Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Marina Abramovic: The Grandmother of Performance Art

The Georgia Museum of Art is currently showing an exhibition of video art titled “Performing Identity: Marina Abramovic, Eleanor Antin, and Hannah Wilke.” Abramovic, Antin and Wilke are all notable contemporary performance artists.

Marina Abramovic
In trying to come up with an idea for a blog post, I happened across Marina Abramovic’s Wikipedia page while researching body art. I was shocked. After perusing the page for a few minutes, I thought, “This is not art. This is insanity.”

For those unfamiliar with her work, Abramovic is a Yugoslavian performance artist who uses her body as both subject and medium. “The Artist is Present” is perhaps her most famous performance piece. For three months, Abramovic sat at a table illuminated by a square of light in the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Members of the audience were invited to sit across from her, for however long they wished. There is now a tumblr titled “Marina Abramovic Made Me Cry.” The total exhibition time was 736 hours and 30 minutes, in which Abramovic was totally silent. Her goal during the exhibition was to communicate energy with the audience rather than words.

The opening of The Artist is Present at the Museum of Modern Art
Abramovic’s inspiration for this iconic performance piece (which has since been developed into a video game) was the desire to no longer be “alternative.” Having been a fringe artist for her entire career, her desire was to legitimize performance art.

The self-appointed “grandmother of performance art,” Abramovic began her career in the early 1970s, experimenting with the pain and pleasure the body can experience with performances in Yugoslavia. Her early works primarily featured the Rhythm series, in which Abramovic explored elements of pain.

One of her most shocking pieces is “Rhythm 0,” performed in 1974. Abramovic set out to test the relationship between performer and audience. She remained inert for six hours near a table on which 72 objects had been placed. The items included rose petals, thorns, knives, honey and a loaded pistol. Abramovic described the performance as creating an “aggressive atmosphere.” One of the most interesting aspects of the performance was that, though the audience grew bolder over time, as soon as Abramovic stood up, at the end of the six hours, they all ran to escape.

All though Abramovic’s work is certainly shocking, it also probes deep into the human psyche. With “Rhythm 0,” Abramovic poignantly portrayed the human fear of confrontation. The audience was happy to cut her, rip her clothes, push thorns into her stomach and even hold the pistol to her head. But as soon as Abramovic was more than a helpless participant, they cowered in fear.
An audience member holds the loaded pistol to Abramovic during her performance of Rhythm 0

Beyond the relationship between audience and performer, Abramovic also investigates gender, artist, and ego. Her romantic and professional relationship with German performance artist Uwe Lysiepen explored concepts of the artistic self, rather than exploit gender ideologies. They attempted to create one “self,” blending their genders and casting off their egos to make a phantom artistic identity. This approach allows for an entirely different experience for both the viewer and artist. Lysiepen and Abramovic strove to create an overwhelmingly intoxicating energy in their performance pieces.

Abramovic’s work has covered vast ground in an effort to make performance art a legitimate art form in the public eye. Whether you love or hate her work, it is undeniable that Abramovic is a creative genius.

GMOA is currently showing Abramovic’s autobiographical performance “SSS.” Recorded in 1989, Abramovic delivers a monologue interspersed with images of her engaging in symbolic gestures. The piece is six minutes long. It is being shown with Eleanor Antin’s piece “From the Archives of Modern Art” (1987, 18 minutes) and Hannah Wilke’s “Hannah Wilke Through the Large Glass” (1976, 10 minutes). All films are being screened in the Alonzo and Vallye Dudley Gallery until June 10, 2012. Visit for more information!

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