Marina Abramović (Serbian Cyrillic: Марина Абрамовић; born 30 November 1946, in Belgrade, PR Serbia, FPR Yugoslavia) is a New York-based Serbian and Yugoslavian performance artist who began her career in the early 1970s. Active for over three decades, she has recently begun to describe herself as the “grandmother of performance art".
Abramović's work explores the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind.
Photography from Marina AbramovicRhythm 5, 1974
Abramović sought to re-evoke the energy of extreme body pain, in this case using a large petroleum-drenched star, which the artist lit at the start of the performance. Standing outside the star, Abramović cut her nails, toenails, and hair. When finished with each, she threw the clippings into the flames, creating a burst of light each time. Burning the communist five-four rayed star represented a physical and mental purification, while addressing the political traditions of her past.
In the final act of purification, Abramović leaps across the flames, propelling herself into center of the large star. Due to the light and smoke given off by the fire, the observing audience didn't realize that, once inside the star, the artist had lost consciousness due to a lack of oxygen. Some members of the audience realized what had occurred only when the flames came very near to her body and she remained inert. A doctor and several members of the audience intervened and extricated her from the star.
Abramović later commented upon this experience: “I was very angry because I understood there is a physical limit: when you lose consciousness you can’t be present; you can’t perform.”
Rhythm 2, 1974
As an experiment testing whether a state of unconsciousness could be incorporated into a performance, Abramović devised a performance in two parts.
In the first part, she took a pill prescribed for catatonia, a condition in which a person’s muscles are immobilized and remain in a single position for hours at a time. Being completely healthy, Abramović's body reacted violently to the drug, experiencing seizures and uncontrollable movements for the first half of the performance. While lacking any control over her body movements, her mind was lucid, and she observed what was occurring.
Ten minutes after the effects of that drug had worn off, Abramović ingested another pill – this time one prescribed for aggressive and depressed people - which resulted in general immobility. Bodily she was present, yet mentally she was completely removed. (In fact, she has no memory of the lapsed time.) This project was an early component of her explorations of the connections between body and mind, which later took her to Tibet and the Australian desert. Following Rhythm 2, she set to develop the rest of the series of rhythm projects, continually testing her endurance.
Rhythm 0, 1974
To test the limits of the relationship between performer and audience, Abramović developed one of her most challenging (and best-known) performances. She assigned a passive role to herself, with the public being the force which would act on her.
Abramović had placed upon a table 72 objects that people were allowed to use (a sign informed them) in any way that they chose. Some of these were objects that could give pleasure, while others could be wielded to inflict pain, or to harm her. Among them were scissors, a knife, a whip, and, most notoriously, a gun and a single bullet. For six hours the artist allowed the audience members to manipulate her body and actions.
Initially, members of the audience reacted with caution and modesty, but as time passed (and the artist remained impassive) several people began to act quite aggressively. As Abramović described it later:
“The experience I learned was that…if you leave decision to the public, you can be killed.” ... “I felt really violated: they cut 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 public. Everyone ran away, escaping an actual confrontation.”
Video of Marina Abramovic can be seen on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pno1gCrbeVk
** Info on Abramovic found on Wikipedia