Discourse of Trauma within frames of Live Art

Foad Najmedin, PhD _ Translated by Narges Marandi


Theatre has long been engaged with notions of violence. This engagement devoted itself to notions of trauma as well, after its exploration through psychoanalysis. The existence of trauma however, is as ancient as the history of dream and desire, both of which make human beings take steps towards construction or destruction. Man’s first visions of a utopic world would most probably come from the absence of it and the long for it. However, one faces failure when realizing that in reality one can never step foot onto such a world, that ‘no place’ where all there is, is an ideal individuality leading to an ideal society. The moment when one’s attempts fail to create such an ideal realizing that such a dream is ungraspable, might be the moment when traumas are born.

In the world of today, one may suggest that all societies are to some degree bound to the traumatic (Duggan, Wallis 13). In the words of Susan Sontag, ‘today’s contemporary subject is compulsively drawn to representations of violence and trauma’ (qtd. in Duggan, Wallis 1). Mcluhan sees the media-dominated world deeply characterized by social ‘numbness’ and ‘mental breakdown’ (1), while Luckhurst talks about a modern subject inseparable from the categories of shock and trauma. Wallis and Duggan see trauma ‘as a route through which cultural issues of experience, memory, the body and representation are examined’ (1). Therefore, one may presume that the analysis of trauma might help in understanding the socio-cultural texture of a society in relation to the aspects mentioned above in a collective scale. Today, the analysis of Situational traumas around concepts of war, politics and violence are among the most important subjects engaging practitioners from different fields. Theatre and performance practice have also been considered as critical frames analyzing and utilizing trauma and the traumatic as productive and potent forces in the creation of work of art. 

This dissertation aims to explore aspects of trauma through study of a Live Art performance by Iranian artist Amir Mobed back in 2010 in Tehran, Iran. The importance of this case study lies in two major aspects of it: firstly, that Mobed performed his Come Caress Me inspired by Chris Burden’s Shoot (1971) while inviting a wider range of audience to shoot him. Secondly, the fact that it was performed in Iran, a country long bearing the burden of suppression and violence by its governmentswhich subjects the social body to traumatization. The performance occurs during Iran’s major socio-political crises after the 10th presidential election in 2009, therefore, it can be said that the public’s reaction to Mobed’ s performance is related to the traumatic violence of that time.

How can one affirm that a live artist is successful in communicating trauma to his or her public? Why would anyone in the first place want to choose trauma as an approach to art and as a way to communication with a public? How will a public react to an emotionally disturbing and distressing performance? To what extent, can an artist manipulate his audience? And how will the audience take action in the formation of the performance if it has been given the authority to do so? To what extent does such a performance unearth hidden aspects of a society? And finally, can one claim that such a performance can alleviate the suffering of either the artist or his or her audience? This dissertation aims first, to define notions of trauma mainly based on the research conducted and published in Performance Research journal on trauma, and then to clarify characteristics of Live Art and its potent role in affecting a society. The explorations of this chapter are mainly based on Tracey Warr’s The Artist’s Body, which helped give a brief history of Live Art’s formation. The main chapter of this dissertation is devoted to Mobed’s Come Caress Me, which will be observed critically both in comparison with Shoot and in relation to the social context it was performed in. The critical lens through which Mobed’s performance is viewed is partially based on Michel Foucault’s theories in his book Discipline and Punish (1975), which can function as a suitable point of departure to look at Come Caress Me and its relation to discourse of trauma in Iran’s socio-political and socio-cultural context. Finally, as a conclusion I will once again draw on the Potent role of Live Art in addressing notions of trauma and its significant role in bringing a change to the social body.


Trauma and its pair: trauma-symptom; its perform-ability and dynamics

In contemporary trauma theory, trauma symptoms are considered independent from the original trauma. The observations in the following lines are therefore, centered around this division. The chapter begins with exploring trauma through its symptoms, then goes on to argue how it can be negotiated within the frames of performance practice. Later, I wish to explain how the artist-audience relation functions in hope for the achievement of the Lacanian ‘Real’ and a final ‘working through’.

The trauma-symptom is considered as a sort of autonomic re-presentation and re-performance of the trauma-event and the nature of it is in fact based on a perpetual return of the actual event that painfully refuses to be experienced as past. The return of trauma-symptoms is said to be performative. In other words, one’s attempts to restore the traumatic, including that of rehearsing and repeating these symptoms is impregnated with a performative bent.

Duggan and Wallis observe the operation of traumatic memory within three main oppositions: ‘The desire to forget the original event, the repetitive and uninvited intrusions of fragmented memories and re-enactment of that event, and the necessity to consciously remember, relive and restage it in order to move beyond’. Trauma symptoms not only at one level find their way to the sufferer’s mind without his or her intention, but at another, are intentionally recalled and rehearsed by him or her in the hope of achieving and understanding the real traumatic event. The contemporary trauma theory as well argues that the original trauma-event is only accessible through a series of psychic returns. Judith Herman, a contemporary trauma theorist, mentions the need to speak about or testify these symptoms in order to comprehend them, and therefore, attempt to heal the wounds (ctd. in Duggan, Wallis 5).   

A collective trauma can illuminate a county’s social frustration and its failure to make a solid ground for union among its citizens. For each individual, as a part of a society, is a means of unificationand if traumatized by a political strategy as an example, the whole country becomes susceptible to dissolution. In late-capitalist society, a central desire has become to grasp the ungraspable. Salvoj Žižek observes the ungraspable as the Lacanian Real. He extends his argument by suggesting that ‘while the audience are supposed to enjoy traditional art […] modern art hurts. While the artwork might ‘hurt’, it is paradoxically precisely this that the audience seeks out for […] fulfillment’ (ctd. in Duggan, Wallis 14). 

For the artist, the live performance can function as a post-traumatic repetition providing a situation where the performer gives himself/ herself the chance to respond to the original event.

What a performance artist does in relation to his or her trauma is about reliving his or her tensions during the performance. It is about speaking them out and about sharing them with others.


Live Art: history, characteristics and address-ability

This chapter is devoted to a short history of Live Art’sengagement with body and the audience and aims to illuminate how trauma has been communicated within the its frame.

Live Art has a history of work by artists using their own bodies as the material for their art. Since the beginning of its development, Live Art not only functioned as a framing device for the artist to push the boundaries of traditional art in a wide range of performances, but also aimed to focus on the body’s individual and social identity, addressing issues of gender, sexuality, violence, fear, trauma and failure.

During the influential development in the field of psychoanalysis in the twentieth century, a significant shift occurred in artists’ perception of the body. At the turn of century, Freud’s theories of the unconscious began to influence the way in which the mind and body were understood. His theories talked about the effect of the unconscious in ways that the subject is not aware of. That is how Dadaists and later on Surrealists and from there other movements brought a psychological twist to the content of their art. While on the one hand, the interest in psychoanalysis raised, on the other, the body began to be used as an artistic medium

Before 1960’s canvas was the receptacle for the artist’s psychic self-expression. Gradually while the attention from the importance of painting as an object shifted towards the process of its creation (including that of artists presence through the act of painting), the body also became known as a tool of transformation. From 1960’s onwards, the body not only was radically considered as the artist’scanvas but the mark-making on this canvas was through body’s own blood and through its reaction to any external tool causing any kind of imprint on the skin (traces of wounds or bruises).

During the World Wars many nations in different parts of the world faced a collectivestate of shock and fright. It was then that the scale of death and destruction changed the reality of corporeal existence for the artists. Death had become mechanical; it had become an attribute of everyday life. The image of the flesh being violated and damaged was engraved in people’s memory. Consequently, the analysis of body, its physical and psychological state became major reference-points in the works of art.

The anxieties raised by the cold war and later by the Vietnam War fortified the amount of risks the performance artists were willing to take. The performance of bodily pain became an artistic strategy to disapprove of war and violence. In the 1970’s, those who deployed masochist bodily mutilations like Chris Burden, not only were taken seriously by the public while raising issues around power, control, violence and trauma but also mirrored the psychic sufferings of individual and collective subjects of the social context of those periods. Their body became the meeting-place of the ‘individual’ (in relation to notions of self) and the ‘collective’ (in relation to social body) (Nelly Richard qtd. in Warr 244), a site through which public and private powers were articulated (23).

In Live Art, the audience is first given the chance to witness the creation process of a live performance rather than experiencing the work vicariously by looking at the resulting documentation (Warr 14) and then is invited to participate in and influence this creation. Performance practice situates the audience as witness and engages them in the process of address and response that facilitates recognition of the subjectivity of the other (Fitzpatrick 64-65).Amir Mobed’s Come Caress Me, as a bodily in pain performance, could be a perfect example of how a body willing to rise up against the oppression imposed on it, will refer to its former transformation and finally consciously gets inspired by Chris Burden’s Shoot to assert his statement.


Chris Burden, Shoot (1971

In November 19, 1971 Chris Burden, an American performance artist, had a friend shoot his left arm with a .22 caliber rifle from a distance of 4.4m (15ft) in F Space (a small experimental gallery)Santa Ana, California. The performance is documented through a very short black and white film clip (about eight seconds), and an audiotaped document of the voices during the performance. Right before the visual, one can hear Burden confidently asking his friend, who has agreed to shoot him, if he knows the area he should point the gun at and later if he is ready to shoot. The video footage is played a few seconds later, in which Burden gets shot in front of a wall of the gallery, looks at his wounded arm and then leaves the frame. At the end, the sound of an empty shell dropping on the concrete floor can be heard.

The importance of Shoot lies in its coincidence with the Vietnam War, implying a state of fear and suspension in America’s society back then. In this chapter, Shootwill be mainly observed through its inevitable connection with the war (even though its meaning is not just limited to this aspect) and Burden’s approach in criticizing it while evoking the senses of the viewer back then who was only familiar with the concept of war through the media. I believe this analysis will later guide me towards the probable motives that inspired Mobed to perform his Come Caress Me years later in a country like Iran, and will help in finding connections between the two artists, details of which will be discussed in the chapter that follows. 

 According to Burden’s claim, in Shoot, ‘all those in the gallery were implicated in [that] act of self-inflicted violence by their failure to intervene’ (qtd. in Warr 122). While during the period, Live Art had to some extent prepared the audience for any sort of interference, Burden’s claim can then refer to the artist’s expectancy of audience’s intervention and its ethical obligation to respond. Yet, Burden intentionally separates himself with the audience and never allows them to decide the destiny of the piece. What can his intention be? 

For those who personally witnessed Burden getting shot, and the generations who watched him get shot through the video footage, this performance could never come to a halt. Instead, his act of cutting off the audience’s right of intervention can be observed symbolically. While the American citizens live in peace and security, in another part of the world there are people being violated and killed from both parties. How does one feel when getting to see others killed through the media? What are the limits of viewing? Can one truly feel the agony of the victim of war? 

By televising his piece Burden aims to show the impotency of the act of passive viewing. He in fact, confronts the viewer with his or her vulnerability. In other words, by representing violence Burden creates ‘a visceral or morphological response in the viewer through a momentary identification with the vulnerability of (all) bodies’ (Fitzpatrick 66). 

He criticizes public’s passivity in relation to social and political impositions. This act can be observed as a symbolic gesture in mirroring the torpid state of the passive viewer of broadcast news and graphic imagery (Duggan,Wallis 14). However, since the chances of real intervention leading to war’s stoppage might be rare, Burden’s piece only questions the limits of passive viewing rather than proposing anyideological strategy of citizen’s intervention against the war. 

  Burden explores a pain that penetrates into the body and questions its whole concept of existence and liveliness, a pain that as a trauma-whether physically in shape of permanent scars on the skin or psychologically in form of a fright from an imposed violence-will never leave the body.

While Burden’s performance questions issues around human existence and his position in the world, it also articulates a self that is porous, embracing an environment in which the self is gradually but radically being redefined (Laura Trippi qtd. in Carlson 159).

 Ultimately, Shoot faced contradictory reactions while being frequently referred to as exhibitionist, repellent or self-abusing. This very fact can show the difficulty in using and controlling the body as language in a performance piece (Warr 13). Yet being one of the most

frequently cited performances of the 70’s, Shoot successfully underlines one of the essential specificities of performance art; it can be real (Heathfield 179), and is strongly capable of questioning very critical subject matters of its time. What drives Mobed to repeat Burden’s Shoot is probably the same personal imperative that makes him responsible to expose himself

to violence in order to confront the audience with their attitude and mirror a neglected truth ina social context. 


Amir Mobed, Come Caress Me (2010)

In 2010, Amir Mobed an Iranian performance artist grabbed attention in a way not seen before in Iran’s performance history. The thirty-seven year old artist inspired by Chris Burden’s Shoot (1971) stood in the gallery space and invited gallery visitors to shoot him with a pellet gun in Azad art gallery, Tehran. It is Thursday 10th of September, an ambulance is parked outside the gallery and the visitors, mainly from the intellectual society, have   gathered outside the gallery not knowing what is about to happen. Inside, there is an A4 sized

piece of paper attached to the wall in which the following lines are written:

What forces the artist to put their body into injury and sufferance?How does the physical pain relieve the psychological hurt? Violence isstripped bare by the shot into the body, but the harm we impose oneach other, even though deeper and vaster, is invisible. While we have frequently used violence in different degrees to contempt, intimidate or manipulate the others, shall we actually take the gun and live the life of the criminal? Violence is not limited to what war and injustice enforces on numerous people we regard as “others” in our everyday life, but it is integrated into our daily attitude towards our very close ones.

Members of audience are invited to the gallery space in groups of fifteen-twenty, cueing to participate in the performance. Mobed is standing in a white bodysuit, his head covered with a protective metal box. In front of him, three lines are drawn on the floor. The one further is labeled I hate you, the one in the middle I like you and the nearest, I love you. As his public, you are invited to take the gun, place yourself on one of the lines and shoot him. Even though the bullets are not real ones, they graze the artist’s body and leave traces of blood and scars. 

The gallery is in total silence while the only voice one can hear is either the clicks of a camera shooting the scene or single shots of a pellet gun. Three members dressed in black T-shirts imprinted with the word ‘Security’ explain to the volunteer audience how to use the gun and to stand on the line of their choice. The audience will also be provided with a pair of glasses as an eye protection. The audience takes their time to adjust the sight of the rifle with the target. After a few minutes of suspense, the bullet is shot towards the body. While some fail to hit the target, some are proud to have shot right on the center where Mobed stands. Some shoot the aluminum cover on his head while others shoot his bodymaking him bend and exhaling deeply from pain.Yet, he manages to stand up hands wide open like a cross willingly and courageously available to be once again shot at.

He also makes his back and spine available for the members of the audience. Some do not hesitate for a second and shoot; some stand passively and witness the scene. After a while, as

some audience members begin to argue, others have become tense and worried, until a member refuses to take the gun when getting informed of the process. A middle age lady does the same and refuses to shoot while taking off the safety glasses. The performance continues until finally a young member of the audience pretending to prepare himself for shooting, hits the gun on the floor and breaks it apart. The security forces then grab him and take him outside the gallery space. One can hear him from the outside moaning in anger and relief. After three hours, the performance comes to an end and everyone leaves the space in silence. 

Taking place a year after Iran’s 2009 presidential election, Come Caress Me was performed by Amir Mobed. This performance can serve as a reflective surface mirroring the socio-political crisis in Iran. The proposed statement will be clarified and analyzed in this chapter in order to illuminate different aspects of Come Caress Me and to raise questions worthy of being answered in order to help in its critical analysis through the lens of trauma as an investigation engine. This chapter is divided into several subchapters, each of which is devoted to one aspect of Mobed’s performance. All the discussed aspects will convey the meaning of Come Caress Me.

I. Mobed’s Choice: Live rather than Televised

As mentioned, inShoot Burden chooses to deprive his viewer from the act of intervention. In Come Caress Me, Mobed prepares an environment to allow the audience to participate in the performance and that is exactly what he emphasizes on: the importance of the performance’s process of creation through a live audience, without any other medium (such as the intervention of any audio-visual technology). What could be the rationale behind Mobed’s choice?

Ayear afterthe presidential election in 2009, and the social-political crisis in Iran, and the contradictory news broadcasted from international media, Mobed decided to perform his piece in a non-recorded context while involving more of a public in its formation. 

The statement Mobed was to make had to be unearthed by people who witnessedthe truth of the public spaces and not those who ignored the truth by blindly trusting the media. Mobed’s choice was about a one to one bodily exchange in which the layers of truth could be uncovered.

II. Come Caress Me Seen As a ‘Punishment-as-spectacle’ Scene

Mobed’s former performance Amir Mobed’s Family Fight, which was enacted fewmonths before his Come Caress Me, in Mohsen art gallery, Tehran, brought a vast wave of disagreement and criticism into his career. In this performance, being more of a short theatrical interactive piece, Mobed performed the role of an angry man in the act in which he was so immersed that he violently grabbed a saucer from a woman’s hand, as a member of the audience, while seriously cutting her palm. As she began to panic from the major bleeding of her palm and cry out from anger and fear, the other members of the audience still believed it to be a part of the performance. The woman shouts in tears that ‘this is not a performance’ and Mobed, without stopping the show, continues to act. Mobed’s Familiy Fight resulting in casualties brought the critic’s attention to the performance. They began attacking Mobed as violent and exhibitionist. His act also questioned his performance and its accountability within the frames of an artwork. Yet, he kept his silence until he performed Come Caress Me. Trauma in his previous performance not only manifested itself physically through the visible scar on the skin of an audience member, but also mentally both through the content of the performance and at another level in Mobed’s violent reaction to his audience. 

This is how one might suggest that Come Caress Me could be Mobed’s response to those who criticized him for his act of violence. In other words, Mobed in Come Caress Me gives his accusers a chance to punish him. If the premise is true, could one consider Mobed’s Come Caress Me as what Michel Foucault puts in his book Discipline and Punish, a sort of ‘Punishment-as-spectacle’ scene in which the public denounces the violator

The coming lines are devoted to the mentioned suppositions as a starting point for further investigations. The following subchapter is devoted to the study of the audience’s relation with the gun and how this relation directs them towards committing an act of violence. The suggested analysis is still based on Foucault’s theories in Discipline and Punish.  

II.i. Docile Bodies and the Policy of Coercion

While the spectators have gathered to witness a ceremony of punishment, Mobed as the convict is seen but he does not see; his body is the object of information, never a subject in communication (Foucault 200). His body will be the property of the society, the object of a collective and useful appropriation. In other words, this body as a body of a condemned man

appears as a sort of rentable property at its public’s service (108-109); a public with an offered gun. What are the relationship between the public’s body and their gun as an object that is manipulating them?

  The relation of public’s body (as the social body) with the gun can be studied through Foucault’s concept of ‘docile Bodies’ and their relation with ‘discipline’. According to him, a ‘docile body’ as a body ready to accept control is only docile when subjected and used (136).   

In Come Caress Me, the body of the audience is docile when easily learning the discipline required for using a gun. For such an audience, the aliveness of the body they are shooting at is secondary and the body before them instead serves as a very important target.

Apart from the readiness of the social body in learning discipline, the collective reinforcements might as well direct the social body towards the act of violence. A collection of these reinforcements build what Foucault refers as ‘policies of coercion’ (164-169). In Come Caress Me, the act of providing an audience with protective glasses, instructing them in principals of using the gun, the whole attitude of the security staff, and finally, the matrix designed to encourage the act of shooting can be all considered as policies of coercion.

II.ii. Another Reason for Shooting

In Mobed’s Come Caress Me, when the audience is given the opportunity to shoot, one might argue that there is a probable chance that he/she wants to liberate this psychic tension. For the audience it might be the repetitive nature of trauma symptoms that makes them shoot. In other words, through the performance the traumatic dream of vengeance might repeat itself. Since ‘the double and repeating wound of trauma and its symptom instigates a collapse of narrative time, the survivor-sufferer might be unable to live in the present time’ and therefore, one might argue that at the moment of shooting the shooter lives in a dream like world where he/she is offered a chance to take revenge. Firing the gun manifests what has been repressed while bringing the repressed into a surface. In Come Caress Me, this surface is the skin [body] of Mobed’s as the ‘other’.

III. The Coalescence of Fiction and Reality

The self-conscious borrowing from theatricality in the context of witnessing might be another aspect making Mobed successful in convincing his public to actually take the gun and shoot him.This theatricality is mostly implied by the considerable size of the bull’s-eye in the middle of the gallery with its sharp colors along with Mobed’s white bodysuit and head cover which might even seem funny at the first gaze. If one considers the bull’s-eye as a sign, then one can argue that this sign conveys a sort of gamely atmosphere. Consequently, one might suggest that if the bull’s-eye was not there to pervade a sort of theatricality (along with other signs such as his head cover), Mobed’s performance could have led to a different result (Carlson 40).

What is more, until the end of the performance one cannot make certain if Mobed is really in pain or not. Bearing the fact that there are no recognizable traces of blood on his shirt. On the other hand, Mobed’s pain is never thoroughly objectified and directly communicated since the audience is not able to see his face or hear him scream from pain. This way, the audience might get to believe that Mobed is a fictional character supposed to be harmed by them during a series of theatrical courses of action. In this case, one may comment that the theatricality Mobed pervades in his performance somehow deceives his audience in taking the whole event as unreal. The fictitious quality of Mobed’s performance gets more intensified with the differing sense of reality between Mobed and his audience.

In Mobed’s performance, his audience admittedly could not believe that they are actually shooting him in reality and that they are actually harming him and causing him pain. In other words, for the one present to shoot the body, the pain is absent and one’s perception over that is hugely vague. This makes his or her sense of reality different from the one in pain. One has to consider that such argument also applies to those who merely witness the scene. 

IV. Artist-audience Relationship and Discourse of Pain

The physical pain is unshared, and it resists language. This is what makes Mobed as distanced and isolated as possible with his audience. His covered face, with eyes deprived of seeing and being seen (therefore deprived of any sense of communication) help in the reinforcement of this distance. From the part of the audience as well, this distance is well kept. For an active audience tending to shoot the fairly inconsequential alteration at one end of the rifle (magnified into an occurrence full of consequence at the other on Mobed’s body) is not recognized.

Moreover, Mobed has formed two surfaces of shooting: The bull’s-eye as a non-sentient surface and his body as a sentient one. This act can make the job easier for the audience to actually take the gun and shoot.In this sense, one can argue that the audience can consider the rifle either as a tool penetrating into a non-sentient surface (like a game) or believing it as a weapon penetrating into Mobed’s body and possibly harming it. Seemingly, the majority of the audience assumed the first supposition while this could be a mere selfdeception based on the elimination of sense of guilt by the shooter.

Yet, through the process of the performance, the radically private experience of painresults in a public discourse. During the performance, the value of Mobed’s presence changes from being just an available target to a sentient entity. The discourse takes shape when the audience recognizes their attempt to ignore the sense of guilt in favor of shooting. It can also take shape when the audience realizes that Mobed aims to reflect their image onto themselves. They realize that during the years they have become a traumatized authentic class of sufferer, the pain of which is hard to heal. 

Finally, one might consider Mobed’s performance as an act of sacrifice to awaken those who create or witness it. 

Generally, it was the audience’s agreement to participate in the performance that helped in the final outcome of it. If the audience had refused to cooperate with Mobed, the hidden truth about Iran’s social body would never get uncovered, even though that would generate another meaning still.

V. A Long for an Altruistic Form of Love

The line of I Love You drawn on the ground as the closest to Mobed’s body might be the key message of the performance. While the audience comes to a performance for its chance to get closer to the artist (Heathfield 177), in Mobed’s performance if it stands on the I Love You line it gets more and more distanced from him and if caresses him it means that he/she is actually pointing the gun at him. When Mobed chose to label the closest line of shooting I Love You he was clearly calling attention to love and its intimate connection with pain (Heathfield 145-147) suggesting that the pain inflicted from the loved ones is indeed deeper than those who hate one.

In Come Caress Me, why couldn’t anyone accept the artist with all his failures, weaknesses and traumas? Why couldn’t one just stand the nearest to his body, put the gun down and declare his or her unconditional love to him? Why that possibility never crossed anyone’s mind in the performance?

VI. Towards Gaining Response-ability

While notions of ‘social numbness’ dominate today’s world, the need for the ‘production of presence’ arises (Duggan, Wallis 13). Lehmann defines this ‘presentness’ as an experience that is not suspended. In early stages of Come Caress Me, the audience is deceived by the policies of coercion. Those who witness passively and without any responsibility also mirror a society that has become inactive. Consequently, while the active audience acts out of coercion and other previously mentioned stimuli, the passive audience remains irresponsible. However, during the course of the performance as they get actively engaged with the ‘mental synthesis of the event’ they finally become aware of the ethical obligation to respond (Rancière ctd. in Fitzpatrick 63). Accordingly, in Mobed’s performance, through mere witnessing the audience cannot really know about the truth of the performance. Instead their perception rises when they actually aim to respond. 

In Come Caress Me apart from Mobed, the audience also gets traumatized since at first it fails to respond out of awareness and control. Consequently, the generated traumatic layers add up inthe context of witnessing: the artist bears witness to his own trauma, the audience bears witness to Mobed’s staged trauma and the turning point is when both the artist and his spectator witness the trauma staged and shaped by both of them and evidently, the chain of witnessing creates the event’s cultural situation (Duggan, Wallis 7). 

Come Caress Me challenges both artist and his audience with their identity. While Mobed is stating that he is not a violator like those who shoot him, he is also confirming that he is a part of the social body. His performance questions the notion of a stable identity and sense of self (Warr 13). 

Eventually, through returning to the ‘real’ as a construction of political and raising complex questions of identity and corporality, Mobed gets to transform the audience’s perception.Mobed challenges his audience not only through their collective traumatic experience, but also by reminding them that violence is arbitrary and can erupt unexpectedly and horrifically in the minds of a peaceful normality as it happened for them. 

Ultimately, as the audience gets a chance to punish the artist, he also gets a chance to punish them. Yet, punishment can only function when it comes to an end (Foucault 107). After three hours when a member of the public breaks the gun apart the reciprocal ceremony of punishment finishes. This is while their self-punishment merges with an ‘us’ that is both redeemer and redeemed (Richard ctd. in Warr 245). 

The bullet scars on Mobed’s body are the marks of the social and he by appealing topain as a way of approaching the border line between individual and collective experience, aims to shed light on the need for healing this social malaise (Warr 216). 

For those present that day the gallery will not remain as a place for the display or sale of a work of art. To them, the gallery space will not be a passive site anymore but rather a traumatic one where public once imposed violence. To them, the gallery is a space which turned into a battlefield, where someone was shot just as real as in the streets.This gallery ultimately becomes a strongly potent space in providing a ground for a possibility of change in its viewer’s eye.


Possibility of Change

The contemporary culture memory is deeply bound to the chain of traumatic events. There is no escape from traumata. The traumatic repeats itself and. Live Art has been long observing trauma from different angles and through different contexts. As Peggy Phelan cites, what makes it a significant art form is that it opens the possibility for mutual transformation on the part of the audience and the performers (ctd. in Heathfield 19). The transformation occurs when the audience is given a chance to intervene. This intervention will lead to an invention. 

Live Art, therefore, becomes a space where one, in the fast-paced world of post modernism, finds time to face the truth one has been neglecting and at another level, a space where one can take time for introspection. In other words, Live Art takes the audience out of their normal, habitual sensory context and elevates their perception upon themselves. 

What forces the artist to put their body into injury and sufferance? How does the physical pain relieve the psychological hurt? Mobed questions. He asks about what is lost and what has been neglected. Yet, his questions are partially answered during the course of his performance and its afterlife. Mobed continues to ask whether one actually can take the gun

and live the life of the criminal to intimidate or manipulate others? Or in other words, whether the trauma victim can aim to traumatize others? The answer is, there are those who will and those who will not. What is more important is that a traumatized social body, which contains the collective identity of a specific country, can gain the ability to respond wisely in times of crises, a response based on understanding and generosity, based on solidarity and empathy. 

Works Cited

Artaud, Antonin. Theatre of Cruelty. Trans. Victor Corti. London: Calder & Boyars, 1974. Print.

Benette, Jill. Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art. California: Stanford University Press, 2005. Print.

Burden, Chris. “ Shoot.” Youtube. 4 Feb. 2008. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26R9KFdt5aY>.

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