Jolting Viewers out of Ordinary Patterns of Thinking

Read about the performance artist Marina Abramović’s strangely alluring works. Find out more about how she has devoted herself, mind, body and soul, to art.

How Far Can the Mind and the Body Go?

To me, trying to fathom the unique thought processes behind some of the most unconventional works of art is like taking the scenic route up the side of a magical mountain. Delving into Rhythm 0, Marina Abramović’s incredible mind is the vertigo you experience when you get to the top. Abramović’s terrifying experimental art installation in the 1970s is perhaps one of the most discussed among performance art enthusiasts. At the performance, Abramović laid out a range of objects on a table, inviting spectators to do what they want with them, including freely using them on her body. Abramović was facing not only the relatively benign effects of items like a feather boa and olive oil, she was also willingly confronting scissors, a whip, a scalpel, a loaded gun – and whatever strangers chose to do to her with these items. The performance lasted six hours, during which Abramović passively accepted rose thorns drawing blood from her stomach, having her clothing cut from her body, and the gun held to her head.

Marina - rythem

Later performances involved Abramović repeatedly stabbing her hand with a knife, carving a star into her stomach, and literally playing with fire. She lost consciousness on more than one occasion. Is this exhibitionism? Perhaps sensationalism? Is Abramović a masochist? Or is she simply investing all to explore and confront the limitations of the human mind and body in the name of art? The lengths artists go to for their creativity are truly astounding.

Exploring Ego, Gender and Artistic Identity

For several years, Abramović teamed up with fellow performance artist and lover Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen). Their works were characterised by constant movement. In one performance titled ‘Relation in Space’, Abramović and Ulay ran into one another repeatedly for an hour, ostensibly using male and female energy to create a third element, which they named, ‘that self’. In another, they drove a car in 365 circles with black liquid oozing from it, creating a sculpture of sorts. Each one of the 365 laps represented a year, with the full cycle symbolising the artists’ entrance into a new millennium. Abramović continued her trend of losing consciousness with a performance in which the pair connected their mouths and exhaled breaths into one another until they passed out. The piece was deeply personal and created with the idea of absorbing another person’s life, exchanging it and destroying it. It was called Breathing In/Breathing Out.

Marina Abramovitc - relation in space

Lives That Are Art

Abramović and Ulay even transformed the end of their relationship into a work of performance art. Called ‘The Lovers’, the pair walked the Great Wall of China from opposite ends, meeting in the middle. After completing the 2,500km they met, and said goodbye. Abramović and Ulay would meet again, over two decades later, once again making art. For 18 days in 2010, Abramović held a major performance at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Titled ‘The Artist is Present’, the performance lasted 736 hours and 30 minutes during which she sat at a table in the museum as spectators were invited to sit opposite her, immobile and silent while looking into her eyes. For many the experience was very emotional. Several spectators burst out in tears. Others were overpowered by nervous laughter. One took all her clothes off. At the show’s opening night, Ulay surprised the artist with his presence. He quietly took the seat in front of her. She raised her eyes to his, as she would with any spectator, and then Marina Abramović, one of the most disciplined artists around, a woman entirely devoted to her work, broke protocol. She clasped his hand across the table. The spectators were not the only ones who wept during this installation.

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