Marina Abramović. Lately the video of Marina Abramović and her 2010 performance piece ‘The artist is present‘, at MoMA has been going round social media – the one where visitors are invited to sit in front of the artist in silence, when at one point her ex-lover takes part. They have not seen each other for twenty two years and theres that moment when Marina opens her eyes…. It’s moving for sure, a moment of genuine emotion. But it goes deeper than that.
The performance piece is a something of a endurance test for Abramović, sitting for three months, six days a week, for seven hours a day, Abramović describes how she drifts in and out of trance like state to the cope with the physicality’s of the situation. Not easy for sure, and then her long time collaborator and lover who she has not seen in twenty two years turns up in front of her.
For twelve years Ulay(Uwe Laysiepen) and Marina Abramović had been been lovers and together performing a number of works that define trust in relationship most notable Rest Energy. Under the weight of their bodies they stand opposite sides of a bow, Ulay pulling back on an arrow aimed at Abramović’s heart, they hold the pose for minutes in an uneasy stand off of trust.
In Relation in Space (1976) they run and collide into each other for over an hour.
The two of them are a creative partnership that cannot be separated or questioned. Marina is called the ‘Grandmother’ of performance art, apart from the ageist tag, rightly so. One of the most moving stories is how she and ulay buy a beat up van to live in and create art from and indeed include it in thier art. Without rent, without ties, their art is free to shine. At the end of their relationship they concluded with a performance piece,The Great Wall Walk. Each starting at opposing ends of the great wall of China, they each walked 2500 km, meeting in the middle to say goodbye. Romantic sure, but a performance. Then after twenty two years Ulay turns up at the opening nite of ‘The artist is present‘ this is the video we see on Facebook.
Looking back on the history of Abramović and Ulay it’s way deeper than her seeing an old lover, it is a renewing a connection with someone that you trust.
It seems, to me, that Abramović’s art and ideas continues to challenge the modern world, breaks taboos and is without normal bounds that is placed on performance art. In a world dominated with smartphones and social interaction done online, what could be more refreshing and perhaps challenging (for some) than just sitting down and looking at another humans face, in real-time, and in real space.
As Abramović said in interviews, performance art is hard to copyright, hard to attribute the roots, many people have ‘borrowed’ from Abramović’s work. Abramović has collaborated with the notable Lady Gaga who’s taken her ideas and made mainstream.
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My friend and theatre critic and author of Theatre-Making: Interplay Between Text and Performance in the 21st Century (2013), Duska Radosavljevic was lucky enough to experience 512 Hours by Marina Abramovic, at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Read her account here.