Marina Abramović is easily one of the most influential artists that I have familiarized myself with. There are so many different directions I could go in when discussing Marina Abramović. For starters lets mention how throughout history women artists have received little to no recognition for their bodies of work. But for as long as there have been male artists, there have been female. Actually, according to Roman writer Pliny the Elder from the first century C.E., the first drawing ever made was by a woman, so suck it dudes. Until I heard of Abramović I honestly knew very little regarding female artists. Her work inspired a deep dive into females throughout art history. A huge inspiration as to why I am completely my art degree. Marina Abramović is one of the most badass artists ever, not just female.
Abramović was inspired by Dadaism and the Fluxus Movement, basically anti-art. Like Dadaists before them, Fluxus artists’ goal is to eliminate boundaries between art and the world around them. They believe you do not have to be educated to understand art. They dismiss the “high art” world and believe that museums do not have the authority to define what is considered art. Fluxus art involves the viewer and believes the piece is not complete without an audience. Marina committed herself to this key idea as a performance artist.
So lets talk about her work. Along with viewer interaction, Abramović’s pieces emphasize the connection between body and mind, testing her endurance psychically and mentally. Her first performance series, (Rhythm 10,5,2,4,0. 1973-74) displayed these concepts. Rhythm 10 involved her playing the Russian Game with 20 knifes. Stabbing the knife between her fingers until cutting herself then picking up a new knife and continuing. This was recorded then played back to her as she tried then to repeat the same actions and sounds of the stabbings. This explored the mental and psychically limitations of the body. With this performance Abramović started considering the state of consciousness of the performer.
This developed into a series. She then performed Rhythm 5, 1974, where she lit a communist five pointed star on fire and to represent purification of her past, (Her parents raised her military style, and both held positions in the Yugoslavian government) jumped into the middle. She lost consciousness due to the smoke inhalation and had to be pulled from the fire. "I was very angry because I understood there is a physical limit. When you lose consciousness you can't be present, you can't perform.”
This provoked the further exploration of consciousness. Rhythm 2, 1974, she ingested two different medications, the first used for patients with catatonia. Her healthy body reacted violently, seizing uncontrollably. She had lost all connection to her psychical body but her mind remained lucid and aware. After the first pill wore off she ingested another typically prescribed for aggressive patients resulting in complete immobilization. Her body was present but mentally she was removed and had no recollection of the lapsed time. Rhythm 4, 1974, she stood naked in front of an industrial size fan inhaling deeply over and over until losing consciousness.
In Rhythm 0, 1974, her last piece in this series, she upped the anti. This is one of her most well known pieces due to the controversial nature of the topics it addressed. She set out 72 objects on a table and instructed the audience they were allowed to use them in any way they choose. For 6 hours Abramović stood still as viewers touched and manipulated her body."What I learned was that ... if you leave it up to the audience, they can kill you. ... I felt really violated: they cut up my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the audience. Everyone ran away, to escape an actual confrontation.” This performance demonstrated how vulnerable and aggressive humans can be without social consequences. It also represented the objectification of females, and reflected key issues regarding art, sexuality and BDSM.
Tell me, Marina Abramović is not one of the coolest artists you have ever heard of? I’ve only touched on her FIRST performance pieces. This blog is going to be a long one because I have to tell you about her collaborative work Ulay. Marina moved to Amsterdam in 1976 and met the German artist Uwe Laysipen or Ulay. They quickly began living and working together creating a decade of influential performance pieces. Fuck The Notebook, these artists’ love story was crazy romantic, filled with artistic exploration and was real. Together they created a collective called, “The Other.” They focused on ego and the artist identity. "The main problem in this relationship was what to do with the artists' egos. I had to find out how to put my ego down, as did he, to create something like a hermaphroditic state of being that we called the death self.” Now if this isn’t a metaphor for love, I don’t know what is. Together they preformed for a decade, some of my favorite being;
And for their grand finale they preformed Lovers in 1988. Each starting at opposite ends of the Great Wall of China they walked towards each other, meeting in the middle to say their final goodbyes. By the time they received permission to perform this piece their relationship had completely dissolved. "We needed a certain form of ending, after this huge distance walking towards each other. It is very human. It is in a way more dramatic, more like a film ending ... Because in the end, you are really alone, whatever you do.” This piece gives me chills, I live for all things romantic, sad and artistic. And IT’s REAL. It wasn’t as uncomplicated and romantic as them just living inside of their own personal art installation though. In 2015-16 Ulay took Abramović to court for unpaid royalties and was ordered to backdate and pay him years worth of combined sales and legal fees. Ouch.
Abramović went on to perform solo again. Ill wrap this up with one of her more recent performances, The Artist is Present, 2010. You may have heard of this performance, it did go viral. As the largest exhibit of performance art in MOMA history, Abramović sat at a table in one of the museum’s galleries for 736 hours. The audience was invited to sit across from her for about five minutes at a time. She remained completely still and silent apart from if an audience member cried, she cried. Abramović sat across from 1,545 sitters including people such as James Franco, Lou Reed, Alan Rickman and Bjork. And at one point after decades apart, Ulay. I cry every time I talk about this moment. Seriously, I am getting choked up right now. This moment that went viral between Abramović and Ulay is something I’ll never forget. It was the only time she reached over the table and touched a sitter. The moment only lasted for about a minute but the impact it had on me was lasting. This is the meaning of art to me.
Marina Abramović’s work deeply resonates with me. It seriously moves me to my core and I don’t think enough people know of her and her brilliance. There are many more pieces that she has contributed to the art work and in 2015 presented a TED talk titled, “An art made of trust, vulnerability, and connection.” Go check those out. I assure you, you wont be disappointed.
I Just wanted to throw this in here real quick... Above is Jay-Z shooting his music video for Picasso Baby in 2013. He asked Marina if he could adapt her performance piece The Artist is Present. He sat across from multiple celebrities and sang his song repeatedly for six hours while filming at the Pace Museum in New York. Abramović agreed to appear in the video in exchange for donation and publicity for her Institute of performance art. Some have commented on the collaboration as the day performance art died, others have said contemporary artists working with musicians can potentially create great work that both fine art lovers and pop culture fans can appreciate.