Marina Abramovic:Everybody’s lives are long durational performances
Source:artintern Author:Karlyn De Jongh, Sarah Gold, Carol Rolla & Valeria Date: 2014-07-16 Size:
Marina Abramovi has been a performance artist since the early 1970s. Using her own body as the subject as well as the medium for her work, she has pioneered the use of performance as a visual art form...

Q:Karlyn De Jongh, Sarah Gold, Carol Rolla & Valeria Romagnini

A:Marina Abramovic

Marina Abramovi has been a performance artist since the early 1970s. Using her own body as the subject as well as the medium for her work, she has pioneered the use of performance as a visual art form. Her works are an exploration of her own physical and mental limits.

Q: In your work you have tried to understand and discover the meaning of pain, the limits of endurance and often you took great risks. Today your perception of life will probably be different from the moment you started. What is the value that you give to your life today? Do you think that you have ever put your life in real danger?

A: I think that at the beginning, many things, many ideas about my work, were done more by intuition, without really knowing where I’m going. The older I get and the more experience I have, I understand that taking risks is incredibly important and it is a crucial step to get to a new territory and to understand your own limits. I think, especially as an artist, when you find the one way to express yourself and then start repeating yourself to please the public or the market, then you kind of stop respecting yourself. So, to me it is really important to be always looking for new territories. Right now, for example, I am choreographing in the French opera The Bolero which is a completely new territory for me. I have never worked with dancers, especially not with classical dancers. To see how I can actually bring my new ideas into this kind of category—which is very, very traditional—and to see “can I make a revolution here?”, that is what I am really interested in. The more I am, the more time passes, the more I take a risk to go to places where I have never been. Not just in art, but also in life.

Q: How does it help you then, when you performed Lips of Thomas in 1975 and ‘repeated’ the performance in 2005 at the Guggenheim in New York City? By doing a similar performance, are you then still taking a new risk in the sense of ‘finding new territories’?

A: No this was... First of all that example was only one example. It was unique and this was really meant to give an example to everybody else who is taking the works from the 1970s and putting these works into different categories—like fashion, like design, theatre, film, dance—without actually giving any kind of recognition to the original sources, to the artists who made these works in the 1970s. I was thinking that, of the few artists who are still alive and performing that I should take some of these examples, especially examples from other artists of whom I have never even seen the piece, but which I liked (like Vito Acconci or Joseph Beuys) and find out: if I repeat the piece, what kind of example should I be giving to the people who are doing it? And what is the difference? The difference would be to ask and pay for permission, to understand the original material and put the name of the artist where the material comes from first, and then your own name in second place; this is the example how it should be done.

My piece Lips of Thomas... The original piece lasted one hour. I repeated this performance and it lasted seven hours. And I was sixty years old. People said to me: “Oh, but you have done such strong performances before.” But I could never do seven hours when I was 20 years old, because I never had that kind of concentration and knowledge. Now, for this piece, I have just changed the time. So, I was repeating the performance, but not exactly ‘repeating’ it, because I put the dimension of time into this piece.

Q: So, the boundaries that you have been trying to ‘explore’ in your live, they have actually shifted and it is not ‘simply’ a matter of knowing where they are.

A: Yes, it has really shifted and I am still constantly searching. I just spent three months in Brazil working with the Shamans and studying in co-operational entities about the spirits and how that kind of energy... I can learn about that kind of energy, it’s the invisible world that actually deals with this. To go to the places in nature that have that energy and power, like waterfalls, like certain rock formations and so on, and to expose myself and see what I can learn... Because, you know, I have learned about energy, but not enough yet.

Performance art is about immateriality, and this is only something that you can feel. It is energy that you can feel. You cannot put it on the wall like a painting. So, you have to learn every day more and more about how to deal with this and how you can deal with it much further than I have done until now.

Q: To cut open your belly again 30 years later, must have had quite an impact on your body. Aren’t you afraid that by taking these risks with your body, your life will be a few days shorter?

A: You know, I have never felt better in my life. Now, this year I will be getting 67. My body is excellent; my immune system is good. I went to the doctor the other day, to have my organs checked, you know: my liver, my skin, my heart. He said: “your organs look 20 years younger than your age!” I think because of my performances I am only becoming stronger. I think that anybody who thinks their life finishes when they are 60 and must go into pension, has a much bigger risk to die, than I have.

Q: Are you afraid of dying?

A: No. I am even planning my own funeral all the time. And now I am playing my own funeral in a theater piece with Robert Wilson, titled The Life & Death of Marina Abramovi?. First of all, I do not think that death exists. This is what I discovered lately. It is just another form, a transformation of energy. If you deal with energy and understand energy, then you understand that death is not there. Another thing is the physical death, but that is something completely different. There is no spiritual death, that does not exist. So when you really understand that and you see this other reality outside of the now—like I did just now in Brazil—then your death is not something to be afraid of.

Q: You have indicated that your work is mainly about your ideas, rather than about what it looks like. With your Center for the Preservation of Performance Art you seem to be teaching other people about your ideas. In this way, your work, your thoughts will continue to exist after you yourself have died. Do you wish your work and thoughts to live on forever? Do you think this ‘energy’ will continue to exist?

A: You know, it is not about me. I am not so concentrated on myself, I’m just concentrated on what I learn, on how I can transmit this to other people and how they can benefit from this. And the really important thing is: today, in our western society, how can we change consciousness? I mean: you live in Italy and what is happening there is such a real disaster. There are so many problems! If only the Italians can change the consciousness of their leaders and bring some kind of spirituality—at least a different view of the world—then everything will look different. I think it is very important that if nobody is doing it, then artists should be doing this.

But also for me, every journey starts with a big step. It is very easy to criticize society and say what is wrong, but much more important is what the individual can do on his own. I am trying to do my best in my own work, in my own art. If I can change just some individuals, for example the people I am dealing with in my institute, I would be very happy. This is really very important. It is so easy to just be in an ego trip, and then you can see your name is going to live to eternity. It is not about that. Much more important is that people can benefit from what I learn and I have really learned my lessons in the hard way, because that is what I am doing. I have spent so many years working with indigenous cultures, being in nature. Everything I have learned, I have actually experienced. I do not learn from the books; I have learned from the direct experiences.

Q: Your Center, designed by Rem Koolhaas, will serve as a performance and education center of long-duration performance art and it will represent the home to The Abramovi? Method. What do you hope to transmit to your students? How do you hope performance will develop after you?

A: They are not students any more. I am talking about my public. I am talking about the people who would come to the institute, but this is another also important thing. This institute it is not just about my work. It is going to be a combination between artists, filmmakers, theatre directors, dance, opera, music, scientists, the new technology, the spirituality, the new ideas about spirituality; it’s going to be a kind of laboratory between everything. I wanted to create a commune with different people who can benefit and can create and then expose their creations to others. I wanted to create a platform. It is not that I am showing them my work; I’m showing the unity of different media together.

Q: When you spoke at our PERSONAL STRUCTURES symposium at the 2009 Venice Biennale, you have said that in your performances you give yourself 100% and that the presence of the audience is very important. Besides giving yourself, do you take something back? Is there something you want back from your audience?

A: I do not, you know. I am not thinking in that way. I am only thinking that I as individual have to give 100% and then they can do whatever they want with this. The moment you are giving something in order to get something else back, it is already wrong, wrong energy. You have to give unconditionally and you should not expect anything back. If it happens it is wonderful, but if it does not, it is wonderful too. You have to have a purpose in your life and I have always been interested in knowing: “what is my purpose?” Since I was a child, I have had a very clear idea that I am an artist and my purpose is to be in this field, as good as I can.

Q: But I think it is also about ‘sharing the moment’. You have said that you do not feel pain so much when you stand in front of your audience, but when you cut yourself when you are at home, you cry.

A: You know, the most important thing about me is to show everything. We are not heroes, we have vulnerable sides and I think it is important to show every part of yourself. I mean like now with the piece that Robert Wilson made, it shows exactly all the different parts of myself: the one who is very heroic and pushes the limits, the other who is very fragile and full of vanity and the third one who is very spiritual and wants to become a monk. Everything is true. I think that every single human being has his own contradictions with himself, but there are only few people that have the courage to show them. Most people are ashamed of things and try to hide them. But I am not. I do not even have personal email. I do not have it. Everything, anybody knows about me is common knowledge. I do not have secrets, and it is so liberating especially when you show things you are ashamed of.

Q: Me too, I do not have secrets, I always try to speak open and honest to everybody. But if you are always the same and live your life for art, could you see your life as a total durational performance?

A: I do not know. Everybody’s lives are long durational performances. Everybody starts with the birth and every single day is closer to your death and then one day you die. But I think what is very important is that in that life every single moment you feel happy and that you are really happy with what you are doing and do not make compromises. That I think is the most important: to not make compromises to society, nor to yourself.

Q: I can still remember the first time I met you. It was at our PERSONAL STRUCTURES symposium at the 2009 Venice Biennale and to me, you ‘filled’ the space with your shear presence. What significance does the space where you perform have for you?

A: To me space is very important. I prefer much more museums than private spaces or galleries, because to me museums are the modern temples. That is where where the public comes to see art. I am an artist and I like the context of art. I do not like other places where this context of art is missing. Let’s say, when I wanted to make Seven Easy Pieces (2005), it took me 12 years to get the place I wanted and the place I wanted was the Guggenheim museum, because the Guggenheim museum was built with the idea to show spiritual art and I want exactly to be there and nowhere else. So, I waited 12 years. But I didn’t want to make it in any other place.

I want a particular space, a particular architecture. And, you know, the people who come to the museum, they are not just an art public. Let’s say in MoMA, when I made my work there, there are many people who come because it is a tourist location. They came just to see the museum. But when they saw my work, they started coming back and became really my very preferable audience. You see, it’s in the museum because you can reach all kinds of public, not just an art public.

Q: Are you not afraid that you have become an idol—something that according your own manifesto, an artist should not be?

A: I am not afraid of anything. I think that being an idol or not being an idol is a side effect. But this is not the reason why I am doing things. You know, I always go back to myself and I have the reason why I am doing it and the reason is really to change the consciousness, to lift human spirit. That is my main reason. Whatever the public projects in my work, that is their problem, it is not my problem.  Can I just say a bit more about the ‘idol’? You know, artists should not be, should not become an idol. Actually, when an artist is becoming an idol in public, that is one thing. But an artist should never believe that he is in fact an idol. That is the problem. That is the danger, because if that would happen, his ego becomes an obstacle to his work. But if he is idolized by his public, that is something that he cannot control. But he himself should not believe he is an idol. And I’ve never believed myself that I am an idol.

Q: That means you must be criticizing yourself the entire time.

A: I am the worst critic of myself, because I always demand from myself—always—100% and more. And if I do not give it, then I am very unhappy.

Q: Another subject that seems very important for your art is duration. Hermann Nitsch told me, that when you were in your twenties, you took part in one of his performances. In 2010, I was a passive model myself in Nitsch’s 130th Aktion. The performance took seven hours in total. For me, one of the most interesting experiences from this event was that I had no feeling for duration. I mean: Time was passing, and I experienced the sequence of events, but the feeling of duration was missing. It seems that in your performances you strive for this feeling of being in the ‘now’ and aim to not feel the duration of the passing time, but be in the ‘present’ as long as possible. Some of your performances took several days. Do I understand correctly that you use ‘duration’ in your work in order to not experience duration itself? Did you ever manage to stretch this state of being, when the performance was over?

A: First of all, from the now 40 years of experience in performance art, I understand that duration is the most important of all, because the performer needs to get into a certain state of consciousness. Then, after I get into this state of consciousness, I can bring the audience to the same state. But I need the time and the audience needs the time. This is why the length of the performance is extremely important. This is why my institute in Hudson is going to be based on duration. That is why you as an audience have to sign the contract to stay six hours with me as the public in order to give the experience. Because the duration... One thing we don’t have enough in this 21st century is time, time for anything. That is what I want: to claim time back.

Q: While doing your performances in the ‘here-and-now’, Time seems very important to you. When looking back at the works you have created and at your presence in many different ‘here-and-now’ situation’s, what does the passing of time in general mean to you?

A: Nothing. As I said, for me if you really succeed to be in the present, time does not really exist. That is the most beautiful and fulfilling moment that you ever can experience and I hope that I can teach my public to be more and more in that moment. But you know when it is finished, because you cannot maintain for long time that feeling. Then you have time like everybody else and you know, in my case, I do not have time in my real life. Every hour, I have things to do. I wake up at six o’clock. I am like a soldier working like hell, so when I make a performance, I claim my time.

Q: During the work Count on us a children’s choir sings: “Still there is energy and there is hope.” What are your personal hopes about the future? And what about your hopes for performance art?

A: I do not think about performance art any more. I am thinking about the future of humankind. I am much more interested in humankind. For me, performance is just a tool, nothing else.

I mean, who knows if we will exists, or would change or something. I do not know. I am not clairvoyant. I am only thinking that I hope that a day would have 26 hours, so that I can finish everything I want and create this legacy and create this platform where the really different minds of our century can get together and create something which is meaningful and can change or lift the human spirit, but can also change the consciousness of our society today, to understand interdependency, to understand that what we are doing on this planet at the moment, is not right. We have to kind of wake-up, and I think if we have the scientists, if we have philosophers, if we have architects, if we have somebody who is busy with new technology, the artist... If we put all of them together we could maybe create new solutions, new dimensions. This is what I hope is going to happen in my life time.

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[Editor] 刘建兰

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