Master the art of doing nothing all day with Marina Abramovic

Featured July 14 Words by Sarah O'meara / Photo By Knut Bry
Master the art of doing nothing all day with Marina Abramovic

Thirty years ago, Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović was a penniless outsider, living out of a van. Now the 67-year-old is a star turn, not just revered by the art world for her boundary-pushing shows, but collaborating with Lady Gaga and inspiring a storyline on Sex and the City. As the New-York based artist begins a 64-day installation, 512 Hours, at London's Serpentine Gallery, we wondered what could possibly be next for someone whose works have involved taking drugs, cutting herself, scrubbing cow bones and nurturing a baby kangaroo. The intriguing answer? Nothing…  

You're known for doing crazy stuff, but your latest piece is just you in a room for eight hours a day, six days a week. What's happening?
“After 40 years of being an artist, I really want to see how I can work with just energy. It could fail, so I guess that's why it's worth doing. I've never been in a space where there is nothing.”

What do you hope to achieve?
“People are so lost these days, there's a need for this transmission of energy at the moment. They are full of so much pain and direct contact with an artist is not there. Artists become celebrities and are untouchable.”

How can you do this by saying and doing nothing?
“We can alert our powers of telepathy. For the past year, Russian and American scientists have measured my brain waves. They have proved that when you're looking at a total stranger without saying one word, you're sending subconscious information to each other. So you can actually know more about somebody without saying one word than while having a conversation. It's cheaper than a telephone.”

In past performances, you've cut yourself, taken drugs and allowed strangers to hurt you. Why?
“Terrible events can make tremendous change, like terminal disease, an accident, someone from your family dying. People never change from happiness. I'm not waiting for this kind of event. I'm staging difficult situations in the form of the performance.”

What is your most memorable reaction to a piece of your work?

“A friend of mine who is a great American critic said: ‘I hate your work.' ‘Why?' I asked. ‘You always make me cry,' he said. This is a really good reaction, because the public mostly want to take art intellectually. But in my case, you have to take it by your guts and stomach.”

As an artist whose body is often on show, how do you feel about how you look?
“If I'm fat or skinny when I'm performing, for me, this is simply a statement. It's just a body in the Universe. But privately, I'm completely a mess all the time. Oh my God, I'm too fat, my knees are really ugly. Nobody is ever satisfied with their body.”

You've a passion for fashion. When did this start?
“For artists in the 70s, the fashion of the performance artist was always either naked, or wearing dirty white or dirty black clothes. But after I walked the Great Wall of China, I sold my work to the Pompidou Centre for the first time. I went to the Yamamoto shop and bought a suit with a white shirt. Then I went to the hairdresser, and had a pedicure and a manicure, and I said, ‘My God, I feel good'.”

Do you feel pressure to have plastic surgery?
“I don't like face lifting, because you kind of look monstrous. But I think anything to do with lasers is OK - or other things that really refresh your skin. Because if you have great energy, and your face looks terrible, you don't feel well.”

See 512 Hours at the Serpentine Gallery until 25 August.

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