ON PERFORMANCE ART

Marina Abramovic: A lecture on Performance Art

 

Text by INTERWEAVE for MAI
Photos by NATALIA TSOUKALA

Friday, April 1st - 2016

 

The Benaki Museum Auditorium, which hosted a number of events with Marina Abramovic, another exceptional lecture by Marina Abramovic: a lecture about “Terra Comunal”, a project presented in 2015, in Sao Paolo, Brazil, as well as more of her emblematic works.  

At 6.00’ pm, Marina Abramovic came on stage. After joking with the public, “Actually, I think I'm going to put a bed here, so when I wake up in the morning I'll be already on the stage”, she made a small introduction of this second and last lecture that she was going to give in the As One exhibition. “Today’s lecture will be quite different from the previous one. I want to talk to you in some way about my life - not just show you my work. I want to talk to you about my ideas, starting from how it felt like to be a performance artist in the 70's, when the only public we could have consisted of three or ten people: at that time, if you had thirty people in the audience, you had a really big audience. To have been able to have millions of people in it –yes, it's a really long journey. For me, it’s very important to have that large an audience in performance art, because the audience and the performance artist make one unit. And the energy generated is enormous”.

To begin, she shared with the public some excerpts from “Work Relation” (2014), a film created by her in collaboration with Adidas, which contained a re-performance one of her historical works with Ulay. At the end of this projection, Abramovic pointed out: “At the beginning of my journey, performance art had been criticized a lot. There was part of people who called us even masochists and there was a lot of questioning about its artistic nature – whether it is art or not.”

Then she reflected on two of her older solo performance pieces: Rhythm 0 and The Artist is Present. About Rhythm 0, she said: “It was performed in Naples, Italy. I was not moving at all, I was completely static. I had seventy-six objects on the table and the audience was invited to use them on me for six hours. Some objects were for pleasure and other ones for pain – among those, there were also a pistol with one bullet in it. They could do whatever they wanted with me - including killing me. After a while, the public started to use on me even the hard objects too – a clear projection of the Italian culture. In other words, people had seen themselves in me: there were projections of their mother, of their whore, or of Madonna. After six hours performancing, I was full of blood and completely vulnerable. At the end of the performance, I started walking towards the public and the public just ran away: they couldn’t confront me as a normal person. From that moment, I knew that the public can kill you. This was an important kind of knowledge: You can raise the good parts of the human being or you can wake up its worst ones!”.

 Abramovic talked about her idea of changing the public with “The Artist Is Present”: “I made this piece, The Artist is Present at MoMA for that reason”, she admitted. “I wanted to get the best of the human being, to lift human spirit. I was at the museum for three months, each one of which I changed the color of my dress. During the first month, I had been wearing blue because I needed to be tranquil, to prepare myself for what was going to happen there. The second month it was more difficult from the first one so I needed a colour to give me strength: I wore the red one. And finally, the last month, I chose the white one. The important thing about the audience at this performance was that I had been interacting with them as individuals, not as a group: the public was invited to sit in front of me as long as they wanted. At first I thought that no one would have the time to do something like this - however, thousands of people came. There is so much loneliness and so much pain in all of us. Then I realized that I had a mission much bigger than being an artist on my own: My mission was to share these experiences in front of the public and this is exactly the vision of MAI: to share this experience with a large community, to create a community. This is exactly what is happening now at the Benaki Museum. It is full of people because you actually create a brand new community. The place is brimming with energy!”.

 

After the projection of a slide with a quote of Alexander Dormer on the new type of art institute “The new type of art institute cannot merely be an art museum as it has been until now, but no museum at all the new type will be more like a power station, a producer of new energy”, Marina Abramovic concluded:

We are changing. The museum has to be about the energy of the people, the moment and the concentration on the new consciousness.

 


Then, Abramovic made a reference to the Abramovic Method, talking briefly about the history of the Method, to underline the importance of the observer and the observant in performance art:

“We have a certain amount of public experimenting and interacting with the objects found in the Method and another part of the public looking the others in action. It's a funny kind of idea that the observers observing become observed”.

To continue, she pointed out the importance of the process followed in the Method. She talked about the lockers: “People are requested to leave their personal belongings - watches, phones, cameras etc. That moment is when we are actually getting free of technology and we gain some time for ourselves”; the headphones: “They really block the sound and they offer you the chance to make some focus on the experience you have: you are in a room, you are sharing the room with other people - so you are not alone. And at the same time you are indeed alone with yourself, hearing your heart beating.” 

And finally, she referred extensively to the exercises and why she began to use them: “The slow motion walking is about being in ‘here and now’ but also about regulating your breathing. The rice counting is very simple and actually has to do with life: If you can count the rice without stop doing it, you can get by in life too. The colors: red – yellow – blue: each color affects human nervous system in a different way. And finally, the mutual gaze: looking each other in the eyes has been always so uncomfortable: we never look each other in the eyes.”

Some minutes before finishing her lecture, where she shared with the audience some excerpts of films from her travels in Brazil, Abramovic underlined the importance of the facilitator’s role in the Method, concluding by showing some pictures of people experiencing it:

This is a kind of experience that you carry in all your life, because nobody is changing by someone else's experience. People change through their own experiential journey”.