Marina Abramovic is a performance artist known for her use of pain and physical limits as a form of expression. The self-proclaimed “grandmother of performance art” has been active for four decades and continues to create new work today. Her works explore the relationship between herself and her audience, transforming both through her performances. Behind her death-defying acts, here are the following facts:
1. Abramović’s parents were prominent communists.
- During World War II, her parents fought as members of the guerilla forces for the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. This made them “national heroes”.
- Abramović’s parents occupied affluent positions in Josip Broz Tito’s government. Her mother was in charge of historic monuments, and her father was in the Marshal’s elite guard.
2. She had a difficult relationship with her mother, Danica.
- Danica lied to young Marina that her birthday was on November 29, the day Tito became president and gave gifts to children born on this day. Danica explained that Marina should not receive gifts because she was “not good enough”.
- Before reaching 29, Abramović kept a 10PM curfew due to Danica’s parenting.
3. She exchanged traditional art for the unique properties of performance art.
- Abramović first studied painting, but found that traditional media merely catered to passive spectators. By performing with her body, she is able to close the distance between herself and her audience.
- Feeling that true performance could never be reproduced, her works were not recorded. Retrospective exhibits required re-performance, as she believes “anything that happens in that moment is part of the piece.”
4. Abramović’s performances are harmful and dangerous.
- She took drugs for schizophrenia and catatonia, and underwent routines that lasted for several hours. These resulted in burns, wounds, deprivation, and loss of consciousness.
- In her most famous performance, she stood immobile for 6 hours as audiences used any of 72 objects on her body however they wished. Objects included were a rose, paint, band-aid, whip, and loaded gun.
5. Abramović performed with lover and collaborator Ulay for twelve years.
- She and Frank Uwe Laysiepen (known as Ulay) explored themes such as gender, trust, and endurance. They slapped each other’s faces, breathed from each other’s mouths to near-suffocation, and silently sat across from each other for long hours.
- They marked the end of their relationship with each walking from one end of the Great Wall of China and meeting in the middle to say goodbye.
6. Audience involvement is vital to Abramović’s performances.
- Her performances invite participation, creating collaborators out of spectators. She sees this interaction as an exchange of dialogue and energy which fuels her works.
- Abramović describes her audience as like a dog that can sense her madness, fear, and insecurity. She believes that exposing her vulnerability is the key element to her performances.
Despite criticism surrounding her work, Marina Abramović has made a strong and memorable impact on all those who have witnessed her performances. By using her body as a medium, she has also provided an extraordinary insight into the unspoken complexities of human nature that goes beyond art.