The Weirdest Interactive Installations and Performances


Interactive installation art and audience-immersive exhibits and entertainment have been around for quite a while, but as our culture and its propensity for extremes continues to evolve, these artworks and performances have followed suit. Viewers really want to be part of the show, and the constant shift in power between artist and spectator-turned-participant is an exciting and unpredictable draw for people.

We spotted a current installation at the National Art Museum of Ukraine on Gawker recently, and felt inspired to round up a few other interactive and immersive works that required a steep commitment from audiences. They range from the radical to the absolutely bizarre. We feature them all after the jump — from a real-life sleeping beauty, to an artist that asked people to shoot him. Feel free to drop your favorite interactive performance/installation craziness in the comments section.

Taras Polataiko’s Sleeping Beauty

It sounds like something out of a John Collier novel, but Canadian-Ukrainian artist Taras Polataiko has created a real-life Sleeping Beauty for his current exhibit at the National Art Museum of Ukraine. The installation features a woman nestled in a bed in a gallery. She is bound by a contract to marry the museum visitor that can open her eyes with a kiss. “If it’s my true love, I will feel it on an intuitive level. Secondly, if I don’t feel it, I won’t open my eyes. Anything can happen in life. And suddenly it’s fate. What if it’s the only way I’ll meet my soul mate?” one of the women told press. The Prince Charmings must be at least 18 years old and also sign a contract. It doesn’t sound that crazy, considering America’s penchant for reality shows like Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?, until you see the guys awkwardly lining up to make out. Then it gets put-the-lotion-in-the-basket levels of creepy. One of them told interviewers, “I wanted to sense her essence. I didn’t even want to see her. I wanted to feel that girl. I wanted to feel her with my heart, but I didn’t feel anything.” The Beauty has until September 9 to hopefully not make a mistake she’ll regret for a lifetime, or get oral herpes. There is a live feed of the installation over here.

Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece

Inviting viewers to overstep their boundaries with scissors in hand, Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece transformed the artist into a vulnerable, passive object as participants cut her clothing from her body until she was naked. It frequently feels like an agonizingly slow violation. The 1964 conceptual performance is a famous feminist artwork that also demonstrates how each participant changes the tone of the work. Everyone approached the invitation to snip drastically differently. Ono has performed the piece three times, and after the final 2003 presentation told press she did it “against ageism, against racism, against sexism, and against violence.”

Nicole Blackman’s The Courtesan Tales

Poet and vocalist Nicole Blackman’s Courtesan Tales sold out every year it was performed. The Recoil collaborator invited blindfolded audience members to a sensual, intimate storytime that aroused all of the senses. She spoke to Aksioma Institute for Contemporary Arts about the work in 2005:

“The structure is similar but the delivery depends on the way an individual reacts. When my assistant helps you pick a theme in the waiting room and you enter the space, close the door, sit down on a chair and put a blindfold, you have made a decision to hand over the control of the situation for that short time to me. I do not want the visitor to feel threatened, so there is music and the scent of incense in the dim space. This should open them up and relax them as much as possible. Depending on the theme the visitor has picked, I start a story which I whisper in the visitor’s ear — they cannot see me because of the blindfold — and while doing that I touch them with my hands, different objects and materials, according to the story… But you do not slip into a tautology; you present the relation between the words and the physical contact through associative connections which generate a new message… That’s true. I avoid making direct connections between physical contact and words. I also watch the visitor closely from behind the curtain as they are entering, and while I am narrating I pay attention to the way they breathe, to their physicality, if their hands are trembling, if their facial muscles are twitching and so on. And from that I can tell how they feel, many things, for instance, their social status also from what kind of clothes, watch, jewelry, perfume or cologne they wear. When I’m telling the story I’m like a sniffing dog.”

Stelarc’s Fractal Flesh

Primarily interested in the way rapidly increasing technological advancements have surpassed human ability, Australian performance artist Stelarc often transforms himself into a cyborg. His 1995 interactive performance Fractal Flesh was a teleoperated collaboration that found the artist physically plugged into circuitry that remotely controlled his muscles and movements via computer. This allowed viewers at three different sites to bring his wired body to life by pressing buttons. “Although we already remote-control robots, it might be advantageous in certain [non-hazardous] situations to complete a remote task by borrowing the arm of another person — especially since that remote, stimulated arm is connected to an intelligent, mobile body,” the artist said. The entire performance was viewable live, giving the artist-cyborg and participant a chance to watch the effects of their distant relationship.

Marina Abramović’s Gala Dinner

Marina Abramović’s performance history includes multiple interactive pieces, but the artist’s human centerpieces for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s annual gala last year is one of the weirdest. Guests paid $2,500 and more so they could sit at a table while nude performers stretched out before them. Other tables featured performers’ heads poking through holes in the center, quietly engaging the guests. The event caused a stir, and upset choreographer Yvonne Rainer, who called it exploitive. Abramović has put her own body through the paces many times. She just completed The Artist is Present — inviting visitors to sit opposite her in silence — and her famous 1977 work with former partner Ulay, Imponderabilia, is another memorable example. Both performers framed a doorway while nude, forcing the public to squeeze between them.

Barbara T. Smith’s Ritual Meal and Feed Me

In 1969, Barbara T. Smith invited guests to a strange, six-course meal that required them to don surgical scrubs and use medical instruments as utensils. They were unaware of the set-up, so it came as a shock when they sat down and were asked to eat raw meat while watching projections that included a beating heart. Smith is often remembered for her 1973 performance Feed Me, in which the artist sat naked in a small room overnight. She asked audience members to enter one at a time and “feed her” any of the objects in the room. Some actually fed things to her, and other interactions took on a sensual tone. A recording of her voice pleading, “Feed me,” over and over again, played in the background.

Wafaa Bilal’s Domestic Tension

Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal confined himself to a prison cell-like room for one month, connected to audiences around the world via the Internet. They could interact with him through a web cam and chat rooms, but the most bizarre component of Domestic Tension involved a gun. No, not quite like Chris Burden. Participants could shoot at Bilal with a remote-controlled paintball gun 24 hours a day. “Bilal’s self-imposed confinement [was] designed to raise awareness about the life of the Iraqi people and the home confinement they face due to the both the violent and the virtual war they face on a daily basis,” his website explains. Domestic Tension became a morbid video game — something people could relate to, engaging them in an unsettling way. Bilal kept a video blog of his experience on YouTube. He also wrote a book called Shoot An Iraqi .


Blurring the lines between haunted house creepiness, performance art, and a complete mindf*ck is New York City’s Blackout — a disturbingly immersive experience. Rule number one: you must walk through alone. That ominous command is enough to terrify people, but trust us when we say that it gets much worse. We really don’t want to spoil the insanity for you, so we’re going to keep it cryptic, but we’ll quote Slant Magazine whose review blurb reads:

“If you prefer rubber bats and cobwebs over genuine fear-inducers like confinement and sensory deprivation, don’t even think about buying a ticket. Blackout Haunted House intends to separate the hardcore thrill-seekers from the tourists. I would liken it to a fraternity hazing if it wasn’t for the undeniable artistry involved.”

If this sounds like something you’d never consider doing in a million years, but you’re curious, let us direct you to a spoiler-filled review by blogger The Jaded Viewer. He paints an intense picture of the chilling experience.

Annie Sprinkle’s Public Cervix Announcement

“It sure is a magical place,” Annie Sprinkle wrote of her cervix. In 1990, the always jovial prostitute and porn star, who became an artist and educator, invited audiences to gaze at her cervix with the help of a speculum and flashlight. “One reason why I show my cervix is to assure the misinformed, who seem to be primarily of the male population, that neither the vagina nor the cervix contains any teeth,” she continues. “Maybe you’ll calm down and get a grip. Lots of folks, both women and men, know very little about female anatomy and so are ashamed and/or afraid of the cervix. That’s sad, so I do my best to lift that veil of ignorance.”

Sleep No More

British theater company Punchdrunk has produced numerous site-specific, experimental, interactive shows, but Sleep No More has been a recent phenomenon. Taking over a block of massive warehouses and using Shakespeare’s Macbeth to tell an eerie story, the company turned the space into an abandoned hotel. The setting is the early 20th century, as evidenced from the furnishings and the actors costumes, and no detail is left untouched. Participants are free to roam and explore, but must remain masked and silent the entire time. Writer Scott Brown described the show:

“What in Hecate’s name is Sleep No More? A dance-theater horror show? A wordless, nonlinear mash-up of Macbeth and the darker psychosexual corners of Hitchcock? A six-story Jazz Age haunted house for grown-ups and anyone who’s ever entertained sick cineast-y fantasies of living inside a Kubrick movie? ‘Tis all these, and more besides: a deed without a name, to quote an infernal authority.”