Marina Abramovich turns 70 tomorrow - one of the most influential people in contemporary art, who became a living classic long before she was called the "grandmother of performance". For more than forty years, Abramovich has been exploring the limits of his physical and mental capabilities - speaking of her, it is easy to fall into pathos and blind adoration. But knowing a little more about her life, it is easy to understand that behind the bold and often shocking performances there is a living woman of flesh and blood, who has gone a long way from an insecure Yugoslav teenager to a wise adult who finally found harmony with herself.
“Do you know what's interesting? At first, all forty years think that you are abnormal, that you need to be treated, and then you get recognition. You have to spend a lot of time to start taking you seriously,”Abramovich said with a smile before the opening of her epoch-making retrospective at MoMA. Everyone who personally communicated with the artist noted how easy and pleasant they felt in her company: it is hard to believe that a person who treats his body and mind so harshly could turn out to be so cheerful and light in conversation. If before the film “In the presence of an artist” Abramovich was simply very famous, now she is a rock star of a performance, literally a living icon that commands respect even among people far from contemporary art. The artist willingly calls herself “the grandmother of performance” and admits that she likes the celebrity status - after all, everything Abramovich ever did was based on an energy exchange with the audience, without which performance is impossible, and wide recognition is a sign that all her work was not in vain.
Childhood of Marina Abramovich can hardly be called ordinary: her parents, Voio and Danitsa, are Yugoslav partisans who met in the war and after its end became national heroes. The life of the Abramovich family, which had a large apartment, famous friends, honorary positions and privileges from the state, was not like the life of other Yugoslav families. Despite the outward well-being, Marina constantly felt lonely: the stern mother, who was in charge of the Museum of the Revolution, was so afraid to spoil the children that she never hugged them, and even after the divorce, she maintained the usual army order in the house. At the same time, Danitsa herself was interested in art and supported her daughter's desire to do it, but in her ideas, creativity in an absurd way coexisted with total parental control.
“I was not allowed to leave the house after ten o'clock in the evening until I was 29,” Abramovich says. - I performed all the performances in Yugoslavia until ten o'clock in the evening, because at that time I had to be at home. It was absolute madness, but all my cuts, whipping, burning, which could take my life - everything was done until ten in the evening. " Her upbringing is a strange cocktail of communism, to which her parents were faithful, Christianity and Balkan culture, which the girl had an idea of thanks to her devout and very loving grandmother. This was reflected in the autobiographical performance “Thomas’s Lips” performed in 1975 and repeated in 2002 - Abramovich ate a kilogram of honey in front of the audience, drank a liter of wine, broke a bottle, carved a five-pointed star on her stomach, and then lay down on an ice cross …
← Performance "Rhythm 0"
Abramovich's very first performance, Rhythm 10, was inspired by a Russian prison knife game. The artist took turns taking one of the twenty knives lying in front of her and quickly stuck it into the space between her fingers, changing the knife after each cut, and then starting all over again, making cuts in the same places where she stumbled last time - the performance is dedicated to the mistakes that repeated over and over.Then the artist became convinced that she did not need any tools except her own body, and the extraordinary contact that is established between the artist and the audience looking at him here and now is the most honest dialogue that can be imagined.
“Before the eyes of the audience, I am not afraid to feel old, fat, ugly, I can easily undress - because only the body as an instrument matters, only the concept of performance,” Abramovich explains. At home, on the red carpet or in bed with a man, she may feel ugly and awkward, ashamed of her nose or chest, but this has nothing to do with being naked during a performance.
In the process of creating her art, Abramovich was unusually persistent, but the cuts that she inflicted on herself during the performative trance went to the "earthly", not so fearless Marina. Some of the actions turned out to be no less shocking for her than for the public: Abramovich said that after the infamous performance "Rhythm 0" she came home completely devastated and found a lock of gray hair. But after that, having healed the cuts and pondering what had happened, Abramovich continued to stoically test herself for strength. It is not difficult for her to establish contact with the audience, just standing on stage and talking to the crowd (as, for example, in a short TED talk), but as an artist she needs a special, deep dialogue with the audience: for Abramovich, performance is a ritual in which the body accepting a certain pose or performing a sequence of actions, talks about death, trust, purification, peace and strength of mind. The artist explains that during the performance she transforms into another person who is fueled by the energy of the audience and perceives pain in a completely different way than in ordinary life.
She starved, beat herself with a whip, ran into a wall, but in fact never gravitated towards self-destruction - Abramovich sneers at the fact that she was never a "bohemian" artist, had no problems with drugs or alcohol, and now she lives very simple and even boring. For Abramovich, the body has always been a "starting point in spiritual development" - a tool that is necessary for the esoteric exploration of human capabilities. Choosing her own body as the main subject and the media, Abramovich took the performance genre to a new level: looking at how Marina subjects herself to various tests and seeing her naked body, blood and tears, the viewer touches (sometimes literally) such complex topics as personal boundaries, acceptance and trust, moral and physical strength, fragility of life and inevitability of death.
↑ Performance "Rhythm 5"
The principle that Abramovich followed all his life is to bring everything to the limit, to the very end, be it a risky performance or a whirlwind romance. Three minutes after the start of the performance "Rhythm 4" with a strong stream of air directed to her face, Abramovich fainted, in "Rhythm 5" the audience pulled the artist out of the fiery contour in the form of a star, as she lost consciousness due to lack of oxygen … Marina was always ruthless to her flesh and often performed naked, but during one of her most intense and risky performances, she was fully clothed, barely moved, and did not experience any pain - at least physically. We are talking about "Energy of Peace" - four endless minutes, during which the artist herself holds the bow, and her beloved Ulai - an arrow directed to her heart.
Marina met Ulay in Amsterdam in 1976, and for twelve years they were inseparable - both describe their union as a complete merger, endless trust and dissolution in each other, one thought and one art for two. Thanks to their symbiotic relationship, Abramovich and Ulay created a series of poignant performances about relationships: they screamed at their best, ran into each other, checking if their bodies could merge into one, tried their patience, sitting motionless with their hair tied, and literally breathed each other until the oxygen runs out.The artists also turned their parting after twelve years of intense and uneasy relationship into a performance - a solemn and sad ritual: Marina and Ulai set off from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China and walked two and a half thousand kilometers before meeting in the middle, embracing and parting.
There was a lot of pain in this relationship. While superhuman artists were creating their powerful performances, artists - an ordinary man and a woman - argued, annoyed each other, suffered from a lack of personal space, money and jealousy. Although after parting, Ulai and Marina saw each other more than once, and their "reunion" became one of the highlights of the exhibition "In the presence of an artist", the relationship of the former lovers is now not at all as sublime as the idea of their ideal farewell on the Great Wall of China: Abramovich has two hundred and fifty thousand euros, accusing her of illegal use of their common works.
The artist does not talk about the intimate details of their life together, but according to some remarks, it is clear that Ulay controlled all monetary and organizational issues, leaving his companion "on the farm": while Ulay was negotiating with the gallery owners, Marina knitted sweaters for sale so that the artists would not starve. Abramovich herself says that for several years she was absolutely happy, but over time, the relationship became more complicated: what was initially perceived as absolute mutual understanding and a common worldview turned into a painful codependency, from which both suffered. The performance with the Great Wall of China was conceived as a wedding ceremony, but after several years of preparation, the artists decided that it was time for them to break up, not get married. By the start of the trip, Abramovich learned that their Chinese translator was pregnant with Ulai.
← "Manifesto of the Artist's Life"
The pain of betrayal returned the artist to the state of an “ordinary woman” she did not like - she felt weak and empty, “ugly, fat and unwanted”. But if Marina, an ordinary person, was confused and sad, then the artist inside her became even stronger. “If I feel so bad, I have to do something that is most disgusting to me,” Abramovich said to herself and decided to try herself in the theater, which she always despised for being false and subservient to the canons. Relations with Ulai, as well as with Nesha Paripovich and Paolo Kanevari, her husbands, became a lesson that Marina succinctly and ironically reflected in her "Manifesto of an Artist's Life" - a set of rules that Abramovich advises to follow if you are serious about art. The section "The artist's attitude to love" consists of three points:
1. An artist should not fall in love with another artist.
2. An artist should not fall in love with another artist.
3. An artist should not fall in love with another artist.
When Reddit users asked Abramovich why this is so, she replied: “I have done this three times in my life, and each time it ended with my broken heart. I judge from my own experience. This is a very competitive situation that is difficult to describe in a nutshell. And this is a subject for a long conversation. It is better to look at the artists who lived together (both in the past and now) and understand how tragic everything happened with them."
One of the most difficult performances by Abramovich was "House overlooking the Ocean" - the artist spent twelve days without food on three platforms, "rooms", which the audience could constantly watch. After an illness caused by exhaustion, Abramovich decided to temporarily change her occupation. This is how the film "Balkan Erotic Epic" appeared - an artistic study and reproduction of traditional rituals in which female and male genitals participate. For example, the ritual of "scaring off" the rain: when the downpour did not stop for several days, Balkan women ran out into the field and lifted their skirts, showing the heavens their genitals. “Scare the gods with a vagina - how did they think of this?” Abramovich laughs.Balkan culture is important to her, but Marina has long considered herself a person without a homeland: when asked where she is from, the artist usually replies that there is no such country anymore. Abramovich is equally interested in the rituals of Montenegrins, Australian Aborigines, Indians, Brazilian mediums - a beautiful documentary film "At the Crossroads: Marina Abramovich and Brazil" is dedicated to her esoteric quest.
Although many of Abramovich's works are about nudity, physicality and relationships, she refuses to call her art "feminine" or "feminist." She believes that these are all labels that devalue the artist's work. Nevertheless, both in his performances and in his interviews, Abramovich speaks of the power of women: in the Balkan Baroque, the artist tries on the role of a mourner, washing a huge pile of bones from blood and leftover meat, in 2012 she speaks to an audience of three thousand women and notes an extraordinary energetic connection and a sense of sisterhood. “I never wanted to have a male body,” Abramovich said in an interview. - It seems to me that women are stronger anyway. The very ability of a woman to give life makes her superhuman, and the rest is not important. " The artist herself deliberately refused motherhood: she recently admitted that she had three abortions, because the birth of a child would be a "disaster" for her work. Abramovich says that now she is happy with her loneliness and freedom, but sometimes bitterness slips in her words: “Oh, don't worry, my husbands are leaving, my friends are leaving, they cannot cope with it, they cannot withstand the intensity. I’m too much for anyone, it’s unbearable.”
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Marina Abramovich is how incredible strength in her coexists with humanity, gentleness and vulnerability. In an interview, she talks about how she began going to a psychoanalyst, how as a child she wanted to break her nose in order to force her parents to pay for plastic surgery (and eventually get a nose like Brigitte Bardot), how her knees shake before important events (“If I’m not nervous, then I start to get nervous, that I’m not nervous”).
She agrees to attach electrodes to her head if it helps scientists learn more about the nature of the performance, and considers herself superstitious - Abramovich is sick only in red pajamas and on red sheets, because he believes that this color restores vitality. She communicates with the idols of millennials, James Franco and Lady Gaga, loves expensive clothes and maintains a long-term friendship with Ricardo Tisci, starred in Givenchy campaigns and Antony & The Johnsons videos, tells a joke about artists who screw in a light bulb on the hundredth try, considers herself ugly and laughs at her mother, who tore all nude photographs from Marina's exhibition catalogs "so that she would not be ashamed to show them to her neighbors." She cries - both then, on the Great Wall of China, and during her retrospective at MoMA, when her former lover comes to look into her eyes. “Suffering does not make you weak. When trouble comes, when you face difficulties - this is good material, says Abramovich. "And if you survive after all this, your art will only get better." And he adds: “In ordinary life, I joke a lot, because there is so much drama inside me. If I'm not funny, I will die."
Photos: MoMA, Marina Abramovic / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Marina Abramovic Courtesy Marina Abramovic and Sean Kelly Gallery New York, Nebojsa Cankovic
Courtesy Marina Abramovic and Sean Kelly Gallery New York