An evening at the MOMA with Marina Abramovic

abramovicOn Monday night, the MOMA had an evening with Marina Abramovic to  talk to her about her work and her upcoming exhibit opening on March 14th.  I first discovered Marina Abramovic while I was a student at Oberlin in one of my sculpture classes. I had very little exposure to living artists at that time and Marina really stuck with me for being a minority female artist in a performance-based medium.  I found Marina’s work  so compelling and personal at that age; It influenced me to think outside of conventional means in regards to performance.  She  has referred to herself as “the grandmother of performance art” and after seeing just a small glimpse of her many works tonight, I can see how and why she has taken this special seat in the art world.

Tonight, she struck me as a vibrant and centered human being. I am still having a hard time believing that she was born in the 1940’s. She started out the evening by reading a poetic Artist Manifesto that was rich,simple but filled with meaningful phrases for an artist to remember…”Artists should never be idols….artists should want more more of less less…an artist should never fall in love with another artist….artists should never commit suicide…an artist needs to learn how to forgive…” she covered topics of death, love, depression, relationship with one’s work, an artist’s need for solitude and an artist’s absolute need to live without the compromise of the  commercial or marketing world. Plain prose but extremely rich and obviously from her own voice.

She probably covered less than a quarter of her works (she said to really dive in, she would need our attention for ten hours) but were able to cover such works as her Rhythm pieces and her collaborations with her long time partner Ulay such as the walk of the Great Wall of China. The two of them started at opposite ends and in 3 months, they each walked 1550 miles to meet one another in the middle. They knew beforehand that this was to mark the end of their long and beautiful relationship. Tonight, we were able to watch a raw video of the moment when they finally met after this spiritual journey. Another really compelling piece was one where Ulay and Marina are both standing naked facing one another in a very skinny corridor in a museum. Each passerby is forced to have body contact with them and has to decide (whether consciously or not) which person they will have to turn their body to face when passing.  Another more humorous piece involved her eating an entire onion (tears rolling out of her bulging red eyes) while she complained about her life. Later on we learned that she had to eat three onions to get the best video take!

There were two works that risked her life and many of them are so physically intense that it nearly hurt me just to see them. From self-cutting (knifes or shards of glass) to throwing her body against a column, it’s hard not to notice how her performances truly demand an endurance, stamina and mentality that is altered and considered performance. At some point during the presentation, she recalled a performance experience where  the audience energy really brought her to a different kind of level so that she was able to push her boundaries even further than what she had known of herself.

In viewing all of these works tonight, I realized how her life is really her art form. I somehow imagine that she is performing as much as she is living. For the next three months in the MOMA, she will be entering complete silence for her performance. Many of her genius  works will be re-performed by a very carefully selected group of performance artists. In this sense, Marina is kind of like an author, composer or playwright, where the work itself is created and can be re-interpreted and brought to life from another human being,demanding their energy,risk-taking abilities, stamina and personality to fulfill some of these rich and intense pieces. I am extremely curious to see how I will receive these re-interpretations in the coming months.

I left the talk feeling that there is really so much more I can ask from myself in performance.  How do you think it would change you to be silent for 3 months? What would you have to do to prepare for it? And just to think that this  is one of many performance experiences she’s had…and how much these works have changed not only the art world but the content and experience of her life.