This week, I was introduced to a prominent force in the conceptual art movement: Marina Abramovic. Born and raised in a communist Serbia, she lived under strict rules set by her parents. In an 1998 interview, Abramovic recalled: “I was not allowed to leave the house after 10 o’clock at night till I was 29 years old” (1). Despite such tight control from her mother, Abramovic soon proved to be a very talent artist with success of the Rhythm series. The final performance, Rhythm 0 received critical acclaim from art critic due to its controversial nature.
Rhythm 0, 74
In this piece, the audience was invited to do what ever they want with her, using 72 objects she placed on a table. Art critic Thomas McEvilley wrote:
It began tamely. Someone turned her around. Someone thrust her arms into the air. Someone touched her somewhat intimately. The Neapolitan night began to heat up. In the third hour all her clothes were cut from her with razor blades. In the fourth hour the same blades began to explore her skin. Her throat was slashed so someone could suck her blood. Various minor sexual assaults were carried out on her body. She was so committed to the piece that she would not have resisted rape or murder. Faced with her abdication of will, with its implied collapse of human psychology, a protective group began to define itself in the audience. When a loaded gun was thrust to Marina’s head and her own finger was being worked around the trigger, a fight broke out between the audience factions
To me, this piece best represented Abramovic as an artist. In Rhythm 0, I see an ultimate test of physical and emotional limit. During the 6 hour performance, the challenge to remain calm and non-responsive to physical harm as well as a threat to be shot in the face is more than impressive. However, the masterpiece of Rhythm 0 lies in stimulation of the audience by Abramovic. If I were there, I would constantly ask how far the artist would let these stranger take control of her own body. By giving up her own free will, she was able to manipulate the audience to become progressively aggressive with their actions to the point of threatening her life. Would the person pulling the gun on her have done so to others? Would that person have done so at the beginning of the piece? The answer is most likely not. Yet that person did it to her only because other rituals had been done on her body, pulling a loaded pistol on her did not seem as extreme anymore.
Since then, she has accomplished more than any artist could dream of. Her most recent piece The Artist is Present at the Museum of Modern Art received lots of media attention, helping build up the fame of a very talented artist. Yet, the Rhythm series, especially Rhythm 0 remained her best achievement as a performance artist.
The Artist is Present, 2010
(1) Thomas McEvilley, “Stages of Energy: Performance Art Ground Zero?” in Abramović, Artist Body, p. 17