Brilliant Ideas Episode #26: Marina Abramović
Performance artist awakening viewers with her body
Pioneer of performance art
Born to the parents who became national heroes as communists in Yugoslavia after World War II, Marina Abramović confesses that her childhood was very unhappy. Affected by military discipline of her strict mother, she could not be completely free even after being an adult. She chose art as her hideout from daily life.
Communicating with the world through art, Abramović is known for presenting fierce performances using her body as a medium. Through actions that require great willpower, she surpasses the physical limitations and contemplates her inner world. Brilliant Ideas Episode #26 features Marina Abramović, a first-generation performance artist who is called a pioneer of the 21st-century’s performance art, presented by Bloomberg and Hyundai Motor.
Looking at the inner side beyond pain
Abramović presents extreme situations with her entire body through her performances. By presenting performances of inflicting pain and scars on her body, the artist shows that human can surpass mental limitations, covering subjects such as death, fear, and pain. This is from the influence of her communist parents and her grandmother, who were absorbed in religion. “So everything in my childhood is about total sacrifice, whether to religion or to communism. […] This is why I have this insane willpower” she says.
The ‘Rhythm’ series conducted from 1973 to 1974 is the first work where Abramović started in full scale to show pain and sacrifice by using her body as a tool. <Rhythm 10>(1973) is a performance where she grabs 20 knives of different sizes and shapes and quickly stabs on the floor between her spread fingers. She recorded in a tape the rhythm created by stabbing with the knives. Through this dangerous act that makes the viewer feel dizzy, the artist tested the relationship between the mind and body, while also reinterpreting the concept of rhythm.
In <Rhythm 0>(1974), the last work of the series, she became an object along with 72 other objects. The viewers could do anything to her as a displayed object. Over time, the viewers did severe treatments to her without hesitation, such as pricking her body with rose thorns, or cutting her neck with a blade. Showing her bearing all kinds of pain, her performance was to test the conscience of the viewers, and also to represent pain and endurance of numerous women.
Abramović’s extremely fierce performances seem to convey pain even to the viewers; they are not just for directing severe situations. She ceaselessly takes efforts to deepen the performances, such as learning meditation in Tibet or getting to know various cultures like Asian shamanism. She looks inside her through spiritual teachings, and expresses enlightenment found by the teachings in intense performances. By acts surpassing limitations, she contemplates herself again and erupts countless subjects inside her through her body.
Life sublimated by art
In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art(hereinafter “MoMA”) held a Marina Abramović retrospective titled <The Artist Is Present>. Composed of two chairs on which Abramović and a stranger were sitting, facing each other, this performance was conducted for seven hours every day for three months, for about 750 hours in total. Staring into someone’s eyes for one minute, which can be long or short time depending on the person who passes it, may seem simple, but has a lot of meanings inside. Unlike in the previous painful performances, the artist wanted to send her love and form empathy through giving a glance to others. Thousands of viewers who came to MoMA lined up to interchange feelings with the artist; people who sat in front of her shed tears or put on a bright smile, sharing various emotions.
It is well known that she met Ulay(Uwe Laysiepen) during this performance, her ex-lover and partner in art. From the late 1970s to the late 1980s, Abramović and Ulay collaborated on so many works that her works during that period cannot be explained without Ulay. <From Relation in Space>(1976), where they dashed to each other naked like two planets collide, mingling male and female energy, and <Imponderabilia>(1977), where they, also naked, stood at the narrow entrance of the exhibition place and contacted with the viewers entering the place, to <Rest Energy>(1980), where each of them grabbed a bow and an arrow aimed at Abramović’s heart and balanced depending on the weight of each other, the two artists shared many things as partners. They also studied duplicity by a performance of respecting each other’s art style and self, looking into the insides of each other. Having stayed lovers and partners for 10 years, Abramović and Ulay ended their relationship with their last performance, <The Lovers>(1988), where each of them started from the each end of the Great Wall and met at the middle after about 90 days of journey. Turning their parting into art, this performance not only means special to the two artists, but also casts philosophical questions to viewers about the start and end of a relationship, and the world that we cannot but live through alone. ■ with ARTINPOST
<Cleaning the Mirror>(Bloomberg capture still) 1995
Stills: Andrew Russeth (Bloomberg capture still)
<Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful>(Bloomberg capture still) 1975
<The Lovers>(Bloomberg capture still) 1988
ⓒ Marina Abramović and Ulay
Marina Abramović and Ulay <AAA-AAA> 1978
Video still ⓒ Marina Abramović and Ulay Courtesy of the Marina Abramović Archives
Yugoslavian artist Marina Abramović, is unquestionably one of the important artists who presents performance and feminism of our time. For the artist, the “body” is a subject and a medium. Exploring limits of the body and mind through her own body made her a pioneer of performance since the 1970s. For the last four decades, Abramović has researched the relationship between the performer and the audience through performances which present the limited body and the infinite possibilities inside. So, she is at times described as the “Master of performance art.”
Born in 1946, Marina Abramović, who studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts, Belgrade and the Academy of Fine Arts, Zagreb, is now based in New York. Including the recent exhibition at Mona(Museum of Old and New Art, Tasmania, Australia), she has had numerous solo exhibitions including exhibitions at Lisson Gallery, London, Serpentine Gallery, London, Museum of Modern Art(MoMA), NY and Centre Pompidou, Paris. Also participating in major events such as the Venice Biennale and Kassel Documenta, she is showing her unique energy in the international art scene.