©dilek birdinç kutzli 2012





Marina Abramovic, born in 1946 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, is one of the seminal artists of our time. Since the beginning of her career in Yugoslavia during the early 1970s where she attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, Abramovic has pioneered the use of performance as a visual art form. The body has always been both her subject and medium. Exploring the physical and mental limits of her being, she has withstood pain, exhaustion, and danger in the quest for emotional and spiritual transformation. Abramovic's concern is with creating works that ritualize the simple actions of everyday life like lying, sitting, dreaming, and thinking- — in effect the manifestation of a unique mental state. As a vital member of the generation of pioneering performance artists that includes Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, and Chris Burden, Abramovic created some of the most historic early performance pieces and is the only one still making important durational works.

She was awarded the Golden Lion for Best Artist at the 1997 Venice Biennale for her extraordinary video installation/performance piece Balkan Baroque‚ and in 2003 received the Bessie for The House with the Ocean View‚ a 12-day performance at Sean Kelly Gallery, New York.

Abramovic, best known for her durational works, has created a new work for this retrospective — The Artist Is Present (2010) — that she will perform daily throughout the run of the exhibition. For her longest solo piece to date, Abramovic will sit in silence at a table in the Museum’s Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium during public hours, passively inviting visitors to take the seat across from her for as long as they choose within the timeframe of the Museum’s hours of operation. Although she will not respond verbally, participation by Museum visitors completes the piece and allows them to have a personal experience with the artist and the artwork.

The historical exhibition in the Museum’s sixth-floor galleries will feature the first live reperformances of five landmark Abramovic performance pieces, alongside video and photographic documentation of the original performances, incorporated within the chronological presentation of the artist’s career. They are Imponderabilia (1977), in which a nude man and woman stand opposite each other in a doorway, so that visitors who wish to pass must move through the gap between the two, deciding to face him or her; Relation in Time (1977), in which two performers sit quietly, connected to each other by their long hair, which is tied together; Point of Contact (1980), in which two performers stand face to face with arms bent, maintaining contact only by nearly touching the tip of each other’s index finger; Nude with Skeleton (2002–05), in which a nude performer lies beneath a skeleton, animating it with the motions of his or her breathing; and Luminosity (1997), in which a nude female performer, suspended high upon a wall and immersed in a square of light, gives the appearance of floating before the wall. Imponderabilia, Relation in Time, and Point of Contact were originally created and performed by Abramovic and the performance artist Ulay (German, b. 1943), her partner from 1977 to 1988. A group of approximately 35 performers chosen by Abramovic will reperform these pieces continuously throughout public hours in the sixth floor galleries.

Rhythm 10, 1973 — In her first performance Abramovic explored elements of ritual and gesture. Making use of ten knives and two tape recorders, the artist played the Russian game in which rhythmic knife jabs are aimed between the splayed fingers of her hand. Each time she cut herself, she would pick up a new knife from the row of ten she had set up, and recorded the operation.

After cutting herself ten times, she replayed the tape, listened to the sounds, and tried to repeat the same movements, attempting to replicate the mistakes, merging together 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 from the replication. With this piece, Abramovic 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.”

Rhythm 5, 1974 — Abramovic 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, Abramovic 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, Abramovic leapt 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 audienced 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.

Abramovic 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, Abramovic 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, Abramovic'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, Abramovic 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, Abramovic 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.

Abramovic 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 Abramovic 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.”

In 1976 Abramovic left Yugoslavia and moved to Amsterdam, where she met West German performance artist Uwe Laysiepen, who went by the single name Ulay. They were both born on the same day.

When Abramovic and Ulay began their collaboration, the main concepts they explored were 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.” 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.”

While some critics have explored the idea of a hermaphroditic state of being as a feminist statement, Abramovic 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, Abramovic/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 Relation in Space (1976) they ran around the room — two bodies like two planets, mixing male and female energy into a third component called “that self. 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 they entered the New Millennium.)

In discussing this phase of her performance history, Abramovic 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.”

To create this “Death self,” the two performers 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 1988, after several years of tense relations, Abramovic and Ulay decided to make a spiritual journey which would end their relationship. Each of them walked the Great Wall of China, starting from the two opposite ends and meeting in the middle. As Abramovic 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.”

Abramovic 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.”

Abramovic 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.”

Seven Easy Pieces


Seven Easy Pieces, performance, 2005

November 2005 — Beginning on November 9, 2005, Abramovic presented Seven Easy Pieces at the Guggenheim Museum. On seven consecutive nights she recreated the works of five artists first performed in the 1960s and 1970s, in addition to performing two personal pieces. The performances are very trying and involve such acts as a part of Gina Pane's Self-Portraits lying on a bed frame suspended over a grid of lit candles and Vito Acconci's 1972 performance in which he masturbated under the floorboards of a gallery as visitors walked overhead. She re-performed some of the pieces to show her respect for the original artists.

Works performed in Seven Easy Pieces were: Bruce Nauman Body Pressure (1974); Vito Acconci Seedbed (1972); Valie Export, Action Pants: Genital Panic (1969); Gina Pane, The Conditioning (1973); Joseph Beuys How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965); Abramovic, Lips of Thomas (1975); and Abramovic, Entering the Other Side (2005).

Marina Abramovic has won the Golden Lion Award, XLVII Venice Biennale, 1997; Niedersächsischer Kunstpreis, 2003; New York Dance and Performance Award (The Bessies), 2003; and International Association of Art Critics, Best Show in a Commercial Gallery Award, 2003.






















Relation in Time, 1977, Marina Abramovich and Ulay

marina_breathingBreathing in/ Breathing out with Ulay, 1977











Marina Abramovic and Ulay. Imponderabilia. Originally performed in 1977 for 90 min. Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna, Bologna.

Marina Abramovich, Rhytm 0 (1974) , performance