rotten meat, prolonged standing over lit candles, physical tension, etc.), the body, having become a thinking and suffering matter, transforms itself in a coadjutant of thought” (Pluchart, 'Risk as the Practice of Thought', 40). Also true Vito Acconci, who places himself under a gallery floor and masturbates to exhaustion/ pain.
On the other hand, we see imaging of the liberated body in art, the body that has been freed of its cultural shackles, that uses instruments or physical force to achieve some greater power than previously identified as possible. We see this with Nauman, Chris Burden, Elizabeth Streb. These are bodies engaged to inspire the collective body to a cultural action.
What is interesting is the level of manipulation of reception and formal signifiers in both the wrestling and the performance art context. In both medium, the body is engaged in a way outside of expectations, making it a discursive body. Though the reception is vastly different, the artist's and the wrestler's bodies are both political palettes, meant for working out their own meanings and cultural implications in a social arena:
“In a sense, destruction art is a warning system, an aesthetic response to human emergency that occurs in the lapse between theory and practice in terminal culture; it presents the pain of bodies, the anxiety of minds, the epistemology of technology, the specious claims of ideology, the absence of ecological responsibility, the loss of human integrity and compassion, and the violence that structures both gender and sexual relations. Just as destruction art is the image of resistance in the form of an even, it is also an important means to survival that must be continuously explored” (Kristine Stiles, “Survival Ethos and Destruction Art”, 1992.229).