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Marina Abramovic
HomeArtistsMarina Abramovic

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Marina Abramovićmarinaabramovicportraitwithmaracas

"I want to develop a new consciousness and approach to the idea of unity between body and soul, between body and soul and cosmos... I want to demonstrate the unbelievable construction of our planet, point out its sources of energy and how, with a new consciousness, we can learn to rearrange our body and soul within this structure."

Marina Abramović is a Belgrade-born New York-based Serbian performance artist who began her career in the early 1970s. Active for over three decades, she has recently begun to describe herself as the "grandmother of performance art". Abramović's work explores the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind. Pursing relationship between the bounds of body and the possibility of spiritual energy, Abramović often employs her biographical elements and representation of body as social metaphor for her work.
Abramović is probably the one still most active today of that generation of artists of the early 70s who chose performance as a means of expression - and among the most successful.
In 1997 she showed the video installation and performance 'Balkan Baroque' at the Venice Biennale - herself scrubbing animal bones - and received the golden lion award for best artist.
In her recent works, Abramović shows an interest in the spiritual quality of various materials. The works are designed to invite the viewers to participate in situations like 'healing', 'meditation' and 'waiting'.


Collaboration with illy

List of Collections:

  • illy art collection 2011 - espresso - Spirit cup – “White” - Limited edition
  • illy art collection 2007 - mug - sixty - Limited edition
  • illy art collection 2002 - espresso - Spirit cup – “Gold” - Limited edition
  • illy art collection 2002 - espresso – Beach body

Marina Abramović has long history with illy. Collaboration is started back to 2001, when illy asked to design set for illy Art Collection.  In 2002 “Beach Body” espresso set was produced. Marina Abramović's described her work as  '...while I was working on these cups I have been thinking a lot about my past and how much it was important for me when I was living in Yugoslavia the ritual of drinking coffee. The entire day was divided by this ritual, take a rest - it was a kind of situation where people sit silently round the table, enjoying the moment. we are afraid of time spent reflecting, doing nothing or being alone...' grandmother, every Friday, covered the table with an old newspaper, she drank coffee with me and turn up the cup upside down to dry... how impatient I was, looking forward to the moment when she would take my cup and look
into my future. the leftovers in the coffee cup became the whole universe...''...and now my own made coffee cups are in front of me, reminding me how important it is to find time to ritualize our daily lives...'

Marina Abramović continued to work with illy, creating several another projects

In 2002 Spirit cup “Gold” - one of the most beautiful cups of illy Art Collection.

In 2007 illy produced mug – “Sixty”, for Marina Abramović’s sixty birthdays.

In 2011 Spirit cup “White” was presented in 2011 MOCA Gala.

Marina Abramović is often guest in “Galleria illy” across the world, she participated in several discussion about art. In Sep 15, 2011, Galleria illy London was packed out again, Marina Abramović settled in for a chat with her biggest fan, Patricia Urquiola, one of Spain’s most successful designers, about “how art and design can come together to create new ideas”.

Marina Abramović about illy “What I like about illy is not just another coffee industry, but really very much engaging art, sponsoring art , looking to art , putting together as designers and coffee together which we all drink”


Early life

Marina Abramović's great uncle was Patriarch Varnava of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Both of her parents were Partisans during the Second World War: her father Vojo was a commander who was acclaimed as a national hero after the War; her mother Danica was a major in the army and in the mid-sixties was Director of the Museum of the Revolution and Art in Belgrade. In an interview published in 1998, she described how her "mother took complete military-style control of me and my brother. I was not allowed to leave the house after 10 o'clock at night till I was 29 years old. ... [A]all the performances in Yugoslavia I did before 10 o'clock in the evening because I had to be home then. It's completely insane, but all of my cutting myself, whipping myself, burning myself, almost losing my life in the fire star, everything was done before 10 in the evening."

Abramović was a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade from 1965–70. She completed her post-graduate studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in ZagrebSR Croatia in 1972. From 1973 to 1975, she taught at the Academy of Fine Arts at Novi Sad, while implementing her first solo performances.


Selected early works

After student’s demonstration in Yugoslavia in 1968, Tito was easing communist’s rules, creating more liberal society, giving students opportunity to express themselves in art more freely. 3 years after student demonstrations, one of the government buildings in Belgrade was now being handed over for student use as SKC – Student Cultural Center. There, Marina and her fellow students got the first opportunity to experiment in contemporary art. Some of Abramović earliest work consisted of sound installations such as “Sound Corridor (1972) in which speakers concealed in the entrance corridor of SKC unleashed of the deafening sound of gunfire. “I wanted the viewer to be killed by sound so that when they entered the museum it creates kind of empty space, a silence,” recalls Abramović of this eerily prescient work. “When I later reconstructed the piece, there really was a war in Yugoslavia.”


Rhythm 10, 1973

In December of 1972, the Scottish gallerist and curator Richard Demarco visited Belgrade in search of promising young Yugoslav artists to present at the next Edinburgh Festival. Inspired by ideas of SKC he invited several artists (among Marina Abramović) to participate in festival. He rented Melville College, and most visiting artists stayed there. In the college’s gymnasium, the Yugoslav artists made simultaneous performances. It would be Abramović first. She unrolled a large sheet of thick white paper on the ground creating a kind of stage and arranged on it two tape recorders and ten knives of various sizes. The sound she had been working recently, since her progression from painting to objects to the immaterial, was about to be made flesh in a bloody and messy work called Rhythm 10.

Artist played the Russian game in which rhythmic knife jabs are aimed between the splayed fingers of her hand. Each time she cut herself, she would pick up a new knife from the row of ten she had set up, and record the operation.

After cutting herself ten times, she replayed the tape, listened to the sounds, and tried to repeat the same movements, attempting to replicate the mistakes, merging together past and present. She set out to explore the physical and mental limitations of the body – the pain and the sounds of the stabbing; the double sounds from the history and from the replication. With this piece, Abramović began to consider the state of consciousness of the performer. “Once you enter into the performance state you can push your body to do things you absolutely could never normally do.”


Rhythm 5, 1974

Since 1972 the SKC had put on an annual festival called the April Meeting, in which international artists were invited to perform and exhibit work alongside SKC regulars. For the 1974 edition, Joseph Beuys was the star guest. He was in the audience when Marina performed Rhythm 5. Abramović sought to re-evoke the energy of extreme body pain, in this case using a large petroleum-drenched star, which the artist lit on fire at the start of the performance. Standing outside the star, Abramović cut her nails, toenails, and hair. When finished with each, she threw the clippings into the flames, creating a burst of light each time. Burning the communist five-pointed star represented a physical and mental purification, while addressing the political traditions of her past.

In the final act of purification, Abramović leapt across the flames, propelling herself into the center of the large star. Due to the light and smoke given off by the fire, the observing audience didn't realize that, once inside the star, the artist had lost consciousness from lack of oxygen. Some members of the audience realized what had occurred only when the flames came very near to her body and she remained inert. They jumped over the flames and hauled Abramović safety.

Danica (Mother of Marina) was outraged when she found out about Marina’s performance. Not only had her daughter risked her life in a bizarre and brutal ritual, she had also done something disrespectful and even dangerous in communist country. In setting fire to the five-pointed star and almost dying inside it, Abramović had symbolically aggregated an obligation – self-sacrifice for the state – and enacted to defeat it,


Rhythm 2, 1974

In Rhythm 2, performed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, Abramović atoned for her loss of control in Rhythm 5 by making the entire performance based on a planned loss of control,

 Abramović devised a performance in two parts:

In the first part, she took a pill prescribed for catatonia, a condition in which a person’s muscles are immobilized and remain in a single position for hours at a time. Being completely healthy, Abramović's body reacted violently to the drug, experiencing seizures and uncontrollable movements for the first half of the performance. While lacking any control over her body movements, her mind was lucid, and she observed what was occurring.

Ten minutes after the effects of that drug had worn off; Abramović ingested another pill – this time one prescribed for aggressive and depressed people – which resulted in general immobility. Bodily she was present, yet mentally she was completely removed. (In fact, she has no memory of the lapsed time.)


Rhythm 0, 1974

Critics – including her mother – were always saying to Abramović that her performances were unhealthy masochists, obsessed with inflicting pain. So in  Rhythm 0, in Galleria Mora in Naples in early 1975, she decided to do nothing and see what audience would do to her instead, Abramović developed one of her most challenging (and best-known) performances..

Abramović had placed upon a table 72 objects that people were allowed to use (a sign informed them) in any way that they chose. Some of these were objects that could give pleasure, while others could be wielded to inflict pain, or to harm her. Among them were a rose, a feather, honey, sugar, and a bottle of perfume, a whip, scissors, Polaroid camera, a scalpel, a gun and a single bullet. For six hours the artist allowed the audience members to manipulate her body and actions.

Initially, members of the audience reacted with caution and modesty, but as time passed (and the artist remained impassive) people began to act more aggressively. As Abramović described it later:

“What I learned was that... if you leave it up to the audience, they can kill you.”... “I felt really violated: they cut up my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the audience. Everyone ran away, to escape an actual confrontation.”

The gallerist drove Abramović back to her hotel, where she stayed alone. The next morning, Marina noticed in the mirror that a clump of her hair had turned gray.


Works with Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen)

In 1976, Abramović received an invitation from de Appel gallery in Amsterdam to make performance for a Dutch TV program, Beeldspraak (Picture Speech), on performance art.

 Man who would be her guide in Amsterdam and assist in preparations for her performance: West German  artist Uwe Laysiepen, who went by the single name Ulay. They have the same birthday, in different years. Ulay was captivated by Abramović even before she arrived in Amsterdam.

After several years, Abramović and Ulay decided to commit their entire lives, right down to the most basic conditions of daily existence to the idea of performing together. When Abramović and Ulay began their collaboration, the main concepts they explored were the ego and artistic identity. This was the beginning of a decade of influential collaborative work. Each performer was interested in the traditions of their cultural heritages and the individual’s desire for ritual. Consequently, they decided to form a collective being called “the other”, and spoke of themselves as parts of a “two-headed body”. They dressed and behaved like twins, and created a relationship of complete trust. As they defined this phantom identity, their individual identities became less accessible. In an analysis of phantom artistic identities, Charles Green has noted that this allowed a deeper understanding of the artist as performer, for it revealed a way of “having the artistic self made available for self-scrutiny.”

While some critics have explored the idea of a hermaphroditic state of being as a feminist statement, Abramović herself denies considering this as a conscious concept. Her body studies, she insists, have always been concerned primarily with the body as the unit of an individual, a tendency she traces to her parents' military pasts. Rather than concern themselves with gender ideologies, Abramović/Ulay explored extreme states of consciousness and their relationship to architectural space. They devised a series of works in which their bodies created additional spaces for audience interaction. In "Relation in Space" (1976) they ran around the room – two bodies like two planets, mixing male and female energy into a third component called “that self.” "Relation in Movement" had the pair drive their car inside of a museum for 365 laps; a black liquid oozed from the car, forming a kind of sculpture, each lap representing a year. (After 365 laps they entered the New Millennium.)

In discussing this phase of her performance history, Abramović has said: “The main problem in this relationship was what to do with the two artists’ egos. I had to find out how to put my ego down, as did he, to create something like a hermaphroditic state of being that we called the death self.”

To create this “Death self,” the two performers devised a piece in which they connected their mouths and took in each other’s exhaled breaths until they had used up all of the available oxygen. Seventeen minutes after the beginning of the performance they both fell to the floor unconscious, their lungs having filled with carbon dioxide. This personal piece explored the idea of an individual's ability to absorb the life of another person, exchanging and destroying it.

In Imponderabilia (1977, reenacted in 2010) two performers, both completely nude, stand in a doorway. The public must squeeze between them in order to pass, and in doing so choose which one of them to face. Nearly all the men m and the vast majority of women too, chose to face Marina. No one looked at either Abramovic or Ulay as they passed through; in fact most people acted as if the bodies were inanimate, routine obstacles they had just passed through. Abramović and Ulay remained unmoving and apparently unmoved the entire time, looking blankly into each other’s eyes. Only when the visitors went upstairs into the main gallery space did they realize that they had been filmed. On the wall of the gallery space, Abramović and Ulay had written script “imponderable. Such imponderable human factors as one’s aesthetic sensitivity the overriding importance of imponderables determining human conduct”.

In 1980, Marina and Ulay began a course of hypnotherapy. Eager to elaborate on the concert of “that self”, they approached session as the way of ideas for performances. One of the hypnosis-inspired pieces, Rest Energy, was performed in Dublin. Between them, they hold large bow and arrow: Ulay tool the arrow and string, Abramovic held the bow. With the arrow pointing at Abramović heart, they both leaned back so that string was tight and primed to release. They held precise balance for four minutes. Small microphones were attached to their chest, amplifying their heart beating.

By the beginning of 80’s nearly all of Abramović and Ulay peers’ n body art had stopped performing. One of the most important reasons was the difficulty of sustaining a practice out of which there was almost nothing to sell. There was also no one to buy it. Many artists moved from performance art to more traditional forms as a painting. Abramović and Ulay though felt no such doubts .They were able to get grant of $12,000 from the Australian Visual Art Board, Marina and Ulay planned to spend six months in Great Victorian Dessert living with Aboriginals, and then six months touring Australian cities giving lectures and performances.

Their performance Nightsea Crossing in Melbourne was practice to turn themselves into static objects. Just before the public opening of the galleries. Abramović and Ulay sat down on opposite ends of the table, stared one on another. The stare would only be broken, and an eight-hour performance ended, after the gallery had closed and the public had left. They performed the same performance 90 times as it was originally planned.

In 1988, after several years of tense relations, Abramović and Ulay decided to make a spiritual journey which would end their 12 years relationship. Each of them walked the Great Wall of China, starting from the two opposite ends and meeting in the middle. As Abramović described it: “That walk became a complete personal drama. Ulay started from the Gobi desert and I from the Yellow Sea. After each of us walked 2500 km, we met in the middle and said good-bye.”

Abramović conceived this walk in a dream, and it provided what she thought was an appropriate, romantic ending to a relationship full of mysticism, energy and attraction. She later described the process: “We needed a certain form of ending, after this huge distance walking towards each other. It is very human. It is in a way more dramatic, more like a film ending … Because in the end you are really alone, whatever you do.”

Abramović reported that during her walk she was reinterpreting her connection to the physical world and to nature. She felt that the metals in the ground influenced her mood and state of being; she also pondered the Chinese myths in which the great wall has been described as a “dragon of energy.”


Solo, 1988

In the spring of 1997 Marina went to Venice to insect the Yugoslav pavilion. It was called that, even Yugoslavia proper had long since disintegrated in the wave of ethnic conflicts in the early 90s. Got invitation from Montenegro, but stuck with Serbia/Montenegro ideological and national issues, Marina asked Germano Celat, the curator of the Italian pavilion of he had any space left that she can use.

Balkan Baroque was a triumphant synthesis of most of the works and ideas Abramović had been laboring over since she split Ulay. Seven hundred clean bones forming mound, which was covered in three hundred fresh, gristly bones for Abramovic to scrub. She sat on this pile four dates, seven hours a day, doggedly cleaning the bones with a brush and a bucket of water, crying long periods, and repeatedly singing folk songs from each of the former Yugoslav republics. Together with video performance of “Wolf rat”, interviews with her mother and father creates are punishingly powerful symphony.

It was smell though that first hit visitors as they entered the venue. Over the course of the four-day performance, the meat began to rot and stink, spawning maggots. Marina was so repulsed that she did not eat meat for several years after performance. Late on the 3th day of performance Marina got message that she’d won Golden Lion for best artist in the Biennale.


Seven Easy Pieces, November 2005

In 2002 Marina moved to New York. In 2003 episode of “Sex And the City” Carrie and her girlfriends visit a gallery in Chelsea, eager to admire an artist they’d heard about who had be starving herself in silence for several days. They entered the Sean Kelly Gallery and step into a remake of Abramović’s “House of the Ocean View”. Almost a year after the performance was finished; Marina was thrilled for it to be restaged for the cameras. Also she came to idea to keeping performance alive in the present, by creating re-performance.

Beginning on November 9, 2005, after years of preparations, Abramović presented Seven Easy Pieces at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. On seven consecutive nights for seven hours she recreated the works of five artists first performed in the 60s and 70s, in addition to re-performing her own "Lips of Thomas" and introducing a new performance on the last night. The performances were very trying and physically exhaustive, they involved the physical and mental concentration of the artist, and they included Gina Pane's Self-Portraits that required lying on a bed frame suspended over a grid of lit candles and Vito Acconci's 1972 performance in which he masturbated under the floorboards of a gallery as visitors walked overhead. It is argued that she re-performed these works so as to pay her respect to the past, though many of the performances were altered from their originals.

abramovic lips of thomas

Here is a full list of the works performed:

  • Bruce Nauman's Body Pressure
  • Vito Acconci's Seedbed
  • Valie Export's Action Pants: Genital Panic
  • Gina Pane's The Conditioning
  • Joseph Beuys's How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare
  • Abramović's own Lips of Thomas
  • Abramović's own Entering the Other Side


The Artist Is Present, March–May 2010

From March 14 to May 31, 2010, the Museum of Modern Art held a major retrospective and performance recreation of Abramović's work, the biggest exhibition of performance art in MoMA's history. During the run of the exhibition, Abramović performed "The Artist is Present," a 736-hour and 30-minute static, silent piece, in which she sat immobile in the museum's atrium, while spectators were invited to take turns sitting opposite her. A support group for the "sitters", "Sitting with Marina", was established on Facebook as was the blog "Marina Abramović made me cry”. In September 2011, a video game version of Abramović's performance was released by Pippin Barr.


Later life

Marina Abramović purchased a theater two hours north of Manhattan in Hudson, NY, intending to establish a nonprofit organization, Marina Abramović Foundation for the Preservation of Performance Art. She will use the space to work and develop ideas with video and post-production equipment and there will be a second property to house resident artists

In 2009, Abramović was featured in Chiara Clemente's documentary “Our City Dreams” and a book of the same name. The five featured artists – also including Swoon,Ghada AmerKiki Smith, and Nancy Spero – "each possess a passion for making work that is inseparable from their devotion to New York," according to the publisher.

Abramović is also the subject of an independent feature documentary movie currently titled "MARINA" that is based on her life and performance at her retrospective "The Artist is Present" at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010. The film will be broadcast in the U.S. on HBO.


Upcoming/Current Performances

  • Until May 7, 2012 – Video Vintage 1963-1983. Centre Pompidou – Musee National d’Art Moderne.
  • Until May 20, 2012 - Group Show: Beyond Time – International – International Video Art Today , Kulthurhuset Stockholm
  • Until May 5, 2012 – Solo Show: Marina Abramović. Galleria Lia Rumma - Milan



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