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10 Bizarre Works of Body Art

by MarcusK
fact checked by Alex Hanton

[WARNING: Some images are disturbing and NSFW] Most people think of tattooing and piercing when they think of body art, but performance art involving the human body is also considered to be a subset. This list looks at ten extremely bizarre works of modern art in which the human body is exploited. Some of the images are gruesome – you have been warned!


Portrait of the artist as a fountain
Bruce Nauman


Nauman was educated at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of California, Davis, and became part of the burgeoning California art scene in the late 1960s. His Self Portrait as a Fountain showed him spouting a stream of water from his mouth. Nauman tested the idea of art as a stable vehicle of communication and the role of the artist as revelatory communicator


Hand Catching Lead
Richard Serra

Screen Shot 2009-12-15 At 3.39.52 Pm

It was Serra’s first film and features a single shot of a hand in an attempt to repeatedly catch chunks of material dropped from the top of the frame. In Boomerang (1974), Serra taped Nancy Holt as she talks and hears her words played back to her after they have been delayed electronically. Serra has made a number of films concerning the manufacture and use of his favorite material, steel.


Velocity Piece
Barry LeVa
Barry Le Va at Mary Boone, NYC (April 2009)

Performed both at the University Museum at Columbus, Ohio, in 1969 and in La Jolla in 1970. He ran back and forth, crashing into opposite walls fifty feet apart until he collapsed from exhaustion. The sounds of his movements were taped so that viewers were able to hear the sounds of his crashing after the event, as well as see the blood-spattered walls he had left. As on reviewer described the effect of this residue, “LeVa had truly become a ghostly presence, a body haunting space.” No images or videos are available for this item, so the clip above shows some of LeVa’s other art.


Terry Fox

Shapeimage 1

On September 17, 1970, he performed this piece at the Richmond Art Center in California. The equipment he used included a white paper that covered the floor and an eleven-foot-square mound of earth in the center of the room. He stuck plastic tubes in it, each being fifty feet long and filled with them with blood, urine, water, and milk. Fox then proceeded to lie on the earth and for six hours, attempted to levitate into the space above him. He described it with this, “I was trying to think about leaving the ground, until I realized I should be thinking about entering the air. For me that changed everything, made it work.” After he tried this he said that it left him with, “The feeling for awhile that I was out of my body.” Again no image could be found so the work above is another example of Terry Fox’s work.


Vito Acconci


This was first performed by Vito Acconci on January 15-29 1972 at Sonnabend Gallery in New York. In this piece, Acconci lay hidden underneath a ramp installed at the Sonnabend Gallery, masturbating. The artist’s spoken fantasies about the visitors walking above him were heard through loudspeakers in the gallery.


3 Aktion Vienna 1965
Rudolf Schwarzkogler

12 Aktion 02 Ar

A piece that was recorded by a photographer where he appeared to cut off his own penis. Chris Burden, a fellow body artists misreported in a 1970s Newsweek Magazine that died by slicing off his penis during this performance. However, the photos had been misinterpreted. The photographs were actually of Hans Cibulka, a model and friend of Schwarzkogler. He posed with a sliced open fish covering his groin. This is what is believed to of caused the myth. Schwarkogler actually died on June 20th, 1969. He was found without any evidence for more than an accident under a window from which he fell. This generated several myths about him committing suicide and other speculations about his life.


Chris Burden

Burden Shoot

This is one of Burden’s most well known acts. On November 19, 1971 in Santa Ana, California, he walked into F Space gallery for a pre-arranged exhibition. The crowd in the empty gallery watched as Burden’s friend stepped about 15 feet away from Burden, pulled out a loaded .22 rifle and shot him in his left arm. Although the bullet was only intended to graze Burden, he flinched at the last moment and thereby endured a more serious injury then intended.


Martyrs and Saints
Ron Athey


In this 1993 performance Athey hung nude strung up to a column with long needles inserted into his head in such a manner as to represent a crown of thorns. His stated artistic intention is to achieve redemption through self-mutilation. The image above is the best one that could be found.


Chris Burden

Burden Trans Fixed

Burden was so influential in the realm of body art that I just had to include another of his pieces in this list. Trans-Fixed took place in 1974 at Speedway Avenue in Venice, California. For this performance, Burden lay face up on a Volkswagen Beetle and had nails hammered into both of his hands, as if he were being crucified on the car. The car was pushed out of the garage and the engine revved for two minutes before being pushed back into the garage.


Rhythm O’
Marina Abra


Performed in 1974. In the piece, the audience was given instructions to use an array of 72 provided instruments of pain and pleasure, including knives, feathers, and a loaded pistol on Abramovic’s body. Audience members cut her, pressed thorns into her belly, put lipstick on her, and removed her clothes. The performance ended after six hours when someone held the loaded gun up to Abramovic’s head and a scuffle broke out.

fact checked by Alex Hanton