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Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible Ocula Report Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible 17 Apr 2019 : Federica Bueti for Ocula

I first visited Havana in November 2016, a few days after Fidel Castro died, and just under a year before Hurricane Irma hit Cuba in September 2017. Since then, much has changed, including the hand-painted signs that punctuate the journey from the airport to the city centre, which today do not celebrate the revolution so much as the 'Unidad y...

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Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui Ocula Conversation Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui

The exhibition Beyond Boundaries at Somerset House in London (12 March–2 April 2019) marked the historic contributions of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (CAFA) and the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, on the occasion of their 100th and 150th anniversaries, respectively. Spread across several rooms of Somerset House's...

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The National 2019: New Australian Art Ocula Report The National 2019: New Australian Art 13 Apr 2019 : Elyse Goldfinch for Ocula

The National 2019: New Australian Art features work by 70 contemporary Australia-based artists split across three venues: the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Carriageworks, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) (29 March–21 July 2019), as curated by Isobel Parker Philip, curator of photographs at AGNSW; Daniel Mudie Cunningham,...

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Marina Abramović

b. 1946, Serbia

Marina Abramović is a New York-based multimedia artist who is hailed alongside Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman and Chris Burden as one of the pioneers of contemporary performance art. She is best known for long-duration performance pieces that often require both mental and physical endurance as well as the power to withstand intense tedium, exhaustion, pain and even the threat of death.

Abramović's abusive upbringing deeply impacted her work. She was raised in the capital of Yugoslavia (now Serbia) by parents loyal to the post-war communist regime. Her mother ran the household with harsh military discipline. These unpleasant origins were re-lived by the artist in 2011 through the autobiographical play, The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, directed by Robert Wilson. Abramović spent years addressing the repression present in her upbringing and country of birth in visceral performances. In Thomas Lips (1975) she carved a five-pointed Communist star into her abdomen. Although such performances have been called masochistic, Abramović sees pain and privation as a door to the subconscious mind. From her perspective, the only way to have control over pain or tedium is to focus on and endure the experience.

These ideas were present from the beginning of her artistic career in the early 1970s. Following her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade and a brief experimentation with sound installation, she produced her 'Rhythm' series (1973–74): five different performances involving risk and pain interlaced with symbolic meanings. In 1974, for Rhythm 0—the final work in this series—Abramović carried out an experiment at a gallery in Naples. In this performance, she laid out 72 items on a table with an invitation to the public to use them on her as they wished. There were harmless items such as a grape, a feather, a rose; however, there were also items of a more sinister nature, such as knives, a whip, scissors, a gun and a single bullet. Over six hours the artist revealed the savagery lurking beneath the surface of seemingly civilised human beings while remaining totally passive and vulnerable. Visitors slowly began subtly torturing her: stripping away her clothes, cutting her body and even pointing the gun at her head.

From 1976 Abramović began collaborating with her then-partner, the artist known as Ulay. For five years, they toured Europe together, living out of a van. The pair terminated their relationship in 1988, grandly marking the occasion with The Lovers. In this lengthy performance, the former couple walked towards each other from the two ends of the Great Wall of China, each covering 2,500km over several months and finally meeting in the middle to say goodbye. Her works following the break-up—such as Cleaning the Mirror (1995), Balkan Baroque (1997) and The House with the Ocean View (2002)—were, though not without privation, more contemplative and less violent.

In her Seven Easy Pieces show at the Guggenheim, New York, in 2005, Abramović took an approach closer to an art-historical retrospective. As well as re-enacting Thomas Lips, for seven hours on seven nights she reenacted five works by performance artists Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, Valie Export, Gina Pane and Joseph Beuys.

At a major retrospective of her own work at The Museum of Modern Art in 2010 Abramović presented a new performance, The Artist is Present. Eight hours a day for nearly three months, she sat impassively in the gallery while visitors came one by one to sit opposite her. The reactions ranged from tears to laughter (and one incident of unauthorised nudity). She broke protocol only once, when Ulay made a surprise appearance, by reaching out to grasp his hand. In contrast to the Rhythm 0 experiment the interactions were mostly based on love and brought out the best in people.

Marina Abramović: In Residence (2015), for Kaldor Public Art Project 30, was a paradigm-shift that placed the onus of performance on the public rather than Abramović herself. In the 12 days onsite at Pier 2/3, Walsh Bay, Sydney, visitors were guided through focus-shifting, perception-challenging experiences based on the 'Abramović Method': a process pioneered by the artist and intended to use slow and conscious movement to heighten people's mindfulness of the moment they are in and the actions they perform.

Alongside these often controversial performances, sound, video, sculpture, installation and photography have also been important aspects of Abramović's work. Video and photographic stills often document or reference her performances. She has also used these media on their own, as in the independent photographic series, 'Places of Power' (2012–2013), which draws connections between her art and spirituality. Her sculpture addresses pain, the body and other themes from her performances and photography. The artist's body will always be the primary medium of Abramović's practice. As the self-proclaimed 'grandmother' of performance art, she has striven to sustain it by founding the non-profit Marina Abramović Institute in Hudson, New York, in 2012.

Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2017
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Featured Artworks

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Dozing Consciousness (Body) by Marina Abramović contemporary artwork Marina AbramovićDozing Consciousness (Body), 2016 Dye sublimation print on aluminium
229.1 x 115.3 cm
Lisson Gallery
Artist Portrait with a Candle by Marina Abramović contemporary artwork Marina AbramovićArtist Portrait with a Candle, 2012 Framed fine art pigment print
163 x 163 cm (incl frame)
Sean Kelly
The Levitation of Saint Therese by Marina Abramović contemporary artwork Marina AbramovićThe Levitation of Saint Therese, 2009 Single flatscreen video installation, colour, no sound, 11 min 21 sec loop
Sean Kelly
Lips of Thomas by Marina Abramović contemporary artwork Marina AbramovićLips of Thomas, 1975/2005 Two channel video installation, 96 mins (synchronized loop)
Sean Kelly
Freeing the Body by Marina Abramović contemporary artwork Marina AbramovićFreeing the Body, 1975 One black and white photograph with one letter press text panel
Sean Kelly
Freeing the Memory by Marina Abramović contemporary artwork Marina AbramovićFreeing the Memory, 1975 Two black and white photographs with two letter press text panels
Sean Kelly
Role Exchange by Marina Abramović contemporary artwork Marina AbramovićRole Exchange, 1975 Two black and white photographs with one letter press text panel
Sean Kelly

Current & Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Love is Metaphysical Gravity at Lisson Gallery, Shanghai
Open Now
22 March–18 May 2019 Group Exhibition Love is Metaphysical Gravity Lisson Gallery, Shanghai
Contemporary art exhibition, Marina Abramović, Early Works at Sean Kelly, New York
10 February–17 March 2018 Marina Abramović Early Works Sean Kelly, New York
Contemporary art exhibition, Marina Abramović, George Condo, Keith Tyson, Xu Zhen, Geomantic Intervention (no.3) at Duddell's, Hong Kong
22 October 2016–10 March 2017 Marina Abramović, George Condo, Keith Tyson, Xu Zhen Geomantic Intervention (no.3) Duddell's, Hong Kong

Represented By

In Related Press

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Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor and Marina Abramović lead major new exhibition Everything At Once at Store Studios Related Press Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor and Marina Abramović lead major new exhibition Everything At Once at Store Studios The Vinyl Factory : 8 September 2017

This October, Store Studios will host Everything At Once, an extensive off-site exhibition featuring 24 artists currently shown at Lisson Gallery in celebration of its 50th anniversary.

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Inside the mind of Marina Abramović Related Press Inside the mind of Marina Abramović Apollo Magazine : 17 February 2017

At an Austrian gallery in 1975, Marina Abramović staged the performance Thomas Lips, in which she cut a five-pointed star into her stomach using a razor blade. According to Abramović: 'The pain was like a wall I had walked through and come out the other side.' The artist's capacity to overcome limits, be they physical or psychological, is at the...

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Marina Abramović's Grueling, Hardcore Journey to Brazil Related Press Marina Abramović's Grueling, Hardcore Journey to Brazil The Creators Project : 15 December 2016

Physical pain doesn't intimidate the inimitable Marina Abramović, but spiritual agony is another matter. In 2012, the artist traveled to Brazil in search of a salve for her 'emotional and personal troubles.' The resulting quest for healing and artistic inspiration is chronicled in a stunning new documentary, Marina Abramović in Brazil: The Space In...

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Klaus Biesenbach recalls the founding of KW in Berlin 25 years ago, a moment of 'radical change and freedom' Related Press Klaus Biesenbach recalls the founding of KW in Berlin 25 years ago, a moment of 'radical change and freedom' ARTnews : 29 November 2016

In late November 1989 I came to Berlin. I had spent the summer in New York, staying with a friend who at the time was the editor of an international magazine. On her cable TV and in the many different newspapers she had at her home on the Upper West Side, I had seen and read about an autumn full of demonstrations in East Germany, embassies taken...

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