Marina Abramović

Born: 1946, Belgrade
Video Art

Marina Abramovi? was born in Belgrade in Yugoslavia in 1946. A pioneer of the performance genre, she was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale for her Balkan Baroque performance in 1997.

Marina Abramovi? is known as the “grandmother of performance art.” This does not mean, however, that her works are now obsolete or that she spends her days at home, knitting socks for her grandchildren. Every single one of her performances is always relevant and contemporary. Just as thrusting your hand in a fire was sore in the past, so is it sore in our days: such is the law of nature.

Abramovi? discovered a new law of performance art – the verity of the experience. This is not the same as the theatrical “school of experiencing” (when you appear to feel something every time) or the “school of representation” (a convincing show of false feelings). A performance represents the height of concentration of both the performance artist and the viewer. Such sensations and thoughts can be repeated for us now thanks to the video documentation of Marina’s performances.

Were it just a case of wounds and sufferings, video would not have the same impact. Any tragic street occurrence with physical injuries and shocked witnesses could be called a performance. The most important thing for Abramovi? is not the actual danger to the performance artist, but what mental anguish or collective trauma she is able to reveal with the help of physical pain.

At the start of her career, Marina worked closely with her long-term partner Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen). Together, they held such cutting-edge performances as Rest Energy, when Marina held onto a bow and Ulay pointed a sharpened arrow directly at her heart. The slightest weakening of the tension on the part of either and the arrow would plunge straight into her body. In another performance, they kissed for ten minutes without stopping for a single breath, passing oxygen between each other’s lungs. How long is it possible to live, breathing only the one you love, separated from the rest of the world? Obviously not forever, because they later split up, but their moment of separation also became a work of art – they walked towards each other from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China. Meeting in the middle, they parted forever.

While Marina Abramovi? no longer creates such literally lethal works, they still have a powerful effect on viewers. In one performance, on the theme of “death and the maiden,” Marina lay naked on her back, with a skeleton on top of her, also lying face upwards. Every time she inhaled or exhaled, the skeleton also moved – its ribcage went up and down. This symbolises the pain of ageing. While Abramovi? is no longer young, she is still good-looking. How is a woman supposed to live with her own body, when she is already breathing into the back of the neck of her own death?

In 2009, Marina Abramovi? contributed to the VIDENIE exhibition of video art at the PERMM (Perm Museum of Contemporary Art). She submitted Art Must be Beautiful, Artist Must be Beautiful (1975), a work attacking the bourgeoisie vision of art as something nice and pretty. As she herself knows only too well, true art always involves suffering, which might be invisible to the viewer, but still occurs in the course of the creation of any work. A masterpiece cannot be painted without soiling your cufflinks. Moreover, one must decide whether the aim is to paint a masterpiece or to earn money for new cufflinks. And when we are dealing with contemporary art, the result is generally conflict, rather than comfort.

Marina Abramovi? brushes her hair with a metal comb, repeating over and over again: “Art must be beautiful... Artist must be beautiful.” Eventually scalping herself, she demonstrates the contradiction between the word “beauty” and art. With each passing decade, there is more and more such beauty, like over-groomed girls, in our world. But while advertising can reflect such beauty, only art can capture the pain that is always present in life.

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