Marina Abramovic: Three of the best

Published 19 June 2014

As Marina Abramovic Hon RA’s latest performance art piece opens, we spotlight key moments in her career.

  • From the Summer 2014 issue of RA Magazine, issued quarterly to Friends of the RA.

    Rhythm 0, 1974 For Rhythm 0 Marina Abramovic’s body became a temporarily inert ‘thing’ in what proved to be a bold social experiment, a personal trial and a provocation on the ethics of collective responsibility. The instructions were simple: ‘There are 72 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired.’ As Abramovic stood passively in a gallery in Naples for six hours, the audience acted playfully at first, offering her a rose or kissing her, then more cruelly, cutting off her clothes, writing on her skin and piercing her flesh. The performance was eventually halted when a loaded pistol was pointed at her head. The artist has spoken since of the ease with which she became dehumanised, and how a patch of her hair turned white during the course of the evening.

  • Marina Abramovic, Rhythm 0

    Marina Abramovic, Rhythm 0, 1974.

    Studio Morra, Naples. Photo: Donatelli Sbarra.

  • The Great Wall Walk, 1988
    In The Great Wall Walk Abramovic continued to test the physical limits of the body. The walk of over 2,000km along the Great Wall of China was performed with her lover and collaborator Ulay (he starting in the west, traversing the Gobi desert, and she in the east, passing through the Yangshan mountains) and was planned to culminate with their wedding at the middle.

    Original sections of the wall were built along the planet’s ley lines, and the couple sought connections between the energy of these lines, the terrain they walked and their mental states. But rather than being affirming and restorative, the three-month walk, which took eight years from conception to completion with delays in obtaining permits from China, became a deliberation on separation and independence, since by the time they came to start the walk, their relationship had ended.

    The Artist is Present, 2010
    More recently, Abramovic has examined how we represent ourselves, through themes such as acting, dancing, glamour and the status of the artist. The Artist is Present enfolded this interest with the capacity for endurance she explored in earlier works. Abramovic sat motionless during the entire time that New York’s Museum of Modern Art was open each day, for 64 days. Individuals were invited to sit opposite for as long as they wished. In all, 85,000 participants sat for 716 hours. Abramovic experienced out-of-body sensations as she passed through pain barriers, while intense emotions often surfaced in those who sat with her.

    Marina Abramovic: 512 Hours is at the Serpentine Gallery from 11 June–25 August 2014.

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