I am WAY late to the game. I didn’t know who Marina Abramovic was until this morning. I watched an amazing video of her confronting an old lover after 20 years. By itself, the video is powerful, but it deserves a deeper dive into who she is and where she has been.
Her life as an artist is unconventional to say the least. Wikipedia does a good job laying the groundwork for her history (or even better, the Guggenheim), but what is shocking are some of the performance art displays she produced in which she was the subject. In “Rhythm 0“, produced in 1974, she provided 72 implements to audience members and allowed them to use them on her in whatever way they chose. There was a feather, a knife, oil, a whip… and even a gun with a single bullet. The audience could have, in fact, killed her. This went on for 6 hours and she remained motionless and even more jaw dropping, emotionless, during the entire time. In her own words:
“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.”
From Rhythm 0 (and Rhythm 2, 4, 5) the excitement and oddities continue. She now even has a cult following of teenagers. In 2013 she produced an exhibit called “512 Hours” where people would wear a pair of headphones and listen and engage in nothing. Just silence. She noticed a 12-year old boy returning day after day. She asked: “Why are you coming here every day?” The little boy replied “you know, it’s really important. I used to be so bad at school, and now I go home at stand in the middle of my room and listen to silence and then…then I can do everything.” Re-reading this I get teary-eyed. THAT’S impact. THAT’S legacy.
But this is a love story and what provoked me to write. It’s the story of Marina and Ulay. Madly in love, they collaborated artistically for years. In their 1976 “Relation in Space”, they simply ran into each other for an hour. Peculiar. From 1976 to 1988 they were an inseparable couple until, like many relationships, it got to be just too much. The drama too rich. The enmeshment too deep. They chose to separate.
And this uber-couple of the art scene did not go quietly into the night! No! They decided to climatically end the relationship by walking from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China and meet in the middle, over 1,500 miles… each. The idea was conceived in a dream and symbolized the fact that like in life, walking alone is the human condition.
“Because in the end you are really alone, whatever you do.”
After this fete, they did not see each other again. Until…
In 2010, Marina performed “The Artist is Present” at the Museum of Modern Art (take the 3 minutes to hear her speak in that video). In this performance she sat across from audience members, one by one, in silence. Again, motionless, emotionless. Thinking no one would show up (because who has time to sit in silence in the busiest city on earth?) a huge line formed. People lined up outside, waiting for hours. Emotions… tapped.
Until there was one. Tne one person who could break through the art with the only thing that may be able to: love. It had been over 20 years.
And of course you can’t be too cool unless you know Jay-Z.