Robin Baillie traces the connections between mind and body in the life and work of Marina Abramovic.
A naked woman takes a razorblade and cuts a five- pointed star into her belly. She then whips herself before lying down on blocks of ice and passing our.
performance pieces in the l970s. Her life and her body are the materials of her art. In her performances. East meets West. Buddhism encounters Materialism. and the selfbecornes a vehicle for transformation. As she puts it. ‘lt is very important that the artist goes deeper into her personal life —- this is her treasure — it is her savings in the bank — the deeper into the self you go the more universal you come out on the other side.‘
that is clear and not without humour in its sinuously formed English. Her own biography is emblematic of the post-war period with the evolution of Europe from the defeat of the Nazis. through to Eastern bloc socialism. the bringing down of the Berlin Wall and the end ofthe Cold War. mirrored in herjoumey frorn Belgrade to Amsterdam and Berlin. and her search fora personal solution to the empty struggles of the powerblocs. The sculptural work she is showing in this current exhibition with its radiant crystals and its atmosphere of meditative calm, is visible evidence of where she has reached in this search. It has not been an easy passage. as she points
‘Pushing the mental and physical limits, with the body as the centre, has always been the basis for my work. If I cause myself pain in order to liberate myself then the pain is okay.’
out. ‘Coming from a military family. there was an incredible pressure of order and discipline in my home. I rebelled against it with the same strength that my parents had to make the revolution and win the war.‘
Born in Belgrade in I946. the daughter ofa Partisan general (father). and major (mother). the young Marina inherited the spoils of the hard-won utopia of Tito‘s Yugoslavia. only to struggle violently against the restrictions of that society. From an early age she tested herself against these repressions. Pain and fear became the elements against which she moulded herself. Her art was forged as the drama of the State's ungrateful daughter. Her early work conjures up images of the torture session. httt it is a Greek drama of self. famin and state that emerges from the physical traumas at these performances. She reveals
This is Marina Abramovic at work in one of her early:
delivers this message with total conviction in a voice .
On the phone from Amsterdam. Marina Abramovic ‘ "
Giving ’til it hurts. Marina Abramovic my work. lfl cause myself pain in order to liberate myselfthen the pain is okay.‘
A trip to the Edinburgh Festival in 1973 brought her into contact with Joseph Beuys and the work ofother conceptual artists and performers of the period. Her work thus took on a new dimension in its interest in the use of sound, of silence and of an atmospheric architectural setting. It became a cathartic ‘art of experience‘. searching for a heightened relationship with the audience where they would be unable to escape from the moment either into a past or a future. They would have to undergo and share the experience of the performer and contribute to it as he or she drew energy. She sums up this belief saying. ‘If you expose your shame to the audience and you liberate yourself from it. then it helps them to see a way how they could do if for themselves.‘
This ritual basis of the work was inspired by Ancient Greek. Tibetan Buddhist. Sufi and Aboriginal ideas but not by the Western ritual of psychoanalysis. although Abramovic does claim that her performances could act as a cure for the audience. but only on an individual basis, she says. ‘Depending on how open you are and how much you are willing to invest. It all depends on how ready you are to give yourself.‘
Abramovic sees our fear of dying beneath many of our neuroses. In her collaborative works from l97S—89 with her partner and lover Ulay. she probed the deepest fears of intimacy and violence between man and woman. Such consuming intensity. in both their relationship and their work. led ultimately to their break-up in 1988. after each had walked from opposite ends ofthe Great Wall of China to meet in the middle and embrace for the last time.
By this time. repetition had given way to meditation and concentration in her work. culminating in the
that. ‘l*-; Hing the mental and physical limits. with ‘Transitory ()bjects‘ that will form the main part of the hurl. .\ the centre. has always been the basis for the Fruitmarket exhibition (along with videos and
documentation of the earlier performances). These huge chunks of crystal. obsidian. haematite and quartz. which she brought back from mines in South America. are attached to chairs and tables and act as headrests and pillows which in turn demand the active participation ofthe viewer who must take up the suitable position and let the crystals do their work. Abramovic explains that this spiritual fumiture is transitional in that, ‘The work is not complete if there is no interaction. lfthe public get a certain experience in the course of using this work and come to the point of transformation. the object is not necessary anymore and can be removed. It‘s just a tool. a means to an end.‘
Marina Abramovic is seeking to re-connect tts to nature. to open us to its transmission of harmony. The crystals will help us to ‘cleanse‘ ourselves and to regain equilibrium by allowing our bodies and minds to once again become a unified consciousness. in the face ofthe consumerism and media overdoses of the late 20th century she offers us the antidote. But it is
‘It is very important that the artist goes deeper into her personal life — this is her treasure — it is her savings in the
bank - the deeper into the self you go the more universal you come out on the other side.’
an awareness and a cure that must come from within. She is pessimistic about our chances of avoiding catastrophe. Instead she offers the possibility of a renewed appreciation of life based on a realistic view of materialism's part in the decline of nature. Abramovic has produced a body of work that engages directly with the events of our times and she has courageously mapped out the effect ofthese times on our minds and bodies. At the Fruitmarket Gallery we will have the opportunity to put ourselves to the test and maybe enter the clear waters she has made available to trs. The Greek drama may take up our whole lives in its solving but it is worth the effon. especially when one can say as Marina does. ‘I really love life very much . . . I am organising all the time.‘ Mari/m Abramovic Objects-I’te/i)rnranee- Viz/m- Sound at The Fruimrurker Gallery. Edinburgh 29 July—9 September:
50 The Ll\t .'-\Z Jul-l0 Aug I995