The iconic Marina Abramovic was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1946 to parents who were high-ranking employees of the Communist government. Abramovic always had an interest in art, and began early on with painting. One day, she had an epiphany while painting clouds and jet planes left trails in the sky. Abramovic realized that she didn't want to draw outside the sky but inside the sky from the plane - thus setting the stage for her artwork moving from material to ephemeral, inanimate to experiential. Today she is one of the most well-known performance artists, exploring human connection and interaction as well as achieving higher states of consciousness through physical and mental discipline.
Marina Abramovic's earlier work was inspired by her experience of living under an oppressive, violent Communist society. Abramovic often put her own body in danger and pushed herself to the physical and mental limit, either torturing herself or inviting viewers to do whatever they wished with her. Later in life, she met German artist, Ulay, who was her artistic collaborator and partner for 12 years. Together they made some of the most iconic performance pieces in history, ending in Lovers, an epic breakup where they began on opposite sides of the Great Wall of China to meet in the middle and say goodbye. Calling herself, "the grandmother of performance art", she has helped bring performance art to the mainstream and inspired generations of artists in the medium. Marina Abramovic recently performed "The Artist is Present" in 2010, arguably one of her most famous pieces, at the New York MOMA. She has also performed multiple times at the Venice Biennale, the Whitney Biennial in New York and countless other institutions across the world.
Views on Eastern Philosophy
Marina Abramovic works with Buddhist ideas of impermanence, interconnectedness, compassion, enlightenment, non-attachment and disciplining the mind and body through endurance. She does not expicitely say that her artwork is Buddhist, but her time spent with Buddhist monks certainly primed her for some of these concepts. But before that, Abramovic experienced the empty desert with Ulay and learned from Australian Aborigines:
"They (Aborigines) are completely nomadic and have ceremonies constantly as a way of living, performing... and no posessions. It was something so close to our ideas of being performers. They have extremely well-developed telepathy, extra-sensory perception; they had mastered this mental factor in their bodies in ways we could not explain in our Western culture. So we went to live with them for a period of time and that completely changed our work. Then we wanted to know more and more. So we looked to Tibetans. The Aborigines already had an awakened state. The Tibetans had the knowledge of how to get there."
Abramovic and Ulay's time with the Tibetans and Aborigines inspired the piece, Nightsea Crossing, where she, Ulay, a Tibetan monk, and an Aborigine medicine man all sat together at a table for four hours over four days. They did absolutely nothing on the physical level, but just sat to experience one another's presence and meditate together. Abramovic explains that although no physical activity was occuring, the room was full of mental energy and just as engaging. Since then she has created many performances where her silent presence and mental energy is the primary material.
"So you know what happened to me? I started to attain high states of meditation - the kind of transition from the physical to mental body - which I could not explain and only later learned can be achieved with Buddhist tactics. Most people read the books and then they get interested in Buddhism. My entire relation to Buddhism came out of doing performances, through pure experience... In my point of view, life is not transforming me, it's performance that transforms me."
In performances such as House with an Ocean View and Artist is Present, Marina Abramovic aims to transmit energy by removing every distraction between her and the viewer. In these two works, the intense act of being watched while making eye contact creates a feeling of vulnerability, unconditional love and connection. In Artist is Present, the people of New York were invited to sit in an empty chair across Abramovic and simply sit. At first the curator at MOMA thought the idea of busy New Yorkers taking the time to sit in silence wouldn't work. But people would wait for hours just to sit with her for ten minutes - often resulting in an emotional reaction:
"If you put yourself in such a vulnerable position, you open up to other persons to come to their vulnerable position. And then because there was no verbal contact, the contact was on such an emotional level. I mean people would come there and cry. Nobody was looking at them the way I looked at them, unconditionally, giving the feeling of love that comes completely naturally from me... They felt a unity."
Works of Interest
House with an Ocean View
The Artist is Present
Marina Abramovic Institute
I feel inspired by Marina Abramovic for many reasons. One thing I truly respect is her ability and confidence to be herself. She gives herself like an offering to the audience, and can bravely face human limitations of hunger, physical pain and boredom. Abramovic points out the higher states she can achieve through performance, yet this is normal. There is another level of consciousness experienced by many artists during a performance. Why is that? To use your body and mind as art, you must use another aspect of yourself not experienced in every day life. The artist enters a trance-like state, concentrated on their action and interaction with the audience watching them. When coupled with endurance or a simple repetitive action, the artwork becomes ceremonial and a meditation in itself. Performance requires the artist to face their inner self and become vulnerable enough to express this in front of strangers - for many of my classmates in performance classes, it was cathartic and enlightening.
You might think Marina Abramovic is insane at first, but when you realize how genuine her motives behind her work are - to enlarge awareness, to love others unconditionally, to transmit emotional healing - you can't help but wish for five minutes to experience her gaze.
Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art, Mary Jane Jacobs
"Marina Abramovic Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works", The Art Story <http://www.theartstory.org/artist-abramovic-marina.htm#biography_header>
Biography, Marina Abramovic <http://www.marinaabramovic.com/bio.html>