Ayako Kato on Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović’s work demands extreme endurance for both herself and her audience members through the often long durational nature of her works. As seen in this reenactment of her work Seven Easy Pieces (2005), seven hours is a familiar duration for Abramović due to the normal opening hours for galleries and museums. Abramović states that audiences may not see the performance starting and ending. Other works, Relation is Movement (1977) and one of twenty-two Nightsea Crossing performances (1981 – 87), lasted 16 hours. Great Wall Walk (1988) took 90 days when Abramović and Ulay, her collaborator since 1976, walked from eastern and western opposite ends of the wall until they met and actually finished their partnership in reality.

Born in 1946 in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia, and having parents who were Partisans lead by Josip Broz Tito during the Second World War and a great uncle Patriarch Varnava, the Head of Serbian Orthodox Church between 1930 and 1937, Abramović’s works reflect her own as well as her Serbian and Balkan backgrounds. Pain, endurance and self-flagellation are notably seen in Lips of Thomas (1975) which is included in Seven Easy Pieces, by her eating a kilogram of honey, drinking a liter of red wine, and then incising a pentagram in her stomach with broken glass. Loop and repetition often add significance in her works. In Lips and Thomas, she violently whips herself until she no longer feels any pain (Abramović 196). She explores the physical and mental limitations of the body. The elements of ancient mythology, ritual, and religion can be seen as pentagram in Lips of Thomas, and the symbol recalls The Vitruvian Man by Leonard da Vinci.

For her later work Biesenbach states, “Through the series of autobiographical works, Abramović has come to terms with her cultural, ideological, and spiritual origins in the Balkans, her family background, and the guilt and shame she felt over the genocidal atrocities in Serbia in the 1990s” (Biesenbach16). With the act of self-purification, she scrubbed skeleton in Cleaning the Mirror #1. In Balkan Baroque (1997), she sat for six hours a day for four hours to scrub, brush and scrape the meat off 6,000 pounds of blood-stained cow bones surrounded by three-channel projection of life-size images of Abramović and her parents.

Through the nude, Abramović presents herself in her art as a self-portrait, and it “manifests individuals in their most basic, reduced, pure, vulnerable state, their most equal state in relation to the rest of the world” (Biesenbach 18). With a human skeleton, she goes even further to reveal “bare bones.”

The statement below shows Abramović’s recent reflection upon duration:

I would like somehow to find a system so the performance would become life. That it actually becomes just timeless. I don’t want an audience to spend time with me looking at my work; I want them to be with me and forget about time. Open up the space and just that moment of here and now, of nothing, there is no future and there is no past. In that way, you can extend eternity. It is about being present. (Abramović 211)

Through all the essence together with the extensive duration and emergence of vulnerable, yet empowered state, Abramović’s performances reveal the different, but similar historical and personal human events in common and create reverberation in viewers’ memories and experiences through the feeling of eternity.


Works Cited

Biesenbach, Klaus, Marina Abramovic, Arthur Danto, and Chrissie Iles. Marina Abramovic. ; The Artist Is Present. N.p.: Museum of Modern Art, 2010. Print.

“Marina Abramović.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 09 Oct. 2012. Web. 11 Sept. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marina_Abramović>.

“Patriarch Varnava of Serbia.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 09 Aug. 2012. Web. 11 Sept. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarch_Varnava_of_Serbia>.