I sat down with legendary performance artist Marina Abramovic who was in Toronto last week for the Canadian premiere of The Artist Is Present, a documentary on her work, which screened at the Reel Artists Film Festival. Click HERE to read part one of the interview.
VoCA: I asked people for some questions to ask you on Facebook, and one person wanted to know about your performance scars. How do you feel about them today? They mark a time in your life. Are you proud, indifferent, nostalgic?
You know I don’t even think about them. Each scar was a part of a performance. I have scars here (shows one on her wrist), but you know I never look back. Always forward. You know the only time I really feel old is when I make a book, and I have to look back at all the documentation and I say ‘Oh my god…’ I really don’t have nostalgia. It’s all about the now.
I have a story about a young photographer – Marco Anelli – who has become a friend and who took photographs of all the people sitting in MoMA
.It was very interesting because it was the first time a photographer spent the exact same amount of time because he never knew low long a person would sit for. He could not go to the bathroom, he could not eat, as much as me. I met this guy three years before, and he was going to do a portrait of me, and I was like ‘ok, ten minutes’. I asked what should I do, sit or stand. He said no, I’m not interested in taking a portrait of your face. I said ‘what do you mean?’ And he said, a portrait of you, is a portrait of your scars. So he took his enormous camera and for every scar, he made a microscopic image. And after that I said, ok, let’s work together. (laughs)
VoCA: That’s great. Your history is engraved into your body.
I often see work by young Canadian artists that, in my opinion doesn’t go far enough. There’s no question that you have made a career of going as far as possible in your work. What advice would you give young artists today, who want to become the great artists of the 21st century?
Ok first of all, when young artists come to me and want to be rich and famous, well you can forget it. That is number one. Number two, he has to ask himself if he is an artist or not. You know being an artist is like breathing. You know if you don’t breathe you die. You have to have over and over again, the need to create. That doesn’t make you a great artist. That just makes you an artist.
So what makes a great artist? That you have a fever, that you are obsessed. That you are ready to sacrifice everything. And to really have a sense of what the work is about and what you want to do with it, and what it does to the public. And it’s just total commitment. And lots of lonely hotel rooms. You know it’s kind of a lonely life. This is why I couldn’t have children, this is why I couldn’t be married, I could not. It’s like being a soldier. And if you are ready for all that, and you really have this obsession, then do it. But you know to be famous, or to be rich, it’s a side effect. It’s not the aim of art. And for me it took a long long time.
For me it’s now 40 years of my career, and you know only in the last ten years have I paid my bills. It was a struggle, it was like the first woman walking on the moon, nobody even believed it was art, in the first place. It takes a long time. So if you are ready to do that, then do it. Otherwise, do another job.
With Klaus Biesenbach. Image: leroyspinkfist.com
VoCA: What would you like your legacy to be?
You know when you get to be 65, you have to cut all the bullshit and just focus on what is really important. That’s why this movie is so important. This movie is about the general public understanding what it takes to make performance. It’s not like playing around, that’s why the institute is so incredibly important. It’s not about my own work, it’s called the institute so that other artists can produce work in other categories – film, dance, theatre, music – and the only restriction I put on the institute is that the work be long duration, minimum 6 hours long. In my own 40 years of career, I understood the only transformative force of the performance work is the long duration. There is something about the long duration that artists go through the pain, and the public with them and because of that experience, that’s what I wanted to create.
VoCA: Is the foundation a place where artists can go to study?
Yes, to study and there is going to be a very very big archive of performance work in different categories, and I also want to teach the Abramovic method, which I think really works in the sense that you can learn to do this duration.
VoCA: How do you envision the future of performance art? What do you think of flashmobs? Do you think this kind of thing is breaking barriers down?
But these people who are doing it, are they artists? They’re not artists. Who are they?
Well I think in a way, they’re artists, performers.
I never witnessed one of these things, only on the web. I’m very fascinated by these things, actually. It’s a very interesting way of using energy to change the pattern of normal life. I really think it’s good to think about this.
I’m sorry, what was the question?
VoCA: What do you think is the future of performance art?
First of all, performance art is one of the most immaterial forms of art and I really believe that the two dimensional object will be lost, that actually it will be just about the transformation and transmission of energy itself and this is the idea of 21st century art.
VoCA: But then artists will have to find different ways of doing that, of expressing that.
Yes, different ways of doing it by – they have to work on themselves. We can’t have any more artists who are depressed, overdose, who are drunk, do drugs. We have to find a way to really take the body as a miracle and create the centre of your own energy which you transmit to everybody. I’m so disturbed about Mike Kelley, who committed suicide recently, I only read about it yesterday.
VoCA: Was he a friend?
I knew him, I loved his work. And I really believe that it’s not allowed for an artist to be like that, because I really believe we have work to do, it’s almost escaping…artists right now have so much work to do. One of the main jobs of the art is to lift the human spirit and not to bring the human spirit down…and we have to be examples of optimism, (in order) to do that.
VoCA: Well that’s a perfect place to leave it. Thank you
`Wonderful questions, thank you.