16 Performance Pieces From Cate Blanchett's 'Documentary Now!' Episode, From That Year-Long Hotdog To The "Square Pig"
Spoilers ahead for Documentary Now! Season 3, Episode 4. Performance art is a complex, avant-garde art form — so much so that it's difficult to parody. And yet Documentary Now! does just that in their Season 3 episode, "Waiting for the Artist." The episode follows an artist named Izabella Barta (Cate Blanchett), who has an upcoming career retrospective in her hometown of Budapest. Leading up to the event, audiences get to see clips of her past work, as well as the piece she's chosen to perform. And while Izabella's performance art pieces are bizarre, they're also quite realistic, and don't as much skewer the experimental genre as much as mirror it. After all, it's difficult to parody an already outrageous artform.
According to Hyperallergic, Blanchett's Documentary Now! character is based on a real-life performance artist, whose documentary, Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, follows a similar trajectory leading up to her 2010 retrospective at the MoMA. Izabella's artistic partner and former lover, Dimo (Fred Armisen), also appears in her work, as well. However, it's clear that she was the real talent, and he was both ripping her off and dragging her down. Here are all 16 of Izabella's performance art pieces that are referenced in "Waiting for the Artist," ranked chronologically.
1. Coated Spirit, 1970
Izabella explains to the camera that she grew up in Communist Hungary, and her family's compound didn't allow children. So when an inspector visited their apartment, a young Izabella pretended to be a coat rack, and the man didn't notice, hanging his outerwear on her body. This was the inspiration for her 1970 performance, Coated Spirit.
2. Spotlight, 1971
In one of her early works, Izabella stood just to the side of a bright spotlight.
3. Under the Blanket, 1972
A piece in which the artist lay, almost entirely still, beneath a blanket, while audiences looked on.
4. Square Pig, 1974
For Square Pig, Izabella rode a tricycle in a rectangle while screaming. While no explanation is given for this piece, it seems like it would have been pretty attention-grabbing.
5. Birth/Death, 1976
A piece in which Izabella alternately yelled "Birth!" and "Death!" in a guttural voice while balls were launched across the room at her.
6. Domesticated, 1977
In which the performance artist drank milk from a bowl and growled, "I am human! I am human!" over and over while a cat sat on a chair, a wine glass nearby.
7. The Bucket Series
Her most famous piece, The Bucket Series featured a telephone on a pedestal. Audiences were invited to place objects on the floor to impede Izabella, when she ran — barefoot — to answer the phone. It was particularly popular with teenage boys, who loved to put dangerous items in her path.
8. Miss Remembered, 1976
A piece in which the artist painted herself, then launched her body onto a large canvas.
9. Impressions, 1984
A blatant rip-off of Izabella's Miss Remembered from nearly a decade earlier, Impressions featured two lovers who threw their painted bodies against a wall, so they'd always remain — even after they left.
10. Box Spring, 1986
While this piece isn't explained, it involved Dimo lying on top of Izabella, who presumably acted as his human box spring.
11. Late for Dinner, 1985
This particular joint project between Izabella and Dimo involved her being attached to the wall with elastic cords, keeping her just out of reach from the dinner table. He, meanwhile, ate comfortably.
12. Stairwell, 1990
Izabella and Dimo's breakup performance, Stairwell involved the two artists walking up and down the Empire State Building, respectively. The catch? They were both wearing ski boots. And while they were supposed to meet each other halfway on the stairwell, Dimo got distracted, flirted with some secretaries, and eventually took an elevator down, during which time Izabella passed him on the stairs.
13. Ein Tag, Ein Frankfurter, 2005
This particularly involved performance took an entire year for Izabella to complete. In it, the artist ate one hotdog a day for 365 days, and took all day to eat each frankfurter. Hence the title, which translates to One Day, One Hotdog.
14. A Stranger in Need, 2007
Izabella would use the toilet, whose stall was placed out in the open. An audience member was invited to hand toilet paper to the artist, which proved to be an intimate, emotional experience for many in attendance.
15. Gender Roles on Spin Cycle, 2005
Izabella spun around in a washing machine for this performance as a commentary on domestic duties.
16. Waiting for the Artist
Her final performance piece, Izabella faced an empty chair, much like Abramovic did in her MoMA piece. However, instead of inviting people to sit across from her, as the real-life artist did, Izabella had her former lover, Dimo, fall from a platform above. He then landed in a large, white sack, which was attached to a huge picture of a man's pelvis.
What's so interesting about these pieces is that they could very well be in a museum tomorrow. So whether Izabella's performance pieces are nonsense or ultimately thought-provoking, it's nevertheless hilarious to watch Cate Blanchett play an experimental artist, convulsing her body and screaming, eating nothing but hotdogs for an entire year, and literally putting her body through the wringer. If that's not art, I don't know what is.