Marina Abramović

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Marina Abramović
Marina Abramović - The Artist Is Present - Viennale 2012.jpg
Born(1946-11-30) November 30, 1946 (age 68)
Belgrade, PR Serbia, FPR Yugoslavia
EducationAcademy of Fine Arts, Belgrade
Academy of Fine Arts, Zagreb
Known forPerformance Art, Body Art
Notable work(s)Rhythm Series (1973–1974)
Works with Ulay (1976–1988)
Balkan Baroque (1997)
The Artist is Present (2010)
MovementConceptual art
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Marina Abramović
Marina Abramović - The Artist Is Present - Viennale 2012.jpg
Born(1946-11-30) November 30, 1946 (age 68)
Belgrade, PR Serbia, FPR Yugoslavia
EducationAcademy of Fine Arts, Belgrade
Academy of Fine Arts, Zagreb
Known forPerformance Art, Body Art
Notable work(s)Rhythm Series (1973–1974)
Works with Ulay (1976–1988)
Balkan Baroque (1997)
The Artist is Present (2010)
MovementConceptual art

Marina Abramović (Serbian Cyrillic: Марина Абрамовић; born November 30, 1946) is a Serbian and Former Yugoslavian 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."

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.[1] Both of her parents were Partisans[2] during the Second World War: her father Vojo was a commander who was acclaimed as a national hero after the War; her mother Danica was a major in the army and, in the 1960s, Director of the Museum of the Revolution and Art in Belgrade.

Abramović's 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."[3]

Abramović was a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade from 1965–70. 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, Abramović left Yugoslavia and moved to Amsterdam.


Rhythm 10: 1973[edit]

In her first performance in Edinburgh 1973,[4] 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.”[5]

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.”[6]

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.

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.”[7]

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, 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”.[8] 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.”[9]

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 "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, Abramović 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.”[10] 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.

In 1988, after several years of tense relations, Abramović 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 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".[11] Abramović 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.”[11] Abramović 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.”

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",[12] it seems that Marina experienced a strong emotional reaction while seeing Ulay's arrival, reaching to him across the table between them.[13]

Seven Easy Pieces: November 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.[14]

Here is a full list of the works performed:

The Artist Is Present: March 2010 – 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.[15] 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.[16] A support group for the "sitters", "Sitting with Marina", was established on Facebook[17] as was the blog "Marina Abramović made me cry".[18] The Italian photographer Marco Anelli took portraits of every person who sat opposite Abramović, which were published on Flickr,[19] compiled in a book[20] and featured in an exhibition at the Danziger Gallery in New York.[21] 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."[22] Ulay made a surprise appearance at the opening night of the show.[23] In September 2011, a video game version of Abramović's performance was released by Pippin Barr.[24]


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.[25] 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 [26] and won a Peabody Award in 2012.[27] 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.[28] Franco visited Abramović during "The Artist Is Present" in 2010.[29] The two also attended the 2012 Metropolitan Costume Institute Gala together.[30]

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.[31] 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.[32]

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.[33]

Abramović is creating the Marina Abramović Institute (MAI) in a 33,000 square foot space in Hudson, New York.[34] Visitors to the institute will undergo mind and body cleansing exercises devised by Abramovic.[34] Abramović is a Patron of the London-based Live Art Development Agency.[35]

In June 2014 she presented a new piece at London's Serpentine Gallery called 512 Hours.[36]

In the Sean Kelly Gallery-hosted "Generator," participants are blindfolded and wear sound-cancelling headphones in an exploration of nothingness.

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.”[38]


Books by Abramović and collaborators[edit]

Critical and academic studies[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Judith Thurman, Profiles, “Walking Through Walls,” The New Yorker, March 8, 2010, p. 24.
  2. ^ "Marina Abramović". Retrieved 2013-12-11. 
  3. ^ Quoted in Thomas McEvilley, "Stages of Energy: Performance Art Ground Zero?" in Abramović, Artist Body, [Charta, 1998].
  4. ^ "Media Art Net - Abramovic, Marina: Rhythm 10". 
  5. ^ Kaplan, 9
  6. ^ Daneri, 29
  7. ^ Daneri, 29; and 30
  8. ^ Quoted in Green, 37
  9. ^ Green, 41
  10. ^ Kaplan, 14
  11. ^ a b Daneri, 35
  12. ^ [1][dead link]
  13. ^ "Video of Marina Abramović and Ulay at MoMa retrospective". 2012-12-15. Retrieved 2013-12-11. 
  14. ^ Marina Abramović, BLOUINARTINFO, November 9, 2005, retrieved April 23, 2008 
  15. ^ Kino, Carol (March 10, 2010). "A Rebel Form Gains Favor. Fights Ensue.", The New York Times. Retrieved April 16, 2010.
  16. ^ Arboleda, Yazmany (May 28, 2010). "Bringing Marina Flowers". The Huffington Post. Archived from the original on January 23, 2011. Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  17. ^ [2][dead link]
  18. ^ "Marina Abramović Made Me Cry". 
  19. ^ "Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present—Portraits". Flickr. 
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ "I've Always Been A Soldier", The Talks. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  23. ^ "Klaus Biesenbach on the AbramovicUlay Reunion". Blouinartinfo. Retrieved March 16, 2010. 
  24. ^ Gray, Rosie (September 16, 2011). "Pippin Barr, Man Behind the Marina Abramovic Video Game, Weighs in on His Creation.", The Village Voice'. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
  25. ^ Clemente, Chiara, and Dodie Kazanjian, Our City Dreams, Charta webpage. Retrieved April 26, 2011.
  26. ^ Marina Abramović to be the subject of a movie, "MARINA" the film, 2010 
  27. ^ 72nd Annual Peabody Awards, May 2013.
  28. ^ "James Franco, Marina Abramović Talk Performance Art, Eating Gold, And Dessert". Huffington Post. 2010-05-11. Retrieved 2013-12-11. 
  29. ^ "James Franco Meets Marina Abramović At MoMA". Huffington Post. 2010-05-10. Retrieved 2013-12-11. 
  30. ^ Busacca, Larry (2012-05-07). "The Met Costume Institute Gala 2012". Retrieved 2013-12-11. 
  31. ^ "ARTPOP". Lady Gaga. Retrieved 2013-12-11. 
  32. ^ "Lady Gaga Gets Completely Naked to Support the Marina Abramovic Institute". E! Online UK. 2013-08-07. Retrieved 2013-12-11. 
  33. ^ "'The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic' Opera Arrives At Armory In December". Huffington Post. 2013-02-19. Retrieved 2013-12-11. 
  34. ^ a b Lyall, Sarah (19 October 2013). "For Her Next Piece, a Performance Artist Will Build an Institute". The New York Times. 
  35. ^ [3][dead link]
  36. ^ Mark Savage (11 June 2014). "Marina Abramovic: Audience in tears at 'empty space' show". BBC News. Retrieved 12 June 2014. 
  37. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 1879. Retrieved 29 November 2012. 
  38. ^ "How Do You Solve a Problem Like MOCA?". Vanity Fair. March 2013. 
  39. ^ "Gatecrasher" (staff writer), "Kim Cattrall and performance artist Marina Abramovic are unlikely 'Sex and the City' buddies", New York Daily News, April 18, 2011. Retrieved April 26, 2011.
  40. ^ Smalec, Theresa (September 2006). "Not What It Seems: The Politics of Re-Performing Vito Acconci's Seedbed (1972)". Postmodern Culture 17 (1). doi:10.1353/pmc.2007.0009. 

External links[edit]