She is famous worldwide for taking her performances to the ultimate extreme, putting her own life at risk and putting her body and mind right up to the face of danger, to test the limits of the human being, all while creating an intense relationship between artist and audience, creating a dialogue of emotion and energy.
Abramovic was born and raised in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Her childhood and upbringing was one without love, pleasure or contentment. Being part of a post-war, military based family who were also religious, there wasn’t much room for pleasantries in her young life. She lived a strict and regimented existence with her family. She had to adhere to many military-esque rules at home, which were normal for a lot of post-war military families. Even while she was creating some of her earlier performance pieces, she still had to be home by 10 pm. Even though she grew up in this intensely hostile and cold environment, Abramovic broke through the mould and traveled across the world, taking her vision and her performance with her everywhere she went, shocking and captivating people everywhere over the course of her long and rich career. Even at seventy-one years of age, she shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Abramovic’s power to bring human fragility and strength together into one is almost unfathomable. Her ability to strip down the barriers and walls that human beings have built around themselves or have had built for them since the moment they were born, is something unquestionably breathtaking. She pushes her viewers into new dimensions and mind sets, making us question ourselves and our capabilities, to step back to look at ourselves from a fresh, clean and unobstructed angle and to appreciate ourselves just as we are; human. Boundless and fearless.
Abramovic shows us that human being’s most diabolical enemy is our own fears and manifestations we have created or learned throughout our lives that we’ve conditioned ourselves to be afraid of. She shows us what we can do and what we can discover if we alleviate all fears and anxieties holding us back from our true potential and to just be; in all our boldness and simplicity.
Baroque Balkan, one of the most definitory installations of the artist will be exhibited this year at the WOMAN, ALL TOO WOMAN exhibition, part of Baroque Urban – contemporary art project 3rd edition, organised by META Spatiu at the Art Museum in Timisoara, that I really hope I will be able to visit this autumn. Details about the dates and the installation you can find here. Here, I will talk about two of Abramovic’s most popular and well known performances over the course of her career that resonated with the world.
Probably one of her more memorable and shocking pieces of performance art, Rhythm O was a performance that most people would remember when they think of Marina Abramovic.
Held in Studio Marra, Naples, the performance was a test, of sorts, on the capabilities and the dark side of the human being. Abramovic put her life into the hands of her audience to create a performance that still remains as one of her most monumental works of performance art.
She stood in a room, motionless and without speaking for six hours, and invited the audience to do whatever they wished to her, using a selection of seventy two objects laid out on a table in front of her. The objects were varied into categories of pain and pleasure. Some of the objects were a glass of water, a rose, perfume, rope, knives, a pair of scissors, a scalpel, and a loaded gun. There was also a note reading:
There are 72 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired.
I am the object.
During this period I take full responsibility.
Abramovic wanted to test the limits of the public. How far are they willing to go with no responsibility or consequences? What are people capable of deep down and how evil and sadistic can we be given the right circumstances? People cut her hair, cut her clothes, groped her body, stuck thorns into her stomach, cut her skin, poured oil and water over her, somebody even pointed the loaded gun at her before they were stopped by another audience member. She dehumanised herself to the point where her body was mutilated and her life was at risk. She proved that if left up to them, the audience could kill her. When the performance was finished, she began to walk towards the audience and they all ran from her, too afraid to face her as a person and to be reminded of the terrible things they did.
The House With the Ocean View is one of Abramovic’s most physically trying performances that took place in the Sean Kelly gallery in New York. She ritualized and prioritized the simple, mundane actions of sitting, standing, washing, peeing and sleeping into a twelve day long performance with no food and only water to drink, with no privacy or seclusion, as she performed this piece in three open, small rooms mounted halfway up a wall. Ladders with rungs made of large butcher knives were leaning against each unit so she could not get down.
This was the piece I found when I first discovered Marina Abramovic for the first time when I was about fourteen in a book about modern art in my local library. I remember it startled me a great deal and I was overwhelmingly curious and interested in this specific type of art. It had me wondering ever since about the definition of art that I was used to in school, books and films. It was a type of art I had never heard of or been shown before. It was a completely new and unfamiliar style of artistic expression to me. I imagine most kids when they discover this type of performance art would be instantly disgusted and repelled, but my curiosity was awakened and I was fascinated by Marina Abramovic ever since.
In this performance and like many other of her performances, she used her body as the focal point of the piece, her artwork was living, breathing and real. It had real life emotion, movement and pain. Her concern with highlighting these everyday rituals for performance art had the ability to transport her to a unique state of consciousness, where her only primary function for the duration of the performance was to just be. As simple and straightforward as it is, it is something that most people today living in the modern and “developed” world are struggling with greatly. Abramovic shows us that the strength of the mind is more powerful and life changing than the strength of the body. There are limits to how strong and capable our bodies can be, but there are no bounds, limits or end to how strong and capable our minds can be. We have the ability to do things we never thought we could if we just banish all fears and preconceptions. She proves this point in almost every performance that she performs, The House With the Ocean View being a primary example of this.
I ask you, the reader, to think of my first questions in the opening of this article. What does it mean to be human? What are we and what is our purpose? What are we capable of and how far can we go? If there is anyone that can shed some light on these burning questions that we as humans ask ourselves it’s Marina Abramovic. Her clarity, honesty, stark boldness and fearlessness is something every art enthusiast should take from her if they have the honorable opportunity of meeting her or seeing her perform. Feed her with your wonder, awe and energy and you will receive a profound, limitless and boundless insight into yourself that you never knew was there. Set yourself free from your prejudices, preconceptions and fears and just be in this moment, right here, right now. Finally, to conclude in Marina Abramovic’s own words:
“What you’re doing is not important. What is really important is the state of mind from which you do it. Performance”
-Walk Through Walls: Becoming Marina Abramovic
Helen Brady is an art student from Ireland, who visited Timisoara for 3 weeks and had an internship at META Spațiu. The main focus of this exchange programme, in collaboration with Asociatia pentru Promovarea Femeii din Romania, through Erasmus, was our annual art event Baroque||Urban, that takes place in Timisoara.