Marina Abramović

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Marina Abramović
Marina Abramović (2014).jpg
Abramović in London Serpentine Gallery 2014
Born (1946-11-30) November 30, 1946 (age 68)
Belgrade, PR Serbia, FPR Yugoslavia
Education Academy of Fine Arts, Belgrade
Academy of Fine Arts, Zagreb
Known for Performance Art, Body Art
Notable work Rhythm Series (1973–1974)
Works with Ulay (1976–1988)
Balkan Baroque (1997)
The Artist is Present (2010)
Movement Conceptual art

Marina Abramović (Serbian Cyrillic: Марина Абрамовић; born November 30, 1946) is a Serbian[1] [2] [3] and former Yugoslav artist based in New York, a performance artist who began her career in the early 1970s. Her work explores the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind. Active for over three decades, she has been described as the "grandmother of performance art." She pioneered a new notion of identity by bringing in the participation of her observers. Her art focuses on the theme of “confronting pain, blood, and physical limits of the body,” [4] while relying on the extent of these discomforts based on the actions of her audience members.

Early life and education[edit]

She was born on November 30, 1946 in Belgrade, Serbia. Her great uncle was Patriarch Varnava of the Serbian Orthodox Church.[5] Both of her parents were Yugoslav Partisans[6] during the Second World War: Her father Vojo was a commander who was acclaimed as a national hero after the war, her mother Danica a major in the army and, in the 1960s, director of the Museum of the Revolution and Art in Belgrade.

Her father left the family in 1964. In an interview published in 1998, Abramović described how her "mother took complete military-style control of me and my brother. I was not allowed to leave the house after 10 o'clock at night till I was 29 years old. ... [A]ll the performances in Yugoslavia I did before 10 o'clock in the evening because I had to be home then. It's completely insane, but all of my cutting myself, whipping myself, burning myself, almost losing my life in the firestar, everything was done before 10 in the evening."[7]

She was a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade from 1965 to 1970. She completed her post-graduate studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, SR Croatia in 1972. From 1973 to 1975, she taught at the Academy of Fine Arts at Novi Sad, while implementing her first solo performances.

From 1971 to 1976, she was married to Neša Paripović. In 1976, she went to Amsterdam to perform a piece (later claiming on the day of her birthday)[8] then decided to move there permanently.


Rhythm 10, 1973[edit]

In her first performance in Edinburgh 1973,[9] Abramović explored elements of ritual and gesture. Making use of twenty knives and two tape recorders, the artist played the Russian game, in which rhythmic knife jabs are aimed between the splayed fingers of one's hand. Each time she cut herself, she would pick up a new knife from the row of twenty she had set up, and record the operation. After cutting herself twenty times, she replayed the tape, listened to the sounds, and tried to repeat the same movements, attempting to replicate the mistakes, merging past and present. She set out to explore the physical and mental limitations of the body – the pain and the sounds of the stabbing, the double sounds from the history and the replication. With this piece, Abramović began to consider the state of consciousness of the performer. “Once you enter into the performance state you can push your body to do things you absolutely could never normally do.”[10]

Rhythm 5, 1974[edit]

In this performance, Abramović sought to re-evoke the energy of extreme bodily pain, using a large petroleum-drenched star, which the artist lit on fire 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-pointed star represented a physical and mental purification, while also addressing the political traditions of her past. In the final act of purification, Abramović leapt across the flames, propelling herself into the center of the large star. Due to the light and smoke given off by the fire, the observing audience did not realize that, once inside the star, the artist had lost consciousness from 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.”[11]

Rhythm 2, 1974[edit]

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, and she experienced seizures and uncontrollable movements for the first half of the performance. Although she lacked 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[edit]

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 placed on 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 a rose, a feather, honey, a whip, olive oil, scissors, a scalpel, a gun and a single bullet. For six hours the artist allowed the audience members to manipulate her body and actions. This tested how vulnerable and aggressive the human subject could be when hidden from social consequences.[12] By the end of the performance, her body was stripped, attacked, and devalued into an image that Abramović described as the “Madonna, mother, and whore”.[13] Additionally, markings of aggression were apparent on the artists body; there were cuts on her neck made by audience members, and her clothes were cut off of her body.

In her works, Abramović affirms her identity through the perspective of others, however, more importantly by changing the roles of each player, the identity and nature of humanity at large is unraveled and showcased. By doing so, the individual experience morphs into a collective one and creates a powerful message. [14] Abramović's art also represents the objectification of the female body, as she remains motionless and allows the spectators to do as they please with her body, pushing the limits of what one would consider acceptable. This type representation also reflects key political issues such as BDSM, which complicates and questions the relation between art versus sexuality and public discourse.

Initially, members of the audience reacted with caution and modesty, but as time passed (and the artist remained passive) people began to act more aggressively. As Abramović described it later: “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.”[15]

Works with Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen)[edit]

In 1976, after moving to Amsterdam, Abramović met the West German performance artist Uwe Laysiepen, who went by the single name Ulay. When Abramović and Ulay began their collaboration,[8] the main concepts they explored were the ego and artistic identity. This was the beginning of a decade of influential collaborative work. Each performer was interested in the traditions of their cultural heritages and the individual’s desire for ritual. Consequently, they decided to form a collective being called “The Other”, and spoke of themselves as parts of a “two-headed body”.[16] They dressed and behaved like twins and created a relationship of complete trust. As they defined this phantom identity, their individual identities became less accessible. In an analysis of phantom artistic identities, Charles Green has noted that this allowed a deeper understanding of the artist as performer, for it revealed a way of “having the artistic self made available for self-scrutiny.”[17]

While some critics have explored the idea of a hermaphroditic state of being as a feminist statement, Abramović herself denies considering this as a conscious concept. Her body studies, she insists, have always been concerned primarily with the body as the unit of an individual, a tendency she traces to her parents' military pasts. Rather than concern themselves with gender ideologies, Abramović/Ulay explored extreme states of consciousness and their relationship to architectural space. They devised a series of works in which their bodies created additional spaces for audience interaction. In discussing this phase of her performance history, she has said: “The main problem in this relationship was what to do with the two artists’ egos. I had to find out how to put my ego down, as did he, to create something like a hermaphroditic state of being that we called the death self.”[18]

  • In Relation in Space (1976) they ran into each other repeatedly for an hour – mixing male and female energy into the third component called “that self.”[8]
  • Relation in Movement had the pair drive their car inside of a museum for 365 laps; a black liquid oozed from the car, forming a kind of sculpture, each lap representing a year. (After 365 laps the idea was that they entered the New Millennium.)
  • To create Breathing In/Breathing Out the two artists devised a piece in which they connected their mouths and took in each other’s exhaled breaths until they had used up all of the available oxygen. Seventeen minutes after the beginning of the performance they both fell to the floor unconscious, their lungs having filled with carbon dioxide. This personal piece explored the idea of an individual's ability to absorb the life of another person, exchanging and destroying it.
  • In Imponderabilia (1977, reenacted in 2010) two performers, both completely nude, stand in a doorway. The public must squeeze between them in order to pass, and in doing so choose which one of them to face. [8]
  • In 1980, they performed Rest Energy, in an art exhibition in Dublin, where both balanced each other on opposite sides of a drawn bow and arrow, with the arrow pointed at Marina's heart.[8][19]

In 1988, after several years of tense relations, Abramović and Ulay decided to make a spiritual journey which would end their relationship. They each walked the Great Wall of China, in a piece called The Great Wall Walk, starting from the two opposite ends and meeting in the middle. As Abramović described it: “That walk became a complete personal drama. Ulay started from the Gobi Desert and I from the Yellow Sea. After each of us walked 2500 km, we met in the middle and said good-bye".[20] She has said that she conceived this walk in a dream, and it provided what she thought was an appropriate, romantic ending to a relationship full of mysticism, energy, and attraction. She later described the process: “We needed a certain form of ending, after this huge distance walking towards each other. It is very human. It is in a way more dramatic, more like a film ending … Because in the end you are really alone, whatever you do.”[20] She reported that during her walk she was reinterpreting her connection to the physical world and to nature. She felt that the metals in the ground influenced her mood and state of being; she also pondered the Chinese myths in which the Great Wall has been described as a “dragon of energy.” It took the couple eight years to acquire permission from the Chinese government to perform the work, by the time of which their relationship had completely dissolved.[21]

At her 2010 MoMa retrospective, Marina performed The Artist Is Present, in which she shared a period of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her. Although "they met and talked the morning of the opening",[22] Marina still seems to have had a deeply emotional reaction to Ulay when he arrived at her performance, reaching to him across the table between them.[23]

Seven Easy Pieces, 2005[edit]

Main article: Seven Easy Pieces
Abramović performing Bruce Nauman's "Body Pressure." Guggenheim Museum, November 2005.

Beginning on November 9, 2005, Abramović presented Seven Easy Pieces at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. On seven consecutive nights for seven hours she recreated the works of five artists first performed in the '60s and '70s, in addition to re-performing her own Lips of Thomas and introducing a new performance on the last night. The performances were arduous, requiring both the physical and the mental concentration of the artist. Included in Abramović's performances were recreations of Gina Pane's Self-Portraits, which required lying on a bed frame suspended over a grid of lit candles, and of Vito Acconci's 1972 performance in which the artist masturbated under the floorboards of a gallery as visitors walked overhead. It is argued that Abramović re-performed these works as a series of homages to the past, though many of the performances were altered from their originals.[24]

Here is a full list of the works performed:

The Artist Is Present: March – May 2010[edit]

Abramović performing in "The Artist Is Present" at the Museum of Modern Art, March 2010.

From March 14 to May 31, 2010, the Museum of Modern Art held a major retrospective and performance recreation of Abramović's work, the biggest exhibition of performance art in MoMA's history.[25] During the run of the exhibition, Abramović performed "The Artist Is Present," a 736-hour and 30-minute static, silent piece, in which she sat immobile in the museum's atrium while spectators were invited to take turns sitting opposite her.[26] A support group for the "sitters", "Sitting with Marina", was established on Facebook[27] as was the blog "Marina Abramović made me cry".[28] The Italian photographer Marco Anelli took portraits of every person who sat opposite Abramović, which were published on Flickr,[29] compiled in a book[30] and featured in an exhibition at the Danziger Gallery in New York.[31] She said the show changed her life "completely" and claimed that the fact that Lady Gaga came to see it helped boost her popularity among a younger generation: "The public who normally don’t go to the museum, who don’t give a crap about performance art or don’t even know what it is, started coming because of Lady Gaga."[32] Ulay made a surprise appearance at the opening night of the show.[33] In September 2011, a video game version of Abramović's performance was released by Pippin Barr.[34]


In 2009, Abramović was featured in Chiara Clemente's documentary Our City Dreams and a book of the same name. The five featured artists – also including Swoon, Ghada Amer, Kiki Smith, and Nancy Spero – "each possess a passion for making work that is inseparable from their devotion to New York," according to the publisher.[35] Abramović is also the subject of an independent feature documentary movie entitled Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present, which is based on her life and performance at her retrospective "The Artist Is Present" at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010. The film was broadcast in the United States on HBO [36] and won a Peabody Award in 2012.[37] In January 2011, Abramović was on the cover of Serbian ELLE, photographed by Dušan Reljin. Kim Stanley Robinson's science fiction novel 2312 mentions a style of performance art pieces known as "abramovics".

Abramović maintains a friendship with actor James Franco, who interviewed her for the Wall Street Journal in 2009.[38] Franco visited Abramović during "The Artist Is Present" in 2010.[39] The two also attended the 2012 Metropolitan Costume Institute Gala together.[40]

In July 2013, Abramović has been working with pop singer Lady Gaga on the singer's third album Artpop. Gaga's work with Abramović, as well as artists Jeff Koons and Robert Wilson, was displayed at an event titled "artRave" on November 10.[41] Furthermore, both have collaborated on projects supporting the Marina Abramović Institute, including Gaga's participation in an 'Abramović Method' video and a non-stop reading of Stanisław Lem's sci-fi novel, Solaris.[42]

A world premiere installation by Abramović was featured at Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park as part of the Luminato Festival in June 2013. Abramović is also co-creator, along with Robert Wilson of the theatrical production The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, which had its North American premiere at the festival,[citation needed] and at the Park Avenue Armory in December.[43]

Abramović is creating the Marina Abramović Institute (MAI) in a 33,000 square-foot space in Hudson, New York.[44] Visitors to the institute will undergo mind and body cleansing exercises devised by her.[44] She is a patron of the London-based Live Art Development Agency.[45]

In June 2014 she presented a new piece at London's Serpentine Gallery called 512 Hours.[46] In the Sean Kelly Gallery-hosted "Generator," participants are blindfolded and wear sound-cancelling headphones in an exploration of nothingness.[when?]

Prizes and awards[edit]

Art world[edit]

She spoke up to the press in support of Jeffrey Deitch during his controversial tenure at MOCA Los Angeles, saying, “Jeffrey covers the gray area that nobody else covers, the kind of art on the edge of everything. He’s like a thermometer of the new spirit of our time. About the politics ... I don’t know much about. I just want to say that the person Jeffrey Deitch is extremely important to the art world.”[48]


Books by Abramović and collaborators[edit]

  • Artist Body: Performances 1969–1998, artist, Abramović; authors Abramović, Toni Stooss, Thomas McEvilley, Bojana Pejic, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Chrissie Iles, Jan Avgikos, Thomas Wulffen, Velimir Abramović; English ed. (Charta, 1998) ISBN 978-88-8158-175-7.
  • The Bridge / El Puente, artist Abramović, authors Abramović, Pablo J. Rico, Thomas Wulffen (Charta, 1998) ISBN 978-84-482-1857-7.
  • Performing Body, artist Abramović, authors Abramović, Dobrila Denegri (Charta, 1998) ISBN 978-88-8158-160-3.
  • Balkan Baroque, (Pierre Coulibeuf, 1999)
  • Public Body: Installations and Objects 1965–2001, artist Abramović, authors Celant, Germano, Abramović (Charta, 2001) ISBN 978-88-8158-295-2.
  • Marina Abramović, fifteen artists, Fondazione Ratti; co-authors Abramović, Anna Daneri, Giacinto Di Pietrantonio, Lóránd Hegyi, Societas Raffaello Sanzio, Angela Vettese (Charta, 2002) ISBN 978-88-8158-365-2.
  • Student Body, artist Abramović, vari; authors Abramović, Miguel Fernandez-Cid, studenti; (Charta, 2002) ISBN 978-88-8158-449-9.
  • The House with the Ocean View, artist Abramović; authors Abramović, Sean Kelly, Thomas McEvilley, Cindy Carr, Chrissie Iles, RosaLee Goldberg, Peggy Phelan (Charta, 2004) ISBN 978-88-8158-436-9; the 2002 piece of the same name, in which Abramović lived on three open platforms in a gallery with only water for 12 days, was reenacted in Sex and the City in the HBO series' sixth season.[49]
  • Marina Abramović: The Biography of Biographies, artist Abramović; co-authors Abramović, Michael Laub, Monique Veaute, Fabrizio Grifasi (Charta, 2004) ISBN 978-88-8158-495-6.
  • Balkan Epic, (Skira, 2006).
  • Balkan Erotic Epic, as producer and director, Destricted (Offhollywood Digital, 2006)
  • Seven Easy Pieces, artist, Abramović; authors Nancy Spector, Erika Fischer-Lichte, Sandra Umathum, Abramović; (Charta, 2007). ISBN 978-88-8158-626-4.
  • Marina Abramović, artist Abramović; authors Kristine Stiles, Klaus Biesenbach, Chrissie Iles, Abramović; (Phaidon, 2008). ISBN 978-07-1484-802-0.

Critical and academic studies[edit]

  • Peter Lodermeyer, Karlyn De Jongh, and Sarah Gold, Personal Structures: Time Space Existence Number One, pp. 172 – 177, published by DuMont, Germany 2009, ISBN 978-3-8321-9279-2
  • Laurie Anderson, “Marina Abramović,” Bomb Summer 2003: 25–31.
  • Patrick Anderson, "How to Stage Self-Consumption," So Much Wasted: Hunger, Performance, and the Morbidity of Resistance. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010. pp. 85–109.
  • Klaus Biesenbach (ed.), Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present, Exhibition Catalog with essays by Klaus Biesenbach, Arthur C. Danto, Chrissie Iles, Nancy Spector, and Jovana Stokić, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2010
  • Aline Brandauer,. "Marina Abramović: Double Blind." Sculpture, July/August 1995, pp. 23–27.
  • A Daneri, et al., (eds.), Marina Abramović, (Charta, 2002)
  • Jovan Despotovic, Marina Abramović, ’Fin de siecle’ – Balkans way, Borba, Belgrade, September 6–7, 1997, p. 17
  • Jennifer Fisher, “Interperformance: The Live Tableaux of Suzanne Lacy, Janine Antoni, and Marina Abramović,” Art Journal 56 (1997): 28–33.
  • Charles Green, “Doppelgangers and the Third Force: The Artistic Collaborations of Gilbert & George and Marina Abramović/Ulay,” Art Journal 59.2: 36–45.
  • Shogo Hagiwara, “Art Hurts: Blood and Pain are Abramović’s Media,” The Daily Yomiuri April 1, 2004 p18.
  • Amelia Jones, "'The Artist Is Present': Artistic Re-enactments and the Impossibility of Presence," TDR: The Drama Review 55:1 (2011): 16–45.
  • Janet Kaplan, “Deeper and Deeper: Interview with Marina Abramović,” Art Journal 58:2 (1999):6–19.
  • Zoe Kosmidou, “A Conversation with Marina Abramović,” Sculpture Nov. 2001: 27–31.
  • Tom Lubbock, “Visual Arts: Caught In the Act; It’s Video But Not As We Know It,” The Independent September 2, 2003.
  • Christina Manzella and Alex Watkins, "Performance Anxiety: Performance Art in Twenty-First Century Catalogs and Archives," Art Documentation Spring 2011: 28–32.
  • Thomas McEvilley, “Performing the Present Tense,” Art in America April 2003: 114–117; 153.
  • Thomas McEvilley, "Art, Love, Friendship: Marina Abramović and Ulay, Together & Apart," book, Documentext (McPherson & Company), 2010.
  • Asami Nagai, “Art in Harmony with Nature,” The Daily Yomiuri July 24, 2003, p. 13.
  • Anna Novakov, “Point of Access: Marina Abramović’s 1975 Performance Role Exchange,” Woman’s Art Journal Fall 2003/Winter 2004: 31–35.
  • Jennifer Phipps, “Marina Abramović/Ulay/Ulay/Marina Abramović,” Art & Text 3 (1981).
  • Theresa Smalec, “Not What It Seems: The Politics of Re-Performing Vito Acconci's Seedbed,” PMC: Postmodern Culture 17 (1) 2006[50]
  • Chris Thompson and Katarina Weslien, "PURE RAW: Performance, Pedagogy, and (Re)presentation," PAJ 82 (2006):29–50.
  • Mechtild Widrich, “Process and Authority. Marina Abramović’s 'Freeing the Horizon' and Documentarity,” Grey Room 47, May 2012: 80–97.
  • “Writing Art,” Art Monthly 1999 230:13–17.

See also[edit]


"Through performance I found the possibility of establishing a dialogue with the audience through an exchange of energy, which tended to transform the energy itself. I could not produce a single work without the presence of the audience, because the audience gave me the energy to be able, through a specific action, to assimilate it and return it, to crete a genuine field of energy."[51]


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  5. ^ Judith Thurman, Profiles, “Walking Through Walls,” The New Yorker, March 8, 2010, p. 24.
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  13. ^ Demaria, Cristina (August 2004). "The Performative Body of Marina Abramovic". European Journal of Women's Studies 11 (3): 295. 
  14. ^ Demaria, Cristina (August 2004). "The Performative Body of Marina Abramovic". European Journal of Women's Studies 11 (3): 295. 
  15. ^ Daneri, 29; and 30
  16. ^ Quoted in Green, 37
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  18. ^ Kaplan, 14
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  23. ^ "Video of Marina Abramović and Ulay at MoMa retrospective". December 15, 2012. Retrieved December 11, 2013. 
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  37. ^ 72nd Annual Peabody Awards, May 2013.
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  39. ^ "James Franco Meets Marina Abramović At MoMA". Huffington Post. May 10, 2010. Retrieved December 11, 2013. 
  40. ^ Busacca, Larry (May 7, 2012). "The Met Costume Institute Gala 2012". Retrieved December 11, 2013. 
  41. ^ "ARTPOP". Lady Gaga. Retrieved December 11, 2013. 
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  43. ^ "'The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic' Opera Arrives At Armory In December". Huffington Post. February 19, 2013. Retrieved December 11, 2013. 
  44. ^ a b Lyall, Sarah (October 19, 2013). "For Her Next Piece, a Performance Artist Will Build an Institute". The New York Times. 
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  46. ^ Mark Savage (June 11, 2014). "Marina Abramovic: Audience in tears at 'empty space' show". BBC News. Retrieved June 12, 2014. 
  47. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 1879. Retrieved November 29, 2012. 
  48. ^ "How Do You Solve a Problem Like MOCA?". Vanity Fair. March 2013. 
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External links[edit]