The publication of Marina Abramović’s memoir, the artist famous for her performances, caused numerous reactions. In the era of the unbelievable fast flow of information, post-Victorian moralists felt the necessity to maliciously comment upon the life of the artist who, as they recall, “had three abortions for the sake of art”.
How many times was similar, skillfully caricatured and drawn-out-of-context criticism addressed to Helen Mirren and Oprah Winfrey for instance, or, to be respective of gender equality – George Clooney or Jay Leno, celebrities who made it clear that they dedicate their life to career and not family?
The first biography on Marina Abramović I was introduced to was “When Marina Abramović Dies”, written by her assistant James Westcott. This inspired me to focus on her personal perspective. If you are already familiar with Ms. Abramović’s background, it becomes very alluring when narration pervades the autobiographical work because you can sense her East European accent in every word.
The artist exposes herself like never before. She used to be very physically explicit in her performances, often leaving the audience without a clearly visible interpretation. Her life was no less dramatic. After being born and having lived during difficult period of communism in the post-war Yugoslavia, thirty-year-old Marina escapes from her home, meets her partner with whom she travels the world. After few emotional breakdowns, she found salvation in her art which, step by step, placed her among the best contemporary artists.
Today people know her as “the grandmother of performance art”, often forgetting about decades of struggle during which she paved the way both for herself and the other artists. Her instinct, consistency and endurance, as well as the universality that embodies her art, are the most fascinating characteristics of Ms. Abramović. That is the key of her international success. How many other artists from the Balkans, who managed to become global stars and who posses the qualities mentioned above, can you think of?
She is a cultural orphan in her native country (recognised only by the private institutions while the public ones remain silent). Her homeland recognised her art work after success in New York and her MoMA performance. The lack of recognition of her work drew the attention of one of the most respectable curators in the world, who, as a result, contacted the Ministry of Culture in Montenegro and complained about it. Maybe this would’ve never happened if he hadn’t intervened.
Artistic expression in its all glory evolves through history and it dematerializes. Abramovic reaches the final point in which there are no obstacles between the artist and the observer. “The only remaining thing will be the artist”, as she foresaw, “who stands in front of an audience that is enough open-minded to receive a message or an energy”.
But the nineties, as well as the first decade of the third millennium, were not ready for a non-materialistic performances, such as The Artist is Present (2010) or 512 Hours (2014) which lasted for months. Abramović believes that art should last longer since globalisation made us live faster.
Performance has been an alternative form of art for decades and it is hard to expect that it will be eagerly accepted on the mainstream platform, despite being very exploited. The question you can often hear is: “What is she actually doing?”
She makes us question things and transform ourselves. It is, after all, the essence of art to ask the questions unless it already provides the answers. From this point of view, Marina Abramović’s task is not easy. She raises the awareness about global issues, the transience of time, returning to the nature and its instincts; she confronts us with our fears and shows us how to overcome them. With her rich spiritual experience from Australian desert and Plateau of Tibet, she reminds us of the ancient Eastern philosophy that the modern world is in the need of.
She does not use traditional methods while expressing herself; her way is radical because we need change. Marina’s art is not entertaining because her goal is not amusement. It’s not even pretty, aesthetics is the least of her concerns. In one word, her art is – truthful.