Marina Abramović (Serbian Cyrillic: Марина Абрамовић; born November 30, 1946 in Belgrade) is New York-based Serbian performance artist who began her career in the early 1970s. Active for over three decades, she has recently begun to describe herself as the "grandmother of performance art".
“Marina seduces everyone she ever meets,” says Klaus Biesenbach, who curated the MoMA show, in the film. “She’s never not performing.”
Their last work together, The Great Wall Walk (1988), entailed each walking 2,000 km along the Great Wall of China, starting at opposite ends and meeting in the middle.
In one, Breathing In/Breathing Out (1977), with their mouths clamped tightly together and microphones taped to their throats, Abramovic and Ulay breathed in turn the air from each other's lungs, until - almost to the point of suffocation - they were exchanging only carbon dioxide. In another, Rest Energy (1980), they held a taut bow with an arrow loaded and pointing at Abramovic's heart, with only the weight of their bodies maintaining the tension. Microphones recorded their rapidly accelerating heartbeats.
A childhood condition that Abramović names as hemoravia (or haemorraghia), a condition having parallels with hemophilia, caused her to bleed for a prolonged period of time if she was cut or when a tooth came out. ... Her early experiences, however, meant that as a young child she was fearful of blood and associated it with death and dying (Heathfield, 2004: 149–50). Abramović has stated that self-cutting, such as that used in her early work Lips of Thomas (a.k.a. Thomas' Lips) (1975) was primarily concerned with the attempt to liberate herself from her fear of blood and bleeding.
In subsequent performances, Abramović reduced her audience's potentially sadistic access to her, but continued to explore the limits of her endurance as well as her own masochism, her audience's relationship to it, and the powers of endurance to transform — physically, emotionally and psychically. Throughout 1975, she performed several body art pieces that tested physical limits: screaming until she lost her voice in Freeing the Voice; running repeatedly into a wall until she collapsed in Interruption in Space; and using a razor to cut a five-pointed star into her stomach, whipping herself, and lying on a cross of ice for thirty minutes in Lips of Thomas.
One of those pieces, "Imponderabilia" - originally performed in 1977 by Marina and her former partner, Ulay - consists of two nude performers facing one another in a doorway. Visitors to the show may pass through to the next room by working their way through this living gate. (A few steps away, there is an alternate way into the next room; in the original performance, visitors to the Galleria Comunale d'Arte Moderna in Bologna were required to pass through Marina and Ulay to enter.) At the MoMA show, visitors must be aware that in this case "don't touch the art" is underwritten by considerations of privacy that go with works consisting of living, breathing bodies. And as MoMA and other museums seek to go beyond exhibiting and actually acquire such performances, they will also have to deal with a number of imponderable issues that do not normally arise with works of art like paintings and sculptures.
The universal themes of life and death are recurring motifs, often enhanced by the use of symbolic visual elements or props such as crystals, bones, knives, tables, and pentagrams. While the sources of some works lie in her personal history (the circumstances of her childhood and family life under Communist rule in the former Yugoslavia), others lie in more recent and contemporary events, such as the wars in her homeland and other parts of the world.
Over a three-month period in 2010, performance artist Marina Abramovic spent more than 700 hours sitting in a chair at a small table in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. For seven hours a day, six days a week, she would gaze, silently and motionlessly, into the eyes of whoever took the open chair opposite her. An estimated 750,000 museum-goers participated, many finding the experience so overwhelming that they were moved to tears.
For one she perched nude on a bicycle seat high on a gallery wall, bathed in light, in a pose vaguely reminiscent of a crucifixion. In another she lay under a skeleton to make it appear to breathe. In the much-noticed “House With An Ocean View” (2002) she lived in Sean Kelly Gallery in Chelsea for 12 days, confined to three containerlike rooms — together they suggested a triptych altarpiece — elevated above the floor, with the front wall open, allowing visitors to watch her ritualistically nap, shower, dress, drink water and urinate, then do the same all over again.
Although she initially studied painting in an art school, in the late 1960s she began experimenting with performance and soon came up with work as startling for its physical heedlessness as for its intensity of concentration. For a 1973 piece called “Rhythm 10,” she turned on a tape recorder, splayed out her hand on the gallery floor, then quickly and repeatedly stabbed at the spaces between her fingers with one of ten knives, changing knives each time she cut herself. After she’d gone through all the knives, she replayed the tape and repeated the performance, blow by blow as recorded, on the bloody floor.
In the early 1970s, Abramović began making performances that have turned into legend. These included lying in the center of a burning five-pointed star (symbol of the communism of her native Yugoslavia) until she lost consciousness; remaining determinedly passive for six hours while members of an audience did whatever they wanted to her (even pushing a loaded gun into her neck); and cutting a pentagram on her stomach before whipping herself and lying naked on a cross made of ice.