Marina Abramovic Life and Art Periods

"The audience is like a dog. They can feel immediately that you are afraid, that you are insecure, that you're not in the right state of mind - and they just leave..."

Marina Abramovic

MARINA ABRAMOVIC SYNOPSIS

Towards the late 1950s, as abstract art began to lose impetus, many artists across the world began to embrace performance art. Performance had been a feature of avant-garde art since around 1910, but Marina Abramovic's work is typical of the aims of the new generation in her eagerness to avoid traditional, object-based art materials (such as paint and canvas), and to cut down the distance between the artist and the audience by making her own body the medium. Born under Yugoslavia's repressive Communist dictatorship, and raised by parents closely tied to the regime, Abramovic's dramatic and dangerous performances often seem like cathartic responses to these early experiences of power. She has produced a quantity of sculpture, but she remains best known for performance, and she remains one of only a handful of performance artists of her generation who have continued to perform late in their career.

MARINA ABRAMOVIC KEY IDEAS

Marina Abramovic's work is typical of the ritualistic strain in 1960s performance art. It often involves putting herself in grave danger and performing lengthy, harmful routines that result in her being cut or burnt, or enduring some privation. She views her art almost as a sacrificial and religious rite, performed by herself for a congregation of viewers. And the physical ordeals she endures form the basis for exploring such themes as trust, endurance, cleansing, exhaustion, and departure.
We might interpret her work as having displaced art from traditional media such as painting and sculpture, and moved it directly on to her body. Yet far from conceiving it as simply a surface, she has said that she thinks of the body as the "point of departure for any spiritual development."
Between 1976 and 1988 she collaborated with the German-born artist known as Ulay. The performances the pair created during this time often exploited their duality to investigate ideas such as the division between mind and body, nature and culture, active and passive attitudes, and, of course, between male and female.
comment to editor

Absolutely no spam, we promise!
Like The Art Story Foundation on Facebook

MOST IMPORTANT ART

TITLE: Rhythm 10 (1973)
Rhythm 10(1973)
Artwork Description & Analysis: Abramovic's first forays into performance focused primarily on sound installations, but she increasingly incorporated her body - often harming it in the process. In Rhythm 10, she used a series of 20 knives to quickly stab at the spaces between her outstretched fingers. Every time she pierced her skin, she selected another knife from those carefully laid out in front of her. Halfway through, she began playing a recording of the first half of the hour-long performance, using the rhythmic beat of the knives striking the floor, and her hand, to repeat the same movements, cutting herself at the same time. She has said that this work marked the first time she understood that drawing on the audience's energy drove her performance; this became an important concept informing much of her later work.

20 knives, tape recorder

  • Rhythm 10(1973)
  • Rhythm 5(1974)
  • Rhythm 0(1974)
  • Rest Energy(1980)
  • Balkan Baroque(1997)
  • The House with the Ocean View(2002)
Like TheArtStory
on Facebook

MARINA ABRAMOVIC BIOGRAPHY

Childhood

Marina Abramovic was born in 1946 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia to parents who held prominent positions in the Communist government. Her father, Vojin, was in the Marshal's elite guard and her mother, Danica, was an art historian who oversaw historic monuments. After her father left the family, her mother took strict control of eighteen-year-old Abramovic and her younger brother, Velimir. Her mother was difficult and sometimes violent, yet she supported her daughter's interest in art. While growing up, Abramovic saw numerous Biennales in Venice, exposing her to artists outside of Communist Yugoslavia such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Louise Nevelson.

MORE

Early Training

Marina Abramovic Biography

Abramovic studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade (1965-1970), and at Radionica Krsta Hegedusic, Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb (1970-1972). It was in the early 1970s that she began creating performative art, initially creating sound installations, but quickly moving towards works that more directly involved the body. During this period she taught at the Academy of Arts, University of Novi Sad (1973-1975).

Mature period

In her early work, Abramovic often placed her body in danger: she took drugs intended to treat catatonia and schizophrenia (Rhythm 2, 1974); she invited viewers to threaten her body with a variety of objects including a loaded gun (Rhythm 0, 1974); and she cut her stomach with a razor blade, whipped herself, and lay on a block of ice (Thomas Lips, 1975). She has suggested that the inspiration for such work came from both her experience of growing up under Tito's Communist dictatorship, and of her relationship with her mother: "All my work in Yugoslavia was very much about rebellion, not against just the family structure but the social structure and the structure of the art system there... My whole energy came from trying to overcome these kinds of limits." Accordingly, these rebellious performances, which took place in small studios, student centers and alternative spaces in Yugoslavia, ended by 10pm, the strict curfew set by her mother.

Marina Abramovic Photo

Abramovic created these pioneering works when performance art was still a new, emerging art form in Europe, and until the mid 1970s she had little knowledge of performances being done outside Yugoslavia - even then, she learned of such work only through word of mouth. But in 1975, while in Amsterdam, Abramovic met the German-born artist Frank Uwe Laysiepen - known as Ulay - and the next year she moved out of her parents' home for the first time to live with him. For the next 12 years, Abramovic and Ulay were artistic collaborators and lovers. They traveled across Europe in a van, lived with Australian Aborigines, and in India's Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and spent time in the Sahara, Thar and Gobi deserts. Their works, which they performed in gallery spaces primarily in Europe, included Imponderabilia (1977), in which they stood naked in a narrow doorway, forcing spectators to pass between them; Breathing In/Breathing Out (1977), in which they inhaled and exhaled from each other's mouths until they almost suffocated; Relation in Time (1977), involving them sitting back to back with their hair tied together; Light/Dark (1977), in which they alternately slapped each other's faces; and Nightsea Crossing (1981-1987), a performance in which the pair sat silently opposite each other at a wooden table for as long as possible. When Abramovic and Ulay decided to end their artistic collaboration and personal relationship in 1988, they embarked on a piece called The Lovers; each started at a different end of the Great Wall of China and walked for three months until they met in the middle and said goodbye. They have had very little contact with each other since that point, both proceeding independently with their artistic work.

Late period

Marina Abramovic Image

After this separation from Ulay, Abramovic returned to making solo works; she also worked with new collaborators such as Charles Atlas (on Biography, 1992); and she worked increasingly with video (such as in Cleaning the Mirror #1, 1995). In 1989, she began making a number of sculptural works, Transitory Objects for Human and Non-Human Use, which comprise objects meant to incite audience participation and interaction. In addition to her performances during the 1990s, Abramovic taught at the Hochschule der Kunste in Berlin and the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris (1990-1991), as well as the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Hamburg (1992). Beginning in 1994 she taught for seven years as a performance art professor at the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Braunschweig, Germany.

She was awarded the Golden Lion for Best Artist at the Venice Biennale for Balkan Baroque (1997), and in 2003 she won a New York Dance and Performance Award ("Bessie") for The House with the Ocean View (2002), performed at Sean Kelly Gallery in New York. In 2005, she restaged performances by artists such as Vito Acconci and Bruce Nauman, as well as her own Thomas Lips (1975) in an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum called "Seven Easy Pieces", for which she earned a U.S. Art Critics Association Award.

While many artists, including Abramovic, made very little effort in the early 1970s to capture their performances on film or video, feeling that the true performance could never be repeated, she has since argued for the importance of continuing the life of these works through re-performance. She has said, "the only real way to document a performance art piece is to re-perform the piece itself." To that end, the Museum of Modern Art recently held a retrospective exhibition - its first ever for any performance artist - that included performances of her work and a new piece, The Artist is Present, performed by Abramovic herself. For the full duration of the 2010 exhibit, she would sit across from an empty chair in which museum visitors were invited to sit opposite her for as long as they liked.

MARINA ABRAMOVIC LEGACY

Marina Abramovic Portrait

Abramovic, who has referred to herself as, "the grandmother of performance art," was part of the earliest experiments in performance art, and she is one of the few pioneers of that generation still creating new work. She has been, and continues to be, an essential influence for performance artists making work over the last several decades, especially for works that challenge the limits of the body. Although she does not view her own artwork through the frame of Feminist Art, her confrontations with the physical self and the primary role given to the female body have helped shape the direction of that discipline. Her commitment to giving new life to older performance works - both hers and the works of others -- led her to create the Marina Abramovic Institute for Preservation of Performance Art, set for a 2012 opening, in Hudson, New York. This non-profit organization will support teaching, preserving and funding performance art, ensuring an enduring legacy for her performances and, more broadly, for the ephemeral art form itself. About this Institute, Abramovic has said, "Performance is fleeting. But this, this place, this is for time. This is what I will leave behind."

Original content written by Rachel Gershman
. [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org website. Available from:
[Accesed ]
comment to editor

MARINA ABRAMOVIC QUOTES

"To me the pain and the blood are merely means of artistic expression."

"Through performance, I found the possibility of establishing a dialogue with the audience through an exchange of energy, which tended to transform the energy itself. I could not produce a single work without the presence of the audience, because the audience gave me the energy to be able, through a specific action, to assimilate it and return it, to create a genuine field of energy."

"I started realizing I could use any material I want, fire, water, and the body. The moment when I started using the body, it was such an enormous satisfaction that I had and that I can communicate with the public that I could never do anything else. I could never go back to the seclusion of the studio and be protected by the space there. The only way of expression is to perform."

"When I am performing a piece, anything that happens in that moment is part of the piece."

"We are always in the space in-between... all the spaces where you are not actually at home. You haven't arrived yet.... This is where our mind is the most open. We are alert, we are sensitive, and destiny can happen. We do not have any barriers and we are vulnerable. Vulnerability is important. It means we are completely alive and this is an extremely important space. This is for me the space from which my work generates."

Marina Abramovic

Marina Abramovic Influences

Interactive chart with Marina Abramovic's main influencers, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.

CLICK TO EXPAND

LEAVE A COMMENT OR SUGGESTION BELOW




We will address your comment shortly.
Error occured while saving commment. Please, try later.
Vito Acconci
Vito Acconci
Vito Acconci is an American performance/installation artist who began performing in the late 1960s. More recently, he has shifted his focus to architecture and landscape design, particularly works that merge indoor and outdoor space.

Modern Art Information Vito Acconci
Bruce Nauman
Bruce Nauman
Bruce Nauman is a contemporary American artist concerned with language, process, manipulation, and the registers of irony. His work includes performance, video, installation, neon sculpture, and other materials.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Bruce Nauman
Chris Burden
Chris Burden
American performance artist Chris Burden is most known for his 1970s works that placed him in extreme danger, such as being shot in the arm by an assistant or being crucified on the back of a car.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Chris Burden
Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys was a German multi- and mixed-media artist best known for incorporating ideas of humanism, social philosophy and politics into his art. Beuys practiced everything from installation and performance art to traditional painting and "social sculpture." He was continually motivated by the belief of universal human creativity.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Joseph Beuys
Yves Klein
Yves Klein
Yves Klein was a French Neo-Dadaist artist who produced a series of monochrome works in 1957. He is credited with creating an entirely new color of blue, eventually called International Klein Blue. He employed this color in his paintings made by covering naked bodies with pigment and using them as "paintbrushes," an important antecedent to later performance art.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Yves Klein
VALIE EXPORT
VALIE EXPORT
Austrian performance artist VALIE EXPORT is known for her guerilla performance pieces, as well as her video and sculptural work, much of which focuses on the female body and feminist ideals.

Modern Art Information VALIE EXPORT
Susan Sontag
Susan Sontag
Susan Sontag was an American novelist, essayist, theorist, political activist and filmmaker known particularly for her influential essays on modern culture.

Modern Art Information Susan Sontag
Ulay
Ulay
German artist Ulay, born Frank Uwe Laysiepen, is a performance artist known for his works during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly his 12-year collaboration with Marina Abramovic.

Modern Art Information Ulay
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid-1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Conceptual Art
Performance Art
Performance Art
Performance is a genre in which art is presented "live," usually by the artist but sometimes with collaborators or performers. It has had a role in avant-garde art throughout the twentieth century, playing an important part in anarchic movements such as Futurism and Dada. It particularly flourished in the 1960s, when Performance artists became preoccupied with the body, but it continues to be an important aspect of art practice.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Performance Art
Ana Mendieta
Ana Mendieta
Ana Mendieta was a Cuban-American performance artist who created work in the late twentieth century focusing on violence against the female body, as well as pieces involving a close connection with nature and the landscape.

Modern Art Information Ana Mendieta
Matthew Barney
Matthew Barney
Matthew Barney creates artworks based in film, photography, performance and drawing, most notably his on-going Drawing Restraint series and the five films entitled Cremaster Cycle.

Modern Art Information Matthew Barney
Coco Fusco
Coco Fusco
Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco spans disciplines including performance, writing and electronic media. Her work deals with issues of women, race, war and Latin America.

Modern Art Information Coco Fusco
Karen Finley
Karen Finley
Karen Finley's performance pieces are often graphic representations of sexuality and violence. Her public works, installations and drawings have been seen worldwide since the 1980s.

Modern Art Information Karen Finley
Laurie Anderson
Laurie Anderson
Laurie Anderson is a musician and performance artist who, since the 1970s, has made experimental works using song, violin, keyboard and instruments of her own creation. She has international acclaim for her work and has collaborated with Lou Reed, Phillip Glass and Frank Zappa, amongst others.

Modern Art Information Laurie Anderson
Charles Atlas
Charles Atlas
American video and film artist Charles Atlas has helped pioneer the art form in which artists create performances existing only on film, collaborating with numerous dance and performance artists.

Modern Art Information Charles Atlas
Feminist Art
Feminist Art
Feminist art emerged in the 1960s and '70s to explore questions of sex, power, the body, and the ways in which gender categories structure how we see and understand the world. Developing at the same time as many new media strategies, feminist art frequently involves text, installation, and performance elements.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Feminist Art
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg, a key figure in early Pop art, admired the textural quality of Abstract Expressionism but scorned its emotional pathos. His famous "Combines" are part sculpture, part painting, and part installation.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Robert Rauschenberg
Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns is an American artist who rose to prominence in the late 1950s for his multi-media constructions, dubbed by critics as Neo-Dada. Johns' work, including his world-famous targets and American flags series, were important predecessors to Pop art.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Jasper Johns
Louise Nevelson
Louise Nevelson
Louise Nevelson was a Russian-born American artist who worked in the WPA and was a member of the Abstract Expressionist scene. She is best known for her black-painted constructions of assembled crates, boxes, headboards, and other wooden materials.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Louise Nevelson
Rhythm 10
Rhythm 10

Title: Rhythm 10 (1973)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Abramovic's first forays into performance focused primarily on sound installations, but she increasingly incorporated her body - often harming it in the process. In Rhythm 10, she used a series of 20 knives to quickly stab at the spaces between her outstretched fingers. Every time she pierced her skin, she selected another knife from those carefully laid out in front of her. Halfway through, she began playing a recording of the first half of the hour-long performance, using the rhythmic beat of the knives striking the floor, and her hand, to repeat the same movements, cutting herself at the same time. She has said that this work marked the first time she understood that drawing on the audience's energy drove her performance; this became an important concept informing much of her later work.


20 knives, tape recorder

Rhythm 5
Rhythm 5

Title: Rhythm 5 (1974)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Viewing both life and performance art as reaching beyond the realm of awareness, Abramovic has created performances in which she sleeps or becomes drugged into unconsciousness to examine this crucial aspect of life. In Rhythm 5, she created a star shape with wood shavings covered in gasoline and lit the wood on fire. After cutting her nails and hair and dropping them into the fire, she lay down within the burning star, a symbol both of the occult and of Communism in Yugoslavia. When audience members realized her clothes were on fire and she had lost consciousness due to the lack of oxygen amidst the flames, they pulled her out, ending the performance. After performing Rhythm 5, she said she "realized the subject of my work should be the limits of the body. I would use performance to push my mental and physical limits beyond consciousness."


Wood shavings, gasoline, fire

Rhythm 0
Rhythm 0

Title: Rhythm 0 (1974)

Artwork Description & Analysis: With a description reading "I am the object," and, "During this period I take full responsibility," Abramovic invited spectators to use any of 72 objects on her body in any way they desired, completely giving up control. Rhythm 0 was exemplary of Abramovic's belief that confronting physical pain and exhaustion was important in making a person completely present and aware of his or her self. This work also reflected her interest in performance art as a way to transform both the performer and the audience. She wanted spectators to become collaborators, rather than passive observers. Here, they physically directed the actions, while in other performances, Abramovic involved the audience through a dynamic exchange of energy. In Rhythm 0, the audience divided itself into those who sought to harm Abramovic (holding the loaded gun to her head) and those to tried to protect her (wiping away her tears). Ultimately, after she stood motionless for six hours, the protective audience members insisted the performance be stopped, seeing that others were becoming increasingly violent.


72 objects including a feather, pen, book, saw, honey, band-aid, salt, rose, gun, bullet, paint, whip, coat and scissors

Rest Energy
Rest Energy

Title: Rest Energy (1980)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Rest Energy was only four minutes and 10 seconds long, but it was a highly intense piece that revealed the fragility of the line between life and death. Abramovic and Ulay faced each other, aiming an arrow on a tense bow, just inches from her heart. They placed small microphones on their chests to make audible their increasingly rapid heartbeats in response to the growing danger. This work was one of their many performances that depended on a close relationship and trust. Many of their works also often involved elements of extreme duration, a characteristic that Abramovic continued after she and Ulay stopped working together.


Bow and arrow

Balkan Baroque
Balkan Baroque

Title: Balkan Baroque (1997)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Reminiscent of Cleaning the Mirror #1 (1995), in which she sat on a stool for three hours washing a skeleton, Abramovic created Balkan Baroque in response to the innumerable deaths that had taken place in the former Yugoslavia. Sitting on top of 1,500 cow bones in a white dress, she spent four days, six hours a day, washing each of these bloody bones, surrounded by projected images of her parents and herself. The accompanying sound included her recorded description of methods used in the Balkans for killing rats and her singing of her native folksongs. The performance progression was made visceral due to the unbearable heat of the basement room and fetid smell. For Abramovic, it was not enough to simply recount the number of people lost in modern-day war. Instead, she aimed to remember the lives, efforts and hopes of individuals killed by carefully touching and cleaning "their" physical bones and blood. Transforming her individual performative experiences into universal ideas was also an important concept for Abramovic throughout all her work. The comparison between the inability to scrub away all the blood and the inability to erase the shame of war is a concept she viewed as having universal reach.


Projections, cow bones, copper sinks and tub filled with black water, bucket, soap, metal brush, white dress

The House with the Ocean View
The House with the Ocean View

Title: The House with the Ocean View (2002)

Artwork Description & Analysis: In The House with the Ocean View, Abramovic spent twelve days in the Sean Kelly Gallery without eating, writing or speaking. Contained within three 'rooms' built six feet off the ground, Abramovic slept, drank water, urinated, showered and gazed at the viewers wearing a differently colored outfit each day. She could walk between the three rooms, but the ladders leading to the floor had rungs made of butcher knives. Set to the sound of a metronome, Abramovic ritualized the activities of daily life, focusing on the self and simplicity while eliminating all aspects of narrative and dialogue. She saw this piece as an act of purification - not just for herself, but also for any viewer who entered the space. This piece was a shift from the masochism of her earlier works to performances that focus more on ideas of presence and shared energy, although there is still the element of danger present in the butcher knife ladder. In addition, it was an extension of the challenging durational works that have long been a significant aspect of Abramovic's career.


Sink, bed, chair with mineral pillow, table, toilet, shower, pants and shirts in different colors, white towels, metal bucket, metronome, bar of natural soap, bottle of rose water, bottle of pure almond oil, ladder of wood and butcher knives

Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggests some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.