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Artists Marina Abramović
Marina Abramović Photo

Marina Abramović

Serbian-American Artist

Movements and Styles: Performance Art, Feminist Art

Born: November 30, 1946 - Belgrade, Yugoslavia

Marina Abramović Timeline

Quotes

"To me the pain and the blood are merely means of artistic expression."
Marina Abramović
"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."
Marina Abramović
"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."
Marina Abramović
"When I am performing a piece, anything that happens in that moment is part of the piece."
Marina Abramović
"Once, Picasso was asked what his paintings meant. He said, 'Do you ever know what the birds are singing? You dont. But you listen to them anyway.' So, sometimes with art, it is important just to look."
Marina Abramović
"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 Abramović

"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..."

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 Abramović'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, Abramović'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.

Key Ideas

Marina Abramović'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.

Most Important Art

Marina Abramović Famous Art

Rhythm 0 (1974)

With a description reading "I am the object," and, "During this period I take full responsibility," Abramović 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 Abramović'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, Abramović involved the audience through a dynamic exchange of energy. In Rhythm 0, the audience divided itself into those who sought to harm Abramović (holding the loaded gun to her head) and those who 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.
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Marina Abramović Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood

Marina Abramović 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 Abramović and her younger brother, Velimir. Her mother was difficult and sometimes violent, yet she supported her daughter's interest in art. While growing up, Abramović saw numerous Biennales in Venice, exposing her to artists outside of Communist Yugoslavia such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Louise Nevelson.

Early Training

Marina Abramović Biography

Abramović 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, Abramović 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 Abramović Photo

Abramović 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, Abramović 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, Abramović and Ulay were artistic collaborators and lovers. They traveled across Europe in a van, lived with Australian Aboriginal people, spent time in India's Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and traveled 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 Abramović 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.

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Marina Abramović Biography Continues

Late Period

After this separation from Ulay, Abramović 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, Abramović 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 Abramović, 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 Abramović 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.


Legacy

Marina Abramović Portrait

Abramović, 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 Abramović 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, Abramović has said, "Performance is fleeting. But this, this place, this is for time. This is what I will leave behind."

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Marina Abramović
Interactive chart with Marina Abramović's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Vito AcconciVito Acconci
Bruce NaumanBruce Nauman
Chris BurdenChris Burden
Joseph BeuysJoseph Beuys
Yves KleinYves Klein

Friends

VALIE EXPORTVALIE EXPORT
Susan SontagSusan Sontag
UlayUlay

Movements

Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
Performance ArtPerformance Art
Marina Abramović
Marina Abramović
Years Worked: 1970 - Present

Artists

Ana MendietaAna Mendieta
Matthew BarneyMatthew Barney
Coco FuscoCoco Fusco
Karen FinleyKaren Finley

Friends

UlayUlay
Laurie AndersonLaurie Anderson
Charles AtlasCharles Atlas

Movements

Performance ArtPerformance Art
Feminist ArtFeminist Art

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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Useful Resources on Marina Abramović

Special Features

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

More

artist features

Become your Inner Superhuman via Art Exercises (and the Help of Marina Abramovic)

The artist's most recent endeavors on The Art Story Blog.

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

biography

When Marina Abramović Dies: A Biography Recomended resource

By James Westcott

Marina Abramović: Biography

By Marina Abramović, Charles Atlas

Art, Love, Friendship: Marina Abramović and Ulay, Together & Apart

By Thomas McEvilley

More Interesting Books about Marina Abramović
MAI - The Marina Abramović Institute Recomended resource

Organization and Incubator. Also includes great information on Abramović

Provocateur: Marina Abramović Recomended resource

By Karen Rosenberg
New York Magazine
December 4th, 2005

Walking Through Walls Recomended resource

By Judith Thurman
The New Yorker
March 8th, 2010

Do It Again

By Jorg Heiser
Frieze Magazine
October 2005

Marina Abramović

By Laurie Anderson
BOMB
Summer 2003

Marina Abramović and Ulay Recomended resource

MoMA 2010 Retrospective

Tate Shots NYC: Marina Abramović

February 4th, 2009

Marina Abramović - Nude with Skeleton

June 18th, 2007

Seven Easy Pieces or How to Perform

October 13th, 2006

More Interesting Videos with Marina Abramović

in pop culture

The Artist is Present - 2010

Documentary film

Balkan Baroque - 1999

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