Marina on her work, workshops and institute
Abramović reveals details of her new institute and how workshop participants deal with anger in this video
We all know her work, from her 2010 MoMA performance, The Artist is Present, through to her recent appearance alongside the since de-hyphenated Jay Z. However, Marina Abramović revealed a great deal more about her working life and creative practices in a recent MoMA PS1 talk. The engagement was part of Expo 1, "an exploration of ecological challenges in the context of the economic and socio-political instability of the early 21st century" taking place the Long Island City institution.
While Abramović's talk met Expo 1's brief - in particular her discussions of how we might best bring about a productive union between the arts, science, technology, spirituality and education - it was perhaps more intriguing to hear the artist talk about her own life and work.
Towards the beginning of the lecture, a video of which we've embedded at the foot of this story, she describes her 'house cleaning' workshops - five-day breaks which sounds more like an EST seminar than an arts retreat. Abramović says she stages these in 'the worst climate - too cold or too hot." Participants wake up early, though at irregular times, begin the day naked, start with a series of exercises, including aboriginal exercises and Yves Klein jumps, before going onto sign a contract requiring them not to eat or speak throughout their stay. During this time she issues participants with a series of tasks, such as to do everything in slow motion, or to continually cross back and forth over a fence. Rather wisely we feel, she also has an exercise to dissipate any anger her participants might feel, which involves holding one's breath.
Nevertheless, her dedication to her work can't be doubted. In particular attempts to establish a permanent home for long-form performance pieces seems like an earnest and welcome attempt to provide a permanent home for these often immaterial works. As she explains in her talk, The Marina Abramović Institute will open in a former theatre in the town of Hudson, Upstate New York in a couple of years time. It will be dedicated to "the presentation and preservation of long durational work'. Abramovic qualifies this last term with examples, such as Christian Marclay's The Clock (24 hours), Richard Wagner's The Ring Cycle (15 hours) and Douglas Gordon's 24 Hour Psycho, as well as better-known long-form performance works such as Tehching Hsieh's One Year Performances.
Yet, to think of the MAI has a simple arts space is to misunderstand Abramović's intentions. While the institute will stage peformances, this will be no conventional white cube. As with her workshops, visitors will have to sign a contract, stipulating, in this case, their attendance for at least six hours. They will also surrender all phones, computers and communication devices; pass through a room dedicated to the experiments of fellow Serbian pioneer, Nikolai Tesla, before settling back into a specially commissioned wheel chair, from where visitors are wheeled into the performance space. If an audience member falls asleep during a performance, he or she is wheeled into a dedicated dormitory wing. Oh, and there are also slow motion and water drinking exercises. Sounds like an amazing experience, art aside.
To view the talk in full, wherein Abramović also talks about playing her own 8-bit online game, her earlier work, and her scientific and spiritual beliefs, see below.
To learn more about this important and influential artist, please take a look at our monograph and for a more general view of Abramovic's place among her contemporaries, please also take a look at The Artist's Body. However, before you do any of that, do sign up (it's brief, painless, and non-binding) to our Phaidon Club, to take advantage of rewards points, events and special offers.