For more than 50 years trailblazing performance artist Marina Abramović has used her own body and energy as her main artistic material. In this powerful interview, the artist looks back on her radical practice: “It was like the first woman walking on the moon.”
“I really feel like a full-blooded artist. I never wanted to do anything else. I didn’t want to travel. I didn’t want a family. I didn’t want to have children. I didn’t want anything like normal people. I just wanted to do art.” Marina Abramović, born in former Yugoslavia to parents who were war heroes and members of the Communist Party, received her first painting lesson at the age of 14: the teacher created an explosion by setting fire to the painting, and this experience is at the root of her understanding of performance art as being about the process, not the result. “Deep within me I knew that I have a freedom as an artist to do whatever I want. I have a freedom as an artist to make art out of dust if I want.”
When Abramović gave her first performance ‘Rhythm 10’ in 1973, she discovered a new side of herself: “The feeling of really pure electricity running through my body, and how I could take the energy of the public, turn that energy and give it back to the public, it was really very strong, and I knew that I found a tool as an artist – that I could not do anything else.” In her often violent performances, the artist continued to explore the relationship between performer and public, not least in ‘Rhythm O’ from 1974, where she invited the audience to use 72 objects for six hours: “That was the moment I knew that the public can kill me.”
“What are we afraid of? We are afraid of dying, of suffering and of mortality: three things.” Abramović has continuously worked with freeing herself from fears by confronting them in her performances, thus acting as a mirror to the public: “the only way to get free of the fear of pain is to go through the pain (…) I don’t like any pain at home. I would never do this at home.”
Abramović also shares the love story between her and the German photographer Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen, b. 1943), whom she met in 1975 and made trail-blazing performances with for 12 years: “We put male and female energy together and created something different.” The collaboration was also an exercise in letting go of their egos: “It’s very difficult for two artists to work together and the two egos to melt into one, and we could do this only for a certain amount of time, and then we had to leave because it didn’t work anymore.”
In her later work Abramović has turned her energy towards silence and presence as well as working with long-durational works: “Life is faster and faster, art must be slower and slower. We have to recognize this and we have to go back to the simplicity, we have to go back to the simple thing of being human again.”
Marina Abramović (b. 1946) was born in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia, and is now based in New York. She began her work as a performance artist in the early 1970s and is now regarded as one of the most important artists in the field. Her work explores the relationship between the performer and audience, the limits of the body and the possibilities of the mind. Her retrospective ‘The Artist is Present’ at MoMA, New York, in 2010 gave her a wide international break-through and was followed by a documentary film in 2013. In 2017 the retrospective exhibition ‘The Cleaner’ was shown at Moderna Museet in Stockholm and at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark, among other places in Europe.
Marina Abramović was interviewed by Christian Lund at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, in March 2017 in connection with her major retrospective exhibition ‘The Cleaner’.
Camera: Rasmus Quistgaard & Simon Weyhe
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2017
Supported by Nordea-fonden