Friday, July 3, 2015

Happy Friday: Performance Artist

I must admit, when I think of "performance artist" I immediately think of mime artists or clowns. The name Marina Abramovic does not automatically jump to mind probably because I haven't attended one of her performances just yet...

This weekend, I happen to be in Hobart for work and Marina Abramovic's Private Archaeology exhibition happens to be showing at Hobart's fabulous MONA. While I have missed her in-person performance (she appeared during MONA's annual Dark MoFo celebrations which I missed by just a week), her exhibition continues at MONA until 5 October. I have great expectations, and am pretty excited to be seeing her work, and also to be heading back to MONA (it is worth visiting Hobart just for that - although let me assure you there a bunch of other reasons to visit). For Sydney-siders, Marina is in residence in your lovely city until this Sunday.

If you are unsure of who Marina Abramovic is, you may remember her from her The Artist is Present performance at MoMA in New York City. Essentially it involved Abramovic sitting in a chair for 8 hours per day for 3 months, swathed in luscious long gowns of strong block colours, as visitors streamed in and occupied the chair opposite her and met her very level gaze. (If you're wondering, there was a hole in her chair, which enabled her to go to the bathroom undetected, and without sacrificing her art). Some people cried, others laughed, some got naked while Abramovic looked on impassively. The only time she cracked was when her ex-lover appeared unannounced in the chair before her.

You try to hold it together!

I get chills every time I watch that video - there is so much communicated in that shake of his head. Wow!

You may also know her from Sex & The City - where Carrie meets The Russian. (He was so dismissive of Charlotte - eugh!)

For a little extra information on Marina, I have stolen this from a Guardian profile on her:

Abramović came out of a tough background. Her parents had close ties to the post-war communist regime of what was then Yugoslavia and her mother raised Abramović in a home run more like a boot camp than a family. In 2011, she turned what amounted to an abusive upbringing into a stage production called the Life and Death of Marina Abramović, co-starring Willem Dafoe and Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, and in which she played both herself and her mother. "Every rehearsal I cried from the beginning to the end," she says. "Then one day Bobby [the director] said, enough of this bullshit crying. The public has to cry, not you. After three years of touring in Europe, I was free. All these stories don't affect me any more. An incredible feeling."
This was after years of critiquing the repressive nature of both her family and her country through performance art. In her piece The Lips of Thomas (1975), she carved a five-pointed communist star into her own abdomen, a monstrously sly up yours to the regime and appropriation of brutality for her own purposes. In other gallery settings, she and Ulay slammed into each other, shrieked in each other's faces, or sat staring at each other for interminable lengths of time to test, and conquer, the boundaries of what is endurable. It was thrilling, shocking, above all, moral and sailing always in the face of accusations of meaninglessness. The great danger with this sort of art, of course, is that pain is mistaken for meaning.
"In the beginning there were just masochists doing this shit and it was ridiculous. They needed to go to a psychiatric clinic," she nods. "It's more complicated to explain. In every culture, [there are those] shamans or medicine men who endured incredible physical pain, because it's a door opening to the subconsciousness. And the way we can actually control the pain – it's how to control everything. This is the key."
She also spent time in Australia with Indigenous Australians, and learnt how to "sit" from them. As she was quoted as saying in a recent interview here in Australia:

That actual root for the entire idea of performance was based here in Australia. Australian Aborigines always live in the present time. Aborigines perform in the present time, they live through the ceremonies, the performance in a certain way is a ceremony.

Ok - she's out there. And that's what I like about her and her art. She is challenging, different and thought- and conversation-provoking. She provokes conversations we should be having, and encourages us to move beyond our comfort zone. It's a shame that she has only become truly celebrated in the last 5-10 years (she is pushing 70) but as they say - better late than never. Possibly all her struggles and obscurity are what have contributed to the power of her subject matter today. Whatever it is, I can't wait to count rice at MONA this Sunday.

No comments: