In session writing – profile. The grandmother of performance art

Provocative, fearless, challenging and unique. Three main words to describe a Serbian performance artist and one of a few most influential people in this century- Marina Abramović. She pushes boundaries and any restrictions in art and leaves us speechless with the main questions in mind: what is art? Are we art ourselves?

Using her body and mind as canvas Marina Abramović has been performing for nearly forty years. 69 years old artist sometimes refers herself as “the grandmother of performance art”. And, sure, she is, as Abramović started creating unusual performances in early 80’s.

One of the most famous, significant and terrifying experiment that the artist ever performed was back in 1974, at a gallery in Belgrade, Serbia. Marina Abramović made a live, conceptual art performance Rhythm 0, using her own body as a weapon to test audience’s and her body’s endurance and psychic limits.

Abramović laid out 72 items on a trestle table and invited the audience to use them on her. Some of the items included such things as flowers, perfume, honey or olive oil. However, some drastic items were there as well: “I had a pistol with bullets in it, my dear. I was ready to die”; she says.

Eventually someone put the bullet in the gun, placed it in her hand and pointed it at her head. The primitive violence of people was revealed. Audience cut her clothes and her body, or stuck rose thorns in her stomach. Artist adds: “After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the audience. Everyone ran away, to escape an actual confrontation.”

Nowadays Marina Abramović is even more powerful than she was forty years ago. In 2010 she sat in the foyer of the Museum of Modern Art in New York without moving or speaking all day every day for three months (a total of 736 hours and thirty minutes). Audience was invited to come one by one and sit in front of her. They could speak with her and stay as long as they wished, however, she did not reply and her facial expression remained the same.

In The Artist Is Present she revealed the sadness of the audience as she sat across from them and absorbed their pain. Some smiled, chatted or stared at her in silence, others wept or told her things about their lives they’d told no one else. “Marina most powerful is Marina most simple, Marina as Marina. I love the simple Marina, the powerful Marina, when the artist is present within her.”; says an actor, artist and writer James Franco.

It is said that the more complicated childhood someone had, the better artist that person is. “My parents were both partisans and national heroes. They were very hard-core and were so busy with their careers that I lived with my grandmother until I was six. Until then, I hardly even knew who my parents were. They were just two strange people who would visit on Saturdays and bring presents. When I was six, my brother was born, and I was sent back to my parents. From that point on, my childhood was very unhappy.” Marina says.

However, it is undeniable that artist’s personal life is as interesting as her art performances. From the early childhood to her twenties, when Abramović was still living with her parents and was still being constantly punished by her mother, she created art. Even her first love story sounds like an artistic movie. When Marina was 29 years old she met another artist, named Ulay. They fell in love constantly and their bohemian relationship lasted for eight years. Not surprisingly, the heartbreak developed into an actual performance.

Artist’s approach, passion and love for art and life fits into a few words: “When a young artist comes to me and says, “I want to be famous and rich,” I ask him to leave because this is not the reason to make art. Those things are just side effects that you may be lucky enough to achieve. Your reason for doing art should be much deeper. You know you are an artist if you have to do art — it’s like breathing and you have no choice. Nothing should be able to stop you.”


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