This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
2 (Summer, 1999), pp. 7-21 Published by: College Art Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/777944 Accessed: 28/04/2010 04:40
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As this issue was in productionwe learnedthe tragicnews that Penny McCalland her husband,David, were killedin a car accidentwhile engagedin reliefwork in Albania. was a vigoroussupporterof McCall manyprojectsin the arts, including Abramovic.In the work of Marina saluteto her generosityand vision we dedicate this interviewto her memory.
Expiring Body,an exhibition of work by Marina Abramovic, was held at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, from December 4, 1998, Body,a lecture/performance, was presented through February 6, 1999. Performing on December 4, 1998, at the Philadelphia Convention Center in conjunction with the exhibition. The following interview took place December 3, 1998, before the conflict in Kosovo began.
Yoursis too dark.You need Abramovic:You absolutelyneed fresher lipstick. to liftyou up. something
Kaplan: I was going to begin by asking you how you prepare to perform. Instead, you took out fifty-five beauty products with which to make me up so that I would look better on the video record of this interview. Is this how you begin?
Deeper and Deeper: Interview with Marina Abramovic
Abramovic:A longtime ago I made a piece calledArtMustBe Beautiful, Artist MustBe Beautiful. that time, I thoughtthat art should be disturbing At rather than beautiful.Butat my age now, I have startedthinking that beautyis not so bad. Mylifeis fullof such contradicJanet A. Kaplan tions. Manycome from my childhood.I was born in Yugoslavia. father and mother are divorced.As an My adult,I recentlywanted to go backto help them because of the war.With the embargo,there is nothingin the stores. They don't have basics.So I calledmy fatherto ask himwhat he needs, and he dictatesa long list-antibiotics, toilet paper,coffee, sugar,powdered bandages,penicillin, allthese basicthingsfor survival. Then I callmy milk, mother and askwhat she needs. She says, "Ineed Chanellipstick, Absolute I Red, Number 345, and hairspray." am between these two. Ittook me a long time to come to terms with this because I'vealwaystried to put a face in front of the publicthat is very tough, very male, a going-forward-no-matter-what performanceattitude.Butafter I had so manyproblemswith Ulaycompleting our apotheosis on the GreatWall of China,where we splitup, I decided that now I need glamour.I need somethingto love. I need to see allthese other parts of me which I had absolutelynever allowed to exist. I had been ashamed of this part of me and let them go. Then I created TheBiography, which I in staged my lifeand playedboth sides, the tough one and the contradictoryone, and when I exposed my shame, this was the biggestliberationI had in my life. Kaplan: Pleasedescribethe exhibition and lecture at the FabricWorkshop
I. The Biography, December 4, 1998. Performance. Photo courtesyThe Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Photo Aaron Igler.
Abramovic:This exhibitionhas three parts. It startswith a lecturecalled Performing Body,for which I made a selection from twenty-fiveyears of my differentartists experience with the body in a performancesituation,including from differentbackgrounds-film, dance, performance,theater-to explore how they use their own bodies to perform.I structurethe lectureas a real humanbody,with works that focus on chest, hands,feet, stomach, and so on. It starts with the head. I have a collection of manydifferentpeople usingjust their
7 art journal
a -i-,?_ ~~
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2. Shoes for Departure, 1990.Citrine.9 x 21 x 13 (22.9 x 53.3 x 33); 9 x 20 x II (22.9 x 51 x 28). Photo courtesy The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Photo Aaron Igler.
heads to say something.And then I move to the other partsof the body. I don't actuallyshow muchof my own work, but I do show the work of others who have inspiredme. Inthe exhibitionI show some of my own work of the last ten why are there objects years. Manypeople think,She's doing performanceagain; I or photographs? use all kindsof materialsas I need them, but the subjectis alwaysthe same. It'salwaysabout the body and So about performing. the photographis about the moment of the performance.Then I have video and installations the objects. There are objects for humanuse, which the publiccan use, and objects not for humanuse, for spirituse. And there are objects I call power objects, which containa certainenergy. elements. has Mynew installation cross-cultural for I went to Indiaand Sri Lanka two months and met people with specialpsychicpowers who push the limitsof their body muchfartherthan we in Western culturecan do. So I made Expiring Body Image,which consists of three parts:head, torso, and feet. Forthe head, I use an example from Western culture,and I alwaysuse someone close to me. Here, it is my brother,who is a doctor of philosophy.He is talkingabout time, space, energy,alphastates of mind,and death. Touchinghis head is the torso of an Africanman in a vodun ritualwho reallyworked with the spirits.And then we have the feet. InSri LankaI filmeda ceremony in which people in a certainstate of mindcould walk on fire and not burnthemselves. which I call Inthe other part of the installation, I shot repetitivemoments in prayerceremonies. Diary, Tibetanwoman who prayed I show a sixty-year-old herself,repeatingthis moment over by prostrating and over throughthe day.This is ten or fifteen hours of work. If you asked anybodyeven in the best physical conditionto do such a thing,it would be impossible. Butif you cross a thresholdinto a certainstate of mind,you can push your body over this limit.Mywhole researchin this piece is to findthe limit. How can a Western body have this experience, and how can an Easternbody push muchfartherinto an area unknownfor us?I am interested in this because for me performanceis a means of researchto find mentaland physicalanswers. At one point in my life, I didn'tstop performing,but I started producing objects. Manytimes as I perform I see that the publicis in a voyeuristicsituation. They sit in the darklookingat somethinghappeningon stage, and they don't reallyparticipate.For me, the most importantthingis experience. Transformation only matters if you reallygo throughsomethingyourself.As a performer, I'mgoingthroughthis thing.Butit's not reallythe public's experience. So I decided to buildthese transitoryobjects. I don't callthem sculptures.They're objects that the publiccan perform,likeprops.When they triggertheir own experience, the object can be removed. It is not somethingthat should be per-
3. MarinaAbramovic: Works:1990-1998. Installation view. Photo courtesyThe Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Photo Will Brown.
manent.People ask me, Can we reallywalk on a ladderwith knives? course Of we can. It depends on our state of consciousness. If you put this ladderwith knivesin front of a shamanin Brazil, willwalk on it. It'sour problemthat he we can't. Ina way, it's to remindyou that you can pushyour limits.Then I have for crystalshoes (fig.2). I have instructions the publicto take off your shoes and, with nakedfeet, put on the two crystalshoes, close your eyes, don't move, and makeyour departure.I'mtalkingabout a mental,not physical,departure. So the publiccan enter certainstates of mindhelped by the materialitself. Material very importantfor me. I use crystals,humanhair,copper, iron.The is materialsalreadyhave a certainenergy. GodPunishing 3) is a largepiece that consists of five largecrystalsand (fig. whips made with copper and Koreanvirginhair.The story goes backto my childhood,when I read about KingSolomon. He had shipsanchoredat sea. A storm destroyed allthe shipsand the people died. He was so angryat the gods of the sea that he ordered his soldiersto stand on the shore andwhip the sea 385 times. As a child,this imageof men whippingthe sea was so absurdand fantastic.Who are we to punishthe gods?To translatethat story into an object, I arrangedsome crystals,which for me are frozen sea, and made whipsfrom Koreanvirginhair.The publicis invitedto take these whips and whip the crystals. It'simportantthat the whips are made from the hairbecause we are the gods, and we can only punishthe sea with our own body.
- ~-~ -
Kaplan: Why Koreanvirgin hair? Abramovic: Insome Koreanvillages,before a virgin woman marries,she cuts off her hairas a sacrifice. This kindof untouchedinnocence is importantfor me. So that is the kindof hairI used to fit the myth.And then I had other things,likea crystalbrushand a table and chairsfor spirituse. They are objects that can't be used by humansbecause they are too smallor too high.At P.S. I I exhibitedChair The forManand His Spirit. chairfor the spiritis fifteenmeters high,andthe chair for the humanis reallysmall.I liketo makeobjects for the invisible world so it becomes visiblein anotherway.The invisible world is a para-reality us. It is to very importantto be aware of that. in Kaplan: Is it your expectationthat people will reallyparticipate the work, that they will put on the shoes, take the hair whips, and beat the crystals? Abramovic: It'sa questionof culture.Ifyou do such a piece in Holland,people do it rightaway.Inother cultures,say Sweden, people are very reserved.There is the directivethat you're not supposed to touch art. You'renot supposed to get close. The whole idea of the temporalityof the object is very important me, so to they have to be used and, by use, destroyed.This is totallyagainstthe idea of the art object that has to lastforever.I'mvery interestedin temporality. Not just of but of our bodies, too. That'swhy I callthis new piece Expiring objects, Body. What kinds of things do you Kaplan: When you perform, how do you prepare? need to get yourself ready for performances that demand greatrigor? Abramovic: I don't do anything. hardto explain.I enter into the mentaland It's constructionin the moment the publicis there. Beforethat moment, I physical am extremely nervous. I have stomach pain,dizziness,and can'ttalkto anybody. Three days before a performance,this very uncomfortable state of mindsets in. I can't calm myself.Itjust takes possession of me. Butthe moment the publicis there, somethinghappens.I move from the lower self to a higherstate, and the fear and nervousnessstop. Once you enter into the performancestate, you can pushyour body to do thingsyou absolutelycould never normallydo. Kaplan: So in your privatelife, separatefrom preparingfor a performance,you don't engage in ritualpractice? because there are moments in my life Abramovic:Again,it's a huge contradiction, when I need to completelywithdrawand do ritualpractice.I go to a monastery and spend three months in total retreat.I do not see anybody,and I do very radical things.Butwhen I finishthis monasterytrip,Igo to New Yorkand do allthe
bad things for my body-eating half a kilo of chocolate, watching bad movies. But
Then I can go on to other things.Ifindeven if Iwish to both of these are reality. to in my work and my life,it's difficult do. I used to be ashamed equalizespirituality
of that. Now I like to analyze this openly to show others that we all have this problem. The thing is to learn from your own art because it is much farther along than you are. Kaplan: Your work has such rigor that it sets a very high moral standard. But you're inviting the possibility that it's the performative experience itself that allows you to do that.
Abramovic: Yes. The performancecan also affectyour own life backwards. So I'mlearning from my own work.
Kaplan: But how much do you expect your audience to be able to follow you when, for example, you're sitting in a gallery on a bicycle seat for three hours?
Abramovic: I don't expect anything from the public.I only know what I expect from myself,and for me it's importantthat when I'mdoing a performancethat I am there with my body and mind 100 percent.You know you can performwith your body in the space, but your mindis in Honolulu.To be in the here and now is very important.Ittakes enormous energy and concentration.When that happens,the publicgets trapped into this here and now, and they are there with you. I know if I slip even one second, somebody may leave, but if I keep this energy,nobody does. It'sa very specialstate, and it reallyworks. If I'm 100 percent there, I know I can affectthe publicvery strongly.
4. Spirit House: Dozing Consciousness, 1997.
Single-channel video projection, 30 mins. Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, NewYork. Performance: Lying on the ground, my face is buried in quartz crystals. Performed for video.
Kaplan: What is your expectation of audience engagement in work that is only documentation of things that happened when nobody was present?
Abramovic: Documentationcan be extremely boring,likethe long process performancesin the 1970sthat were seventeen hours or three days long.You can't do this with documentationin the '90s, not when we are facinga culturein which the concentrationrequiredfor television advertisementsis thirtyseconds maximum. We can't look at things anymore.So one way is to have the attitudeabout documentationthat it doesn't representthe truth. I have to be honest with myself.One way to deal with documentationis to edit it in a way in whichyou see the beginning,the climax,and the end of the piece in a shortened view. The other way is to create the performance only for the video, so that the camera is the viewer.Then when you show it, the energy of the performancecan be translatedto the public.That is like why I'vedone installations Spirit House (fig.4) and Balkan Baroque (fig.5), where I startwith a large in installation which I perform.Then I remove myself and the energy of the performance,and the video can create a kindof space in whichthe public can understand what happened.Fromthe earlydays when Iwas workingin and didn'thave video, only photography,I found that the most Yugoslavia interestingway to present my work was not to look at sequences of how the performancedeveloped, but ratherto decide which photographhad the energy by itself as a photographand then show just that one. The photographthen has power itself.
II art journal
Kaplan: But certainly the power is diminished. For people to get the full energy, they need to be with you. Abramovic: Definitely. Kaplan: You've gone to a lot of places-Aboriginal sites in Australia, other parts of the world-that are very remote from the context of the gallery and museum structure in the ways in which we see art. Do you see part of your goal as translating that ritual idea from one context to the other? They seem about as opposite as they can be in the realm of experience. In one, the people all participate, and in the other there is
...... .. .... . ...
5. Balkan Baroque, 1997 (published 1998). Cibachrome photograph mounted on aluminum, ed. 18.49 x 85 (124.5 x 216). Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, NewYork. Performance: In the middle of the space, I wash 1,500 fresh beef bones, continuously singing folksongs from my childhood. Duration: 4 days, 6 hours; June 1997;XLVII Biennale,Venice.
the performerand then the viewers who, even if engaged, are certainlynot engaged at the level of people involved with the same ritual. Abramovic: In 1979,when Iwas workingwith Ulay,we felt we had exhausted allthe possibilities the performancestructurebecause of the tough, physical of elements we used. Thatwas also the time when manyof the first performing It's performanceartistshad become tired of performing. an extremelyvulnerable situation.They went backto the seclusionof their studios and started producing things.Also, there was a huge demandfrom the marketto have somethingto sell, because in performance,there was nothing.You only sell the memory.Ifound this a kindof regression.I had been a painterbefore, and I thoughtthat performancehad stillnot been fullyexplored.The physicalpart was explored, but there was a huge mentalarea that had not been touched. But we didn'tknow how to proceed with the work. The only thingwe knew was that the best answerwe could look for was in nature.So we went backto the The desert was a great placefor us, because there desert and startedtraveling. of an was a minimum information, extremelyviolentenvironment,heat, and so on. Youwere confrontedwith yourselfand your own life.Then we decided to go to the Aboriginesto findanswers in nature.We chose the Aborigines because the culturewas absolutelynomadic,as we were. At that time, we lived in the car andjusttraveledaround.We didn'thave any home. Also, Aborigines don't just makeceremonies three times a year.Ceremony is their life.They have this amazingnarrative culture,the dreamtimestories. When they make a ceremony,they spend a longtime making most beautiful the objects. The moment the ceremony is finished,the objects are left there, destroyed.And then they start allover again.So there was no materialculture.Itwas very close Another to how we thoughtabout our lifeand performanceas a way of living. interesting thingabout Aboriginesis that they never hadyes or no in their language.They don't exist because they don't doubt. They are completelyconnected with nature,and there is no doubt in their minds.Suicidedoesn't exist in
12 SUMMER 1999
how much world because it's not needed. Itwas very interesting the Aboriginal we learned,how muchwe were inspiredby this culture.We didn'tproduce any work there; in nature,you can't makeart. Nature is so perfect as it is that art becomes an obstacle. Art can only be done in destructivesocieties that have to be rebuilt.I see the artistas a bridgebetween natureand the city.We went to natureto get, and we went to our society to give. Goingto naturewas a way when we came back,everybodywas painting, to recharge.Interestingly, making and so on. Our answerwas performance.We found new energy sculptures, for performance,but now less physicaland muchmore mental.We came from the Aborigineswith this idea for the NightseaCrossing piece, in whichwe just sat for long periods of time opposite each other at a table in the museum.Nobody would see us start or end the performance.When the publicarrivedin the museum,we were alreadythere. When they left, we were stillthere. So they no would see this imagewith no beginning, end. The differencebetween us and the object in the museumis that the objects have anotherkindof energy,a static energy,but we have a live energy.And that was reallythe answerto the '80s. Workingwith the body, but with the mentalarea, opened in a differentway.
Kaplan: You said somewhere that you felt that the artists performing in the 90os don't have the same kind of rigor. There is a toughness missing that you felt the '7os had. But tough is certainly a word I would associate with your work. Do you feel that has changed for you during this decade?
Abramovic: No. I'mstilllookingfor these things.When I'mafraidor don't know something,or when I enter into a completely unknownarea, I always thinkthat's the moment that I want to go through,and it's even more painful because the painis such a good door to cross into another state of consciousness. So for me I stillthinkthese elements are very importantto perform. There'sa huge returnto body consciousness in the '90s. Lots of young artistsworkingwith differentmediaare usingelements from the '70s, but now They willtake one moment of the performance, they're doing it electronically. reedit it, and make a loop that bringsthis feelingof endless experience to the the viewer, but actually artisthimselfdidn'tgo throughthat experience. That'sa difference.You'regettingthis illusionof somethingthat didn'treallyhappen. big Now, fashionand the mediatake more elements from performance.If you look at MTV, fullof imagesfrom '70s performance.It'samazing.It'srecycledand it's in a differentcontext. One month after I made Balkan Facemagaput Baroque, zine had four pages of girlsin CalvinKleinT-shirtsand the longwhite dresses stainedwith blood, carrying bones. And it's not only me. There is a young artist in Londonwho slept in the gallery, the mediacoverage was enormous. and was talkingabout how vulnerableand incredibleit was. Itwas a Everybody
tremendous piece. In the '70s, at least ten artists slept in the gallery. One of the best performances was Chris Burden's. But there was no reference to that performance in the articles. I'm very interested in what a new body in the twenty-first century will look like. What is interesting now is all these new things, the club culture, piercing, cutting, looking like an accident victim. Piercing and cutting in the '70s were done for a different reason. In the '90s it's part of fashion. So the structure and the meaning are different.
I 3 art journal
Kaplan: What is the motive in your plan to recreate performances from the 70s, given that it is now a displaced activity of someone else that you're going to reexperience for yourself? Abramovic: One day many years ago, I was invited by five girl artists in
Amsterdamto attend a performancethey calledMarina in Positions, whichthey remade my performanceArtMustBe Beautiful, Artist MustBe Beautiful. is This the piece I had done fifteenyears before, in which I combed my hairwith a brushand reallyhurt myself,showinga very disturbing imagethat is the opposite of beauty.The five girlssat in a row and simultaneously repeated my actions. Inthe beginning, was angry.Why are they doing my piece?Butduring I the performance,I became completelyexcited and thought,this is fantastic.A hundredyears after Mozart'sdeath, you can have your own interpretation of Mozart,but you stillsay it's by Mozart.Inthat way, I thinka performanceshould be open likemusic.There'sthe structureof the performancethat you can see, and then you can makeyour own interpretation have your own experience. and You absolutelyhave to respect the originality the piece and ask the living of artistfor the permission.You can do whateveryou want afterthat. There are some performancepieces that I only saw in photo or video reproduction, or sometimes Ijust heardpeople talkabout them. I may never have experienced them, but my idea of the piece had tremendouseffects on my life.Why can't I material,and then Iwilldo my experience these pieces?I willshow the original and interpretation, then we can see. Ithinkat the end of the centuryit's very importantto do this.
Kaplan: Do you see it in the context of a symposium, or are you thinking of actually restaging performances?
Abramovic: I alwaysgo straightto the experience, so I'mthinking about staging Iwas alwaysvery impressedby ChrisBurden's crucifixion performances. piece, What I heardin Yugoslavia, Trans-fixed. althoughI didn'teven have a pictureof that somebody drove the it, was that Burdencrucifiedhimselfon a Volkswagen, LosAngeles, and that he was arrested.Thatwas my image. Volkswagen through When Italkedto Burdenand to the only three witnesses, I learnedthat only four people saw this piece. The story was that he was in a garagewith a doctor, who pulledthe nailsthroughand crucifiedhimon the Volkswagen. Then the door was opened. The three friendspushedthe car out of the garage, garage took the photograph,then put the car backinto the garage.There'ssuch a huge difference.Iwould ask for his permissionto do the piece, but then Iwould do it completelydifferently. The idea of female sacrificeis quite interesting me. Iwould liketo be to
crucified, but not on a Volkswagen, because I don't like the car. I would choose another car. And then I would like to drive through the city, because this was my first image of the piece. And the only person who can drive this car, from my point of view, would be Madonna. I know it's completely insane. Another interesting piece that I'd like to work on is Vito Acconci's Seed Bed, in which the artist is under the elevated floor of the gallery masturbating. What is interesting about masturbation is that you are producing something. There is a product. But what does a woman produce in masturbating?Also Dennis Oppenheim's
Tarantula GinaPane'sCandlebed. also would liketo do one of my own and I a 0, pieces, Rhythm in which I have manyobjects on a table, including pistol, and I invitethe publicto use any of them on me. Anyone can do anything me. It's to an extremely riskypiece, but that could be interesting me to repeat now in for the '90s. And then afterthese performances,I would open it allto discussion.
Kaplan: And would you want those artists to be included in the conversation with the audience?
Abramovic:Yes. I would makefive pieces, one afteranother.After each would remain.Forexample,afterthe Burden, piece, the leftover installation there would be the car;afterthe Acconci, the floor; afterthe Oppenheim, the tarantula the tube used in the performance; in objects on the table in my case; the candlebedin the case of Pane.The leftover pieces are likethe afterthat from performanceexhibitionand then the symposium.It'svery interesting the artistsI'vebeen impressedwith, except Pane,I have chosen allAmericans. Kaplan: And all men. Abramovic:That'strue. Thatwas the kindof performancethat intrigued me. I'vealwaysbeen asked about the man and woman thing,but I don't care if it's a man or a woman. The most importantthingis if the piece is good. Who is doing it is secondary.When I'mdoing performances,I don't emphasizegender.
Kaplan: What is your relationship to the feminist performance work of the
and '8os-body art that was very specificallyfeminist-driven?
Abramovic: I don't have much relationto it because when feminismbecame an It issue, I was in Yugoslavia. never touched me because I come from a familyin which my mother was a majorin the armyand the directorof the Museumof Art and Revolution.InYugoslavia women were partisans, absolutelyin power, in control, from the governmentlevel to any other level. I alwaysfelt that I had allthis energy.When I began my career in Italy, after I leftYugoslavia, there was not a singlewoman artiston the scene, but I had everythingI needed. I never felt that I didn'thave thingsbecause I was a woman. Kaplan: A lot of women focused on their bodies not because of issues of inequalitybut because of the specificsof being a woman in a female body. Is that of interestto you? Abramovic: No. But, it's very interesting, feelingof beingfeminine.I only this started after I became fifty.Not before. Inmost of my performances,I use the body naked,but for a totallydifferentreason, because it's the most natural,
simple, architectural. All my early performances deal with the body and architecture, especially the pieces that Ulay and I made, because we were always in relation to space and time. But not because it was male or female. I'm more female in my private life. I don't think so much in my work, but in my private life very much. I'm in love with glamour, fashion, and so on, but in the '70s, it didn't exist for me. Kaplan: In an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist you talked about there being a cultural emergency that you felt you were working toward in terms
I 5 art journal
of consciousness. You also spoke about the destruction of the planet. Are you addressing that cultural emergency in your work?
Abramovic: Iwas talkingmore about the role of the artist.If art comes just from art, it loses its power and becomes decorative.I never create art to be decorative. I don't likethis idea of aesthetic beauty-a beautiful frame,nice colors that go well with the carpet.To me art has to be disturbing. has to ask It questionsand have some kindof predictionof the futurewithinit. It has to have differentlayersof meaning.Eachgenerationhas to take what is needed at that time. Butit should not be somethingthat just reflectsdailylife, likea newspaper.You readthe newspapertoday;tomorrow it's old. Art has to have a spiritual value and somethingthat opens certainstates of consciousness, because we are losingourselves so much.The mainthingfor me is this total separation.We are facinga separationof body and mindin the futurethat has alreadybegun.Heaven'sGate, the computersect in Americathat committed suicidein order to jointhe spaceshiphidingbehindthe comet, was very interestingto me. Now we are enteringthe twenty-firstcenturyand, as PaulVirilio has said,we are sittingat home with the body in one space, but we are everywhere with the mind-by the Internet,by computers,zippingthroughthe world. The body is becomingsomethingvery heavy,an obstacle. This separation will become so disastrousthat body and mindeventuallymust come back together.And art has to have the answers.
Kaplan: So you're trying to set a moral standard?
Abramovic: I went to see two majorshows in New York,MarkRothkoand JacksonPollock.I reallylove Pollock.His energy seems to me, lookingnow, nervous and confused, even though he was very close to performance, with his bodilyinvolvementin paintings. I had never seen manyof Rothko's But all paintings in one place, and Iwas surprisedat my reaction.Ifound himto be a he complete artist.Fromthe beginning explored differentstates of consciousness. Itwas so luminous.Itwas such a spiritual experience to see the progresin sion of this work untilits culmination blacknesses.Itwas a kindof fulfillment. You see how the end of lifecomes and allthat he went through.As an artist, you have to know how to live, how to die, and when to stop working.
Kaplan: What other artists do you look at?
Abramovic:Yves Kleinis very important.Inreferenceto his statementthat are paintings justthe ashes of his art, that the process is what is the most I important,I liketo tell this story of how I started painting. had my firstexhibition when I was twelve. When Iwas fourteen, my fatherasked me what I wanted for my birthday. I asked for oil paints. So he went to a friend of his who had been a soldier in the army and then went to Paris to become an informelartist. He was on vacation and came with my father to buy the colors because he knew what we needed. We got all these boxes of different materials. He made a studio in my room and gave me my first painting lesson. He took the canvas, cut it irregularly,and put it on the floor. He opened one can and threw some liquid glue on it. Then he opened another with some sand and little pieces of rock and then took some bitumen, yellow, red, and a little bit of white, and then
he threw turpentineand gasolineonto the canvas,put a lit matchin the middle, and everythingexploded. Then he looked at me and said, "Thisis a sunset,"and left. If you'refourteen and this is your firstpainting lesson, it's very impressive. I Ittook weeks for the whole thingto dry.Verycarefully put it on the wall, and I went with my parentson vacation.I came back,and since the sun had been falling directlyon this sunset, everythinghad melted, and it was just a pile of dirt on the floor.There was nothingleft on the canvas.Muchlater I understood are statement that paintings just why it had had such an impacton me. Klein's the ashes of art made sense to me. What is reallyimportantfor me in the performance is the process. When the performanceis finished,the memory is somethingelse, but the process is what is essential.
Kaplan: What do you find are the differences between solo and collaborative work?
when I worked alone, I reacheda wall. I was so radical and Abramovic: Earlier, that I was almostfacinga kindof edge. Death was the next step, because tough I could not see how it could progressfarther.Itwas almost a miraclefor me to meet Ulay.We met on our birthday. was born on the same day as I, and He that same day I met himand fell in love. So there was this huge erotic, emotional and relationship, from there came the work. To me it was muchhigherto work with somebody else thanto work by myself because the mainproblemin this was relationship what to do with the two artists'egos. I hadto findout how to state of put my ego down, as did he, to create somethinglikea hermaphroditic that we calledthe death self. The work came out of this. It melded this being male and female energy into somethingelse. The most difficult thingwas when we faced emotional problemsthat did not have to do with the work. We could not continuewith the work; it was finished.The most difficult challengewas how to returnto my own work because I had thoughtit is so muchhigherto have two people making one work together. Ittook me a long time. The only way Igot over my problemwas by stagingmy life in a theater playcalled The in Biography, which I playmyself and create a distancein which I can let go.
what do I see? Kaplan: If I am sitting in a performance of TheBiography,
Abramovic:You see my whole life.The performanceis condensed, as though to they are video clips,from beginning end. I playthese in the context of opera, because opera is the most artificial place. Inthe '70s we hated theater because of its artificiality. Performance was different.Inopera you know everythingis plastic,fake, and played.Butin my performancesyou see real blood, plus elements of antireality. redidall my performancesin a concentratedway, so that I I had to makea climaxin less than three or four minutes.Ifound theatrical
means to redo the ones I originally did with Ulay. Sometimes just by showing the slides, sometimes just showing an empty chair. itself documented somewhere? Kaplan: Is TheBiography Abramovic: It exists as video documentation of the theater pieces, and it's a work in progress. I started it about eight years ago. I play it every year, twice maximum. I'm always adding the new events of my life, so even when I am in a wheelchair, I will still be able to do it.
I 7 art journal
Kaplan: You mentioned that you like to teach. Is that something you continue to do in your practice as an artist?
Abramovic: Manypeople teach as a way to survive.Inmy case, I have a need to teach. At the point in your lifewhen you've gainedso muchexperience, it's importantto be generous to the younggeneration.You have to open yourself up. I have taughtfor a longtime in academiesaroundthe world. Now I am in the teachingpermanently Braunschweig, Germany.Myclass is calledCleaning House. (Pleasesee the descriptionthat follows this interview.)The house refers to the body. Beforeyou start learning from me, you have to cleanyour house. To be an artistis a necessity,likebreathing. You have to feel the need to create, and that stilldoesn't makea good artist.Itjust makesyou an artist.
Kaplan: Are students able to hang in there for the entire process of cleaning the house?
Abramovic:Oh, yes. They have to. I teach them what it is to be an artist,and that it's very importantthat you reallyknow that you have to take responsibility. I absolutelydisagreewith artistswho say that they are only doingwork for themselves. I'msittingin the studio and I don't care. This is total bullshit. The moment you create the work, it's not yours anymore.It'snot your property. The artistis a servantto society.You have to have a clear-cutfunction,and you have to have responsibilities.
Kaplan: Getting your work out in the public space. Is that what you mean by responsibility? Abramovic: You need to spend as much energy in that regard as you spent in
the making piece, in puttingthe piece in the rightplace, in the rightconditions, to be sure that the meaningis clear.A longtime ago, when Christian Boltanski was a young artist,he was showinga smallpiece in a gallery.I didn'tknow him at that time, but I was passingthroughParis,and I went to look. He was doinga televisioninterview,and the interviewerswere very suspiciousof his work. He was showinga table with a napkin,littleshoes from when he was a six-week-old baby,a doodle, and childhoodphotographs.The interviewerasked, "Whatdo was you want to do with this work?"Boltanski extremelyserious. He looked at the cameraand said, "Iwant to changethe world, of course."
Kaplan: What do you like to read? What sort of things feed you? Abramovic: I read a huge mixture of different things. For me it is very impor-
tant to read source books. I love all kindsof dictionaries, see the meanings to
and the roots of words. Then I like illuminated texts very much, because they were written in a special state of mind. I like those great diaries of Saint Teresa. She complains about her levitation. She says, "Iwas cooking, and then this strange force took me off the ground, and I was above levitating. But I wanted to finish my dinner." She is complaining that levitation was too much sometimes. I also read a lot of anthropological texts. And then, in an airplane, I read Vanity Fair,for contrast. Kaplan: Do you see yourself continuing to travel to faraway places? You have
said that you feel you have to go to the East and bring it back to the West.
Abramovic: It'strue. Geographical belongingis very important.I come from The Balkans literally bridgebetween Eastand West. It'sright is a the Balkans. there, a bridgebetween two differentworlds, a most contradictoryplace.You have the Easternnotion of time, but you also have the Western notion, and it's and To alwaysin contradiction. me, the Eastis a source of spirituality also of forgotten knowledgewe no longerhave. That,together with nature,is very for inspiring me. That is where I can reach art. Then I came to the West, where I can make my own mixtureof things. Kaplan: Your work is for the West. Your audienceis in the West. Abramovic:Absolutely.The Eastdoesn't need allthis.
Kaplan: You said somewhere that you feel that every artist basically has one
good idea that he or she just keeps working with. What's your good idea? Abramovic: I have this old professorwho told me two truths,both of which are very importantfor me. One truthhe told this way. If you alwaysdrawwith the righthand,and you get better and better,so virtuosothat you can close you must immediately changeto the left. your eyes and make perfect drawings, It'svery important,because habitis the worst thingfor the artist.When you are and producingone thingand become recognizable everybody knows you, you have to change.You have to surpriseyourself,because the worst is if you just respond to the needs of the market.Then developmentstops. The second thinghe said is that in every artist'slife,you maythinkyou have a new idea or manynew ideas every day. Infact, you may have one good idea, or, if you are a genius,two. Butbe very carefulwith this. All the rest is interpretation the of same idea, andfor me, the only idea I have alwayshad is the humanbody. That'sthe only thingI have alwaysbeen interestedin. It'sa largearea to be explored, and I alwaysfeel that I'mjust at the beginning. Kaplan: So you never worry about not knowing what to do? Abramovic: I'venever been bored in my life. I don't even know what that means.And I never have doubts about beingan artist.It'sthe only thingI've ever wanted to be. Kaplan: Well, unless there are other things you'd like to talk about, I thank you. Abramovic:Wait. A littlejoke. I alwayslikejokes. Sometimesthere is so little art that has real humor,and humoris very important,because with laughing, the even the worst, is easy to take. I recentlyhearda performancejoke that truth, I likevery much. Q: How manyperformanceartistsdoes it take to screw in a A: lightbulb? I don't know. I was there for only four hours.
I am very grateful to MarinaAbramovic for her enthusiastic participation in this interview and to those who facilitated it, includingMaryJane Jacob, Susan Maruska,and Steven Beyer of the FabricWorkshop and Museum in Philadelphia;Lilli-Mari Andresen, Cecile Panzieri,and Sean Kellyof Sean KellyGallery in New York;and Alexander Godschalk in Amsterdam.
I 9 art journal
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