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Arte al Limite - Marina Abramovic: Cannon Fodder

The Yugoslavian artist, a professional vanguardist, goes beyond the limits by means of performances that put the endurance of body and mind to the test. Her own history and the history of the world are the exploring tools of this woman who prepares three solo exhibitions in Paris, Madrid and Athens for 2007. In addition, she will have in 2009 a huge retrospective in the Bonn KunstMuseum, which will travel throughout Europe and America.
After 30 years of brutal career, Abramovic keeps on digging trenches to serve on the forefront of art. “I tried to stay apart from any kind of influence. It was very important to me to develop a unique and peculiar way of expression”, she explained in an exclusive interview with “Arte al Límite”.

By Juan Pablo Colin

Brutal, disconcerting, unbearable and explosive. Any of those adjectives could define the work of Marina Abramovic but none of them approaches to the experience of seeing her live. Describing how she has whipped herself, taken drugs, lost consciousness or flirted with death, hardly sheds light on the power of the body art that she proposes and in which she is considered one of the top examples.

Using her own body as a medium to work with, the controversial artist experiments with the game of the body intervention, the relationship with the audience and the codes that define the social system.

“If you put yourself in front of an audience in a risky situation, you automatically concentrate with your mind and body the existence in the present, here and now. It is the same with the people who watch your performance”, she points out.

Actually, many of her interventions have been so disconcerting and morbid that the audience itself has intervened to stop the carnal suffering. The feeling of danger is therefore a shared feeling.
The series “Rhythm”, carried out between 1973 and 1974, were maybe the most audacious and violent of her performances. In “Rhythm 0”, she sat immobile, allowing the audience to use on her objects such as scissors, chains, a whip or, most notoriously, a loaded gun. Rhythm 2 was an experiment about the unconsciousness and the loss of control. Abramovic took a pill prescribed for catatonia, which made her body react violently, experiencing seizures and uncontrollable movements, but remaining clear-thinking. Ten minutes later, she ingested another pill, this time one prescribed for aggressive and depressed people, which resulted in general immobility.
In “Rhythm 5”, the artist was about to die due to a lack of oxygen, because of lying in a large petroleum-drenched wooden star that was set on fire.
The basis is the release through pain: “in every traditional or ritual ceremony, people have tried to go beyond the limits between physical pain and ascetic mind, with the purpose of controlling the body and breaking the chains of fear”.

Cleaning the House @ skny

In body and soul

As a daughter of Yugoslavian partisans, Abramovic seems to have inherited the bravery enough to declare war on repression. But she chose art instead of weapons to pursue a shared objective: the resistance to power.
“There are many different kinds of power, and I generally don’t like any of them, as it always supposes that one party has control over another. The only power that I am related to is the one that stems from positive energy”, she explains.
She was born in Belgrado in 1946, and she chose the performance when she was young as a way to rebel against the post-war miseries. Abramovic remembers how purist she was in her early works, which she didn’t want to document. In the course of time, this attitude ceased and she incorporated photograph and video as an inherent part of her works.
In 1975 she met Ulay, the artist who she has worked with for more than a decade. They both made actions as “Breathing In/Breathing Out” (1977), where they put their mouths together to breathe the same air time and time again. Near asphyxiation, the artists shared oxygen and then just carbon dioxide, while the sound of their throats was amplified by a microphone.
The main creative sources were the thoughts about the relationships and the dialectics that appear with team work. “The Lovers” (1988) is about physical exhaustion, as they went on a 2.000 km walk on the Chinese Wall. The man left from the Gobi Desert and the woman from the Yellow Sea, emulating an ancient Chinese legend about the reunion of two lovers. At the end of those three months of walking, they didn’t work together anymore.
After some contacts with the installation, Abramovic picked up the performance again as a medium to purify the past: “I have always been interested in the spiritual aspects of art. Tibetan Buddhism and indigenous cultures have been the main sources in my artistic development”, she explains.
In “Balkan Baroque” (1997), which was awarded with the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, the artist performs on stage lighted by two video screens with images of his parents, while she is seated on a pile of animal bones that she cleans of their remaining meat. At once, she tells the legend of the wolf-rat, a creature that eats the animals of its own species when it is afraid. The allusion to the Balkan War is obvious.
In 2002, she did “The House with the Ocean View”, considered by herself as the most important performance of her career to date. There, she built a house composed by three platforms with rungs made of large butcher knives. Twelve days long stayed Abramovic there without eating or speaking, to show her interest on the ritualization of daily life.
In November 2004, the artist collaborated with Jan Fabre to make “Virgin/Warrior, Warrior/Virgin” in Palais de Tokyo (Paris). They stayed four hours in a glass capsule where they worshipped sacrifice and forgiveness, hurting each other with metal weapons and communicating with the audience by means of messages written with their own blood.

Balkan Erotic Epic

The Balkans

The Balkans, the violence of its history and the richness of its folklore is another important topic. In “Count on US” (2005), Abramovic sets again a ceremonial stage, where five projections shape a five-pointed star like the one that she used in “Rhythm 5”. The images refer to Yugoslavia’s violent history and to the indifference of the international community.
“Balkan Erotic Epic” consists of several projections that explore the human body and the eroticism that can be found in the pagan traditions of this region. After a documented study, she found how sexuality was commonly used in everyday rituals. If it rained too much, for example, the women ran to the country and lifted their skirts up to shoo the gods away and stop the storm. “The western culture has vulgarized the image of our naked bodies, transforming eroticism into pornography. That’s why I researched ancient traditions in which genital were used as healing tools or as a way to communicate with gods”, says Abramovic.

The Grandmother of Performance

The artist has developed a strong research about the history and register of the performance; she also says that she is its “grandmother”. Related to that is her self-biography in “The Biography Remix”, a project developed with the theater director Michael Laub and displayed in 2005 in the Avignon Theater Festival.
After that, she showed “Seven Easy Pieces” in Guggenheim NY, where she re-executed some performances made in the 60’s and 70’s by artists such like Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, Gina Pane and Joseph Beuys. This project examinated the possibilty of redoing and preserving a kind of art whose nature is essentially temporary.
“It’s something that I had been planning out for 12 years. Most of the works weren’t mine; I had never seen them, so I felt a huge responsibility. I didn’t practise it, because the performance, unlike theater, is not about practising”, she said then in an interview with Karen Rosenberg.
In the same conversation, she explained that the researching process about the performances was very interesting, especially because some of them weren’t properly registered. “I felt like an archaeologist trying to understand from the ruins what really had happened”.

Traducción: Raúl Molín López

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