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Marina Abramovic

Marina Abramovic

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Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
Third Text
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713448411
Marina Abramovič
Tim Martin
aa
PhD on Robert Smithson for Goldsmiths' College, University of London,
To cite this Article
Martin, Tim(1995) 'Marina Abramovič', Third Text, 9: 33, 85 — 92
To link to this Article: DOI:
10.1080/09528829508576581
URL:
Full terms and conditions of use:http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdfThis article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial orsystematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contentswill be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug dosesshould be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss,actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directlyor indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
 
85
Marina
Abramovič
Tim Martin
1
See Igor Zabel,
'OHO',
M'Ars.
Magazine of theMuseum of ModernArt, Ljubljana, V/3,4,1993.2 See Bojana Pejic,
Being-in-the-body:
On
the
Spiritual
in Marina
Abramaoič's
Art,
Edition
Cantz,Stuttgart, 1993, p 33.
Exhibiting the work of Marina Abramovpresents certain implications for amuseum and for art criticism. Her long career has included substantial challenges
to
the institution of the museum, not least in the form of her regular attempts
to
blur the distinction between art and life, one which museums, galleries andcriticism can
serve
to reinforce. The work is also heavily laden with a broadlyspiritual content, drawing inevitable questions about the role of a museum inlegitimating her
views
be they political or religious. Certainly the history of
modern
art has been more comfortable with and tolerant of spiritual content
than
political content, even though this distinction too can be blurred. In Abramovič's
current
touring exhibition, a large array of documentation afforded a ratherimpassive frame for her performances, allowing the
viewer
an element of distancefrom her work and an opportunity to
reassess
it with hindsight. Indeed, muchof the content of the work is apparent only in the catalogue and interviews, rather
than
insistently present in the exhibition.By way of a brief introduction to the work of Marina Abramovič, it can be noted
that
she comes from a
Yugoslav
military family, her father a highly decoratedgeneral who served with Marshal
Tito,
and her mother holding the rank of major
and
head of a national art museum. Her background provided a certain amountof Serbian orthodoxy and
privilege
in a communist egalitarian society. Theprevailing political ideology was a Marxist nationalism which succeeded inbreaking the
axis
of ethnic and religious allegiances. It was in this environment
that
her work began its course of development.
Yugoslavia
was surrounded by a desolidified iron curtain, a permeable barrierwhich accepted the entry of modernist and abstract art even for the constructionof state monuments. As art was autonomous from religion and, in theory, from
the
state, the cultural milieu of the artist's youth,
then,
was
fully
engaged witha European modernism. Throughout the 1960s, groups such as OHO
:
experimented with installations somewhat in the manner of arte povera, as
well
as environmental works related to land art. OHO artists strove for an increasingdematerialisarion of the art object, which led not so much towards thephilosophising tendency of Anglo-American conceptual art as towards thereligious and esoteric content inherent in pre-communist Balkan traditions. Thenew artists of Abramovič's generation began to include moral and ritual elements
in
their work.
2
 D o w nl o ad ed  A t : 19 :30 17  F eb r u a r y 2011
 
86
3 See
RoseLee
Goldberg,
Performance
Art:
From Futurism
tothe
Present,
Thames
and
Hudson,
1995,p 163.4 See
Louwrien Wijers,
Ben
D'Armagnac,
Waanders
Uitgevers,
1995.5 In the one day
symposium
on
Abramovič
at MOMA
Oxford,
on
June
3,1995, the
critic
Jan
Avgikos
raised thisidea
of the gap in
relation
to the
artistRobertSmithson.
Both
artists
have shown
an
interest
in
crystals
and
east
Europeantheology;theirconsiderations
of
nature,
however,differconsiderably.
6
Elias Canetti,
Crowds
and
Power,
London,
1987, pp 85-86.
In
Yugoslavia,
the state demonstrated a respect for the autonomy of art, leavingit free from the manipulations which had befallen art in other eastern European
countries.
This separation of politics and art, however, was based on a mutual
understanding
that art was to remain harmless as a mode of socio-political critique.Abstract art was free, but neutralised as a radical practice, vulnerable to easy
misinterpretation.
Abramovič found this modernism to be fundamentally
decadent
in its hedonistic pursuit of sensuous pleasure and cognitive determinacy.
It
had no legitimate public role, no ability to crystallise or unify society. Her uniqueresponse to this predicament was based on the creation of performances rather
than
objects, exchanging painterly silence for bodily presence and ritualised action.She thus asserted a public role for art, drawing down the distinctions between
art
and life, investing her work with new meanings, and guaranting her right
to
make an avant-garde challenge to
Yugoslav
modernism.
In
the map of performance art, Abramovič, more
than
most of her
contemporaries,
made of the genre an aesthetic form of prayer.
3
Her ritualisedself-injury was intended to produce states of consciousness which tested the limitsof human knowledge and endurance. Her close friend, the
Dutch
artist, BenD'Armagnac, even died as the result of a physically stressful performance in NewYork in 1978;
4
Abramovič, similarly, nearly died on two occasions, such was theforce of the movement of art towards life. This
differs
somewhat from the moresocial, psychoanalytic and philosophical intentions of much contemporary British
and
American performance, from artists such as Gilbert and George, Stuart
Brisley
and
Joan Jonas. Abramovič, in this respect, comes at the end of a logic whichdematerialised art, thus committing herself to an extraordinary end-game.
Performance
art changed the ground rules of modernist discourse quite radically
at
the time. Bodies were real, whereas art was a symbolic code whichapproximated reality. Although essentially ignored in
Yugoslavia,
these two
domains
were not to be crossed in the mid-1970s without disorienting established
structures.
In part, the artist used her body as proof of the
beliefs
she claimedwere real. Based on video
documentation,
there is certainly no doubting that theproof was all too real, sanguine and sincere. However, her performances evoke
a
knowledge which is difficult to substantiate despite the corporeal evidence. The
audience
in this situation is left to experience a multitude of gaps:
5
between
audience
and artist, between audience and God, between a disinterested aesthetic
appreciation
and the distinct possibility that we might feel morally compelled
to
intervene in the performance. Both in conversation and in performance,Abramovič 'threatens' to involve us, forcing a collapse of libidinal, market andpower economies onto her body, while ironically remaining undemonstrativeregarding sex, money and politics.
I
was engrossed by the videos of early performances shown in the new MOMA
context
room.
Here,
in
Interruption
in
Space,
1977, we see her repeatedly
walking
into
a
wall,
no clothes for
protection,
with a full audience, the flesh really smackingagainst the cold white concrete of an art
gallery.
Blood trickles, but she is numb
to
language and body. In a photographic documentation of
The Lips of
Thomas,
1975, she carves the five-pointed red star of the
Yugoslav flag
around her navelwith a razor blade while standing in a Belgrade public square. If one suspects
that
she is about to cause a public commotion, there may be good reason. Herperformances can become 'crowd crystals', to use the phrase of Canetti.
6
Abramovič attracts a crowd by providing an opportunity to unburden spirituallyagonies rationalised otherwise. In her early work in
Yugoslavia,
she offered her
audience
a unified presence which radically rewrote the predominant conceptionsof what Zabel calls materialism and humanism, and what Pejic refers to as the
 D o w nl o ad ed  A t : 19 :30 17  F eb r u a r y 2011

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