Marina Abramovic Critical Response

The consciousness relieved in performance art has been reinvented by Marina Abramovic. Her expression of art through bodily maneuvers and to present, "pressures, dangers and contingenciesÉto relationships in the world" has made the Serbian installation artist a pioneer in the practice among the likes of Yoko Ono, Valerie Export, and Lygia Clark (Birringer, 2003, 66). Her legacy of grand gesticulations in an effort to liberate art form from commercial interest has created influence among performance artists, feminist thinkers, and a global audience in four decades.

In order to taint the canvas, it is first most important to clean the body (Kaplan, 1999, 3). Exposure of the body to time and laborious effort has been lost to new media, as expressed in a formal interview conducted by Kaplan, in which Marina described art of the past two decades as the loss of concentration and in lack of time span (Kaplan, 1999, 4). The preservation of authentic artistic expression is critical to the development of Abramovic's work, as her collection Seven Easy Pieces. The seven hour testimonies have been exhibited on two occasions but the two releases are mutual exclusive of the other. Yellow Body monologue preformed in 2005 (the original creation from 1974) involves a series of instructions to be performed at will. The corresponding text demands physical pressure of the artist body against a wall, "considering the parts of the back against the wallÉconcentration on the tension and muscles", and a manipulation of repetition and temporality that is essential to reviving old way of thought, even within the same live routine (Santone, 2008, 149).

Risk is fundamental to the changes Abramovic achieves through the physiological feats in her work and the perception of installation aesthetics. Playing a part of the "institutional travesty" in her piece Role Exchange (1974), Marina confronted fears in her own childhood by meeting the demands of a prostitute in the red light district of Amsterdam. As she describes, "[the red light district] was quite shocking. Especially coming from a communist country" and a background of moral fortitude reinforced by her mother (Novakov, 2003, 31). Addressing the boundaries between the commerce and sexuality, analogous with the demands of modern art, was an internal struggle for Abramovic. Bringing her vigorous upbringing to the forefront and the notion of portraying a "call girl" put her fundamental beliefs on the line. The personal and social body, as constructed by her performance, is a risk between the known and the unknown (Novakov, 2003, 32). Physical risk factors are prevalent in violating classical interpretations of performance art, as Turim (2003) inscribes the painstaking details of self-afflicted violence in Thomas Lips (1975):

I slowly drink one liter of red wine out of a crystal glass. I break the class with my right hand. I cut a five-pointed star on my stomach with a razor blade. I violently whip myself until I no longer feel any pain. I lay down across made of ice blocks. The heat of a suspended heater pointed at my stomach makes the cut star bleed.

A conflict arises between differing messages; of eating sweet and otherwise pleasurable food along with the "masochistic aspects of the work" (Turim, 2003, 101). Dualism in her performance creates a distortion between purpose and intent, exposing the tormented relationship of the mental and physical.

Feminist thought is another means of artistic liberation for Marina Abramovic, as the portrayal of the female body as an object of sexual presecution and a vehicle for social change. The small space the lies between Abramovic and her longtime lover, Ulay, in Expansion in Space (1977) demarcates the, "heterosexual union where bodies remain detached, often separated in space, even as they strike out at one another until they collide" (Turim, 2003, 103). The naked couple faces opposing walls and repeated hits the walls, slowly forcing the blocks to separate. The literal test of sexual boundaries by male and female are observable in the presentation, but the act of facing and "breaking" a wall of conjectured believes of gender based strengths and limitations is a poignant under current in the expression. Abramovic's critique mirrors the works of Kathy O'Dell, who poses an "active intervention in acting-out of the submissive subject" and becoming a driving force in art as well as in the feminist community (O'Dell, 1998).

Demands of the body, mind, and spirit are conjured by her indiscriminate works. Scrubbing piles of bones while whistling a song from her childhood or sitting dormant while allowing an audience to test her skin with objects for six hours, her endurance and fortitude on a personal and professional level make her an eminent force in installation and modern performance art.


Birringer, J. (2003). Marina Abramovic on the ledge. PAJ: A Journal of Performance & Art, 25(74), 66. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Kaplan, J. (1999). Deeper and deeper: Interview with Marina Abramovic. Art Journal, 58(2), 6. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Novakov, A. (2003). Point of access: Marina Abramovi_'s 1975 performance role exchange. Woman's Art Journal, 31-35.

O'Dell, K. (1998). Contract with the skin: Masochism, performance art, and the 1970's. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Santone, J. (2008). Marina Abramovi_'s seven easy pieces: Critical documentation strategies for preserving art's history. Leonardo, 41(2), 147-152. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Turim, M. (2003). Marina Abramovic's performance: Stresses on the body and psyche in installation art. Camera Obscura, 18(54), 98-117.

--Rachel Davenport, 2010.

Marina Abramovic