I sat down with legendary performance artist Marina Abramovic who was in Toronto this week for the Canadian premiere of The Artist Is Present, a documentary on her work, which screens at the Reel Artists Film Festival this Sunday. Click HERE for tickets.
She is also setting up an institute for the preservation of performance art, in Hudson, New York. Stay tuned for more on that.
Marina Abramovic. Image: Moma.org
VoCA: Do you think we are headed toward the 4th dimension – a new age of awareness where we go beyond the five senses?
That’s a good question. I believe we are in an entirely new system of truth. I really believe things are different, consciousness is shifting, and it’s connected. Most people don’t see these things, I mean apart from global warming, apart from the things going on with the planet. I really believe that consciousness is going to another dimension. I’m reading this science fiction book and I’m one of the characters in the book – I’m doing galactic performances on mercury or on asteroids. I asked the author how this idea came about? And he said The Artist Is Present is perfect for galactic traveling because it’s the same material. I really feel that we have reached a point where the artist is…immaterial. It’s all about energy.
We are going to be aware of things, see things that we haven’t seen before…we on the border of creating a new system. Artists are the antennas of society, we are the function and we have a duty to deliver the messages..
VoCA: I read an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist where you said the 21st century would be about art without the object. Why is that important?
Because we don’t need anything. The object is a tool, to deliver the truth…You can develop the concept, you don’t need object. (for the Artist is Present) I had a very traditional set up of two chairs and a table. I needed two months to remove the table, that is incredibly important. I could not remove the table until I got to the point in my own understanding, when I got to the point where you know the energy is enough. And you know performance is an immaterial form of art. I really think that we use objects to hide ourselves behind. In the end we just need ourselves, that’s it.
VoCA: It’s access, too right? People need the object to access the art concept?
Yes, but this is why in my institute I’ve created something called the Abramovic Method. We are going to spend time not just creating performances but also teaching the public how to see perforamcne, and how to perform themselves. This is a very important part of the institute’s work.
Marina Abramovic & Ulay, Rest Energy with Ulay, 1980. Image: guardian.co.uk
VoCA: I’m going to ask you about the institute, but I’ve been looking at your work from the beginning, and it’s fundamentally a mirroring technique, both with you and Ulay and also in The Artist is Present. What do mirrors reveal?
In a nutshell, performance is for me, mental and physical structure which I create in that time and space in front of the public. And I’m going into this mental and physical situation like in early work, dangerous and painful situations, and the public enters this space too – we create an energy dialogue. Then I’m going through these emotions myself and I become mirror with the public – if I can do it, they can do it in their own life. It’s this kind of situation that creates the stage. I could never do this in my real life…
VoCA: There’s another question – Is this interview a performance? Is the difference for you in the staging of it? In the energy?
I could never do this in my private life, first of all because you know I don’t like that kind of situation in your private life, you try to avoid it. You try to do only things you like, you don’t have enough energy…people would say, you’re crazy why are you doing this? So you need that out of your ordinary life situation.
VoCA: At what point can we strip away that – so that every moment in life becomes an artwork?
You know, there’s such a huge huge amount of training and self control, you know every work starts with the first step, and we should start with the ritualization of everyday life. Like you drink the water, walking from here to the window, just being constantly in the present.
VoCA: Like a meditative present?
Yes in the present. That’s really the key to everything. And another key to everything is to learn proper breathing. Breathing is extremely important, we don’t even understand how important. Because in the breath, it gives oxygen to every cell in the body. And how, actually with different patterns of breathing, you can be angry, you can kill somebody, you can fall in love, you can be sick, you can be healthy, …through different patterns of breathing. In a way, this is why to me the Abramovitch Method is so important now. Because Ive spent so much time with different traditions on this planet – from the Hopi Indians, the aboriginal etc and I’ve tried to see what worked the best and I’ve made some kind of mixture in the Abramovitch Mehtod that I can share with young artists and with the public.
Marina Abramovic, The Artist is Present, 2010. Image: art observed.com
VoCA: So your foundation will be a place where young artists can learn this method? And apply it to their own work?
Yes, and the public too.
You come to the foundation you give up (certain things), like in (the documentary) and you wear lab coats and do these excercises.
VoCA: So if someone like me was going to new york, I could go and spend the day at your foundation, and have almost a spiritual experience, there?
Yes, exactly. There’s a crystal room and a meditation space…I’m now working on a new work in Brazil, a room with a magnetic field, you can lie on the bed and meditate in the space. This is an artwork – I call them transitory objects – which is going to be placed in the foundation permanently, so people can experience all the objects in three basic body positions – standing, lying, sitting amid crystals.
The show is opening on the 19th in a museum in Milano – PAC – and we are going to use the Abramovic method, we are going to have everyday three groups of 28 people and/from the normal audience and another audience who comes to the museum will look at this audience actually in performance. And now I’m doing this, and we’ll see how it works, and if there is anything to correct. But we’ll make a film about it – about the principles of the Abramovitch Method.
VoCA: That’s very interesting way of introducing the public to art in a new way, and reintroducing these ancient methods.
We (the public) never learned how to see something where nothing is happening. We don’t know what to do….in this performance, everything is stripped away. What is your attitude then? How is your breathing, what is your sense of time, you know how the mind works…there’s so much to learn.
VoCA: I believe the greatest art is about having the viewer confront him or her self. And this sounds like it will be effective in that.
The public completes the work, and in performance the public is an unbelievabley important part. Without the public the work wouldn’t exist. You know Martha Graham said: wherever dancers dance, is the holy ground. My interpretation is that wherever the public stands is the holy ground, for me. And you know actors say they get into this zone, where they don’t see the public. For me, no. Even if someone gets up to go to the bathroom, I’m looking in my mind to see if she’s coming back. Everyone is important. Every single person. That’s the major, major thing. It’s about an energy dialogue that you establish. Because you can perform, you can be on a stage but in your mind you can be in Honolulu, or who knows where. And the public feels it.
VoCA: Hence the title The Artist is Present – you were present in mind and body.
And when you are like that, then you can take the public into that space. Otherwise the public just goes. It looks so simple, but it’s so hard. (laughs) People say to me, oh but you don’t do any more hard performances as in the past, and I don’t understand how they don’t see that this is so much harder. Those performances were maybe half hour, one hour long and then I had five months to recover. But performing for three months, every single day is just hell. And I could never, ever have done this when I was young. I would not have had the stamina, the power, the knowledge.
VoCA: So you draw from your inner resources.
And now that I’m older and maybe have less energy, I have more…control than I ever had before. Before it would have been impossible to do this kind of thing.