Artists in 60 Seconds - Marina Abramovic (cont.)

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Her work touched on feminist issues. Often performing in the nude, her slender body appeared quite fragile and vulnerable, calling attention to the symbolic use of the nude in art to indicate beauty ("Art must be beautiful...") and/or eroticism (in Trade Exchange, 1975, she switched places with a prostitute in the Red Light district in Amsterdam).

Milena Tomic claims that this emphasis on the body is a manifestation of a Tito-era discipline "as a material product – an ideological reality." For this Tito-era teen, life offered an equal-opportunity workforce and traditional gender-specific duties inside the home.

For example, Abramovic is the first woman in her family who learned how to drive a car. Up until age 64, she depended on her male companions. This is not unusual for a Yugoslav woman from her generation.

It is significant that Abramovic left Yugoslavia to fully achieve her true potential. Her major breakthrough occurred with a partner. She met Ulay in 1976. They share the same birthdate, though not the same birth year: he was born in 1943.

Their work together emphasized raw physicality and human connection.
  • Relation in Space, 1976 - their bodies collide as they run toward each other from a short distance over and over again
  • Breathing In/Breathing Out, 1977 - they exchanged CO²
  • Relation in Time, 1977 - they intertwined ponytails and sat for several hours
  • Imponderabilia, 1977 - they faced each other, standing nude in a doorway, as visitors walked through
  • AAA AAA, 1978 - they yelled into each other's mouths
  • Point of Contact, 1980 - they pointed fingers at each other at the same height
  • Night-Sea Crossing, 1981-87 - they sat motionless for 7 hours at opposite ends of a table


  • The Lovers, 1988 - they walked the Great Wall of China for 90 days, beginning at opposite ends and meeting in the middle, where they embraced to end their relationship

The breakup of Abramovic and Ulay in 1988 and the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s – plus the Balkan Wars of the late 1990s - directly shaped the third period of Abramovic’s career. Her performances of dancing alone dealt with revising an artistic personality as a soloist. Her references to the Balkans dealt with her revised national identity as a Serb and Montenegrin, now two different countries. This transition inspired a constellation of works about her parents, her native country and war.

Balkan Baroque won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 1997. In this work she scrubbed off the flesh and blood from piled-up cow bones. She performed this piece all over the world for four years (1995 to 1999).

In the 1999 installation of Balkan Baroque, still images of her mother and father flank a video of the artist dressed in a white lab coat, wearing black glasses and lecturing on the killing of rats. It ends with the artist tossing off her coat and dancing wildly in a sexy black dress to a lively Balkan folk tune.

The Hero (2001), dedicated to her mother's and father's memories, features the Yugoslavian anthem Hej Sloveni sung by Croatian-Swiss artist Marica Gojevic.

The triptych video, Balkan Erotic Epic (2005), features women in babushka dress running around in the pouring rain on an open field on the left screen. They kneel down occasionally and lift their skirts to touch the ground with their naked bodies underneath. The right screen shows naked men humping the grass. On the middle screen, Abramovic stands alone, in close-up, her breasts exposed. She, too, is dressed in Eastern European peasant clothes, a scarf tied under her chin. Looking up toward the sky, she massages her full breasts continually during the film. All these activities, Abramovic claims, come from ancient Balkan fertility rites.

At the Guggenheim Museum in New York from November 9 through 15, 2005, Abramovic paid homage to the history of Performance Art in Seven Easy Pieces. Each piece lasted seven hours. She re-enacted the following and introduced one original work:
  • Body Pressure by Bruce Nauman, 1974
  • Seedbed by Vito Acconci, 1972
  • Action Pants: Genital Panic by Valie Export, 1969
  • The Conditioning by Gina Pane, 1973
  • How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare by Joseph Beuys, 1965
  • Lips of Thomas by Marina Abramovic, 1975
  • Entering from the Other Side by Marina Abramovic, 2005

In Lips of Thomas, Abramovic wore her father's army beret. In Valie Export's Action Pants: Genital Panic, Abramovic stands holding a Kalashnikov rifle across her chest, dressed in a leather jacket and black pants with the crotch cut out. Here, she seemed to consciously or unconsciously reference her parents' military backgrounds, her father's National Defense course at the University of Belgrade, and the war in the former Yugoslavia – as well as her early feminist commentary on the female body in art and life.

In addition, Abramovic has visited and studied extensively in the Far East, most notably Tibet and Laos. She practices a purification of the body to prepare for her performances and required the artists who re-enacted her performances in her New York retrospective to undergo a similar regime.

In 2010, her solo retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art was accompanied by simultaneous exhibitions at Sean Kelly Gallery (Personal Archaeology, May 8 through June 19, 2010) and in Times Square (Light/Dark, 1977; The Other: Rest Energy, 1980; Dissolution, 1997, organized by Creative Time, from March 11 through April 19).

Over these last few years, Abramovic has been developing a school for Performance Art called the Marina Abramovic Institute in Hudson, New York. She has declared herself the "Grandmother of Performance Art."

She resides in Manhattan and in Upstate New York, and is represented by Sean Kelly Gallery in New York.

(Please note that the artist's performances and other activities will be added to this biography as information becomes available.)

Sources:


Anya Liftig

Milena Tomic MA thesis

Abramovic, Marina and Ulay, et. al. The Lovers.
Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1989.

Sean Kelly Gallery

Yablonsky, Linda. "Taking It To the Limits," ARTnews (December 2009).

Richard, Paul. "Marina Abramovic: Putting the Body in to her Body of Work," The Washington Post, November 23, 2001.

Ebony, David. "Marina Abramovic: An Interview," Art in America, May 2009.
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