Two weeks ago I visited the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and bought Marina Abramović’s book ‘Walk through walls’ in the museum shop. I just read an interview with her in the Dutch newspaper NRC and was curious about her memoirs written by ghost writer James Kaplan who listened to Marina’s story and helped putting it all on paper.
I was a bit surprised she wrote her memoirs, I always thought of Marina as a conceptual artist challenging her audience with her performances and stimulating their imagination while experiencing her work and even sometimes letting het audience participate themselves. The number of performances she has done is impressive and her work speaks for itself, her work has been seen by a lot of people and gives inspiration to a lot of people, when you search the internet you can find a lot. So why writing memoires?
Marina is by far the most famous performance artist at this moment. When I followed a writing course last year in Amsterdam all three art students who were participating named Marina Abramović as their hero and example. This weekend I saw La Grande Bellezza from Paolo Sorrentino again in Spain and saw Marina Abramovic scene in which there is a performance done inspired on ‘Expansion in Space’ with she performed with her former partner Ulay. They both run into a heavy wooden column, Ulay did not finish this, Marina did. In “Walk through walls” Marina writes this performance was a turning point for both her work and the relation with Ulay. In La Grande Bellezza the performer runs into a stone column and when asked afterwards why she did this she replies: ‘I’m an artist, I don’t have to explain jack shit’. Having read the book I would say this is not true, Marina makes very clear what she wanted to say with her work in ‘Walk through walls’.
Before I read ‘Walk through walls’ I only knew Marina’s performances from photo’s and video’s, know that I have read the book I always will think about what I have read about these performances in her memoirs. In an interview with BBC Newsnight in June 2014 she complains about a painting of Francis Bacon which was just sold for 146 million, the highest price paid for a painting at that moment: ‘How can you see possibly ever this painting again without seeing money in the front, the essence of the painting is now lost’. With writing this book she is exactly doing the same, should her work not speak for itself? Why does she wants to give us a chronological overview of her life and work and explain the who, what, where and how of her performances? I was curious and bought her book and started reading it.
In the first chapter of ‘Walk through walls’ Marina tells she was lying on the grass one day while she was young staring at a cloudless sky and saw twelve military yets flying over leaving behind white trails in the sky which disappeared after some time. At that moment she was already painting and thought, when looking at this, that art could also be multidimensional and temporary just like what she just saw. She went to the military base in Belgrado and asked if they could sent planes up and fly in a pattern she created. The first idea for a performance was born: multidimensional, temporary and constructed by herself before with a predicted outcome.
Another thing important in her work was pushing her limits and investigating how far she can go with her performances and, which sometimes were very violent when she started which created a lot of attention to her work, nowadays they are more about spiritual enlightenment. Marina is only interested in investigating ideas in her performances which make her afraid and challenge her deepest fears and emotions: a performance is, according to her, a construction where you go from your lower self to your higher becoming more conscious when you challenge yourself and the public around you. And in case of Marina she and her performances have becomes the object of her art and become one.
Another important explanation for her success is her large network. First in Yugoslavia, then Amsterdam and now in New York she has always been surrounded with others artists, collectors, curators, gallery owners etc. which inspired her and helped her become successful. When reading her memoirs it made me think about Mark Rothko, both came from Eastern Europe to New York, were a long time earning their money as art teachers and both tried to educate their audience and learn how to experience their work. And both were constantly developing themselves while other artists around them were repeating their work over and over again once they were successful.
When Marina started with her first performances in the sixties other conceptual artist were already busy with this new genre and Marina had become over the years the symbol of this performance art for two reasons: first she kept developing herself where most others stopped and second she tried to define a methodology around performances structuring the performance process itself leaving no room for unstructured performances. She founded the Independent Performance Group (IPG) and trained art students from all over the world in her performance methodology. Marina Abramović developed this methodology performances to make performances repeatable and independent from the artist. She herself did performances constructed by others taking care the original artist got paid, a difficult think to realise. Later in her carreer she broadened het scope to her whole public tried to involve her public in the performance itself and founded the Marina Abramović Institute which gave trainings in performance art open for all.
I liked reading Marina’s book, it gave a good overview of Marina’s life and work and there is a lot in it which it interesting to read about. What I don’t like is the constant flirting with her spiritual qualities like being able to predict things and read someone else’s mind. I believe a performance can give you insight in your unconsciense which can help you better understand yourself and the world around you. And Marina’s performance art can give you new insights just like a therapy from a psychiater or a training from a mental coach. But maybe, as being male, I first need to break through my mental ceiling before I can open up for these vibrations just like women first need to break through a glass ceiling before they can have influence in the rational world. And of course Marina is doing it her own different horizontal way walking through walls…