Marina Abramović, “Rhythm 0,” 1974
Marina Abramović is best known for her performance pieces, in which she tries to explore what is possible for an artist to do in the name of art. Her best known piece was the recent “The Artist Is Present,” in which she sat motionless for 736.5 hours over the course of three months, inviting visitors to sit opposite her and make eye contact for as long as they wanted. So many people began spontaneously crying across from her that blogs and Facebook groups were set up for those people.
Her bravest piece, however, is my favorite. This piece was primarily a trust exercise, in which she told viewers she would not move for six hours no matter what they did to her. She placed 72 objects one could use in pleasing or destructive ways, ranging from flowers and a feather boa to a knife and a loaded pistol, on a table near her and invited the viewers to use them on her however they wanted.
Initially, Abramović said, viewers were peaceful and timid, but it escalated to violence quickly. “The experience I learned was that … if you leave decision to the public, you can be killed… I felt really violated: they cut my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the public. Everyone ran away, escaping an actual confrontation.”
This piece revealed something terrible about humanity, similar to what Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment or Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiment, both of which also proved how readily people will harm one another under unusual circumstances.
This performance showed just how easy it is to dehumanize a person who doesn’t fight back, and is particularly powerful because it defies what we think we know about ourselves. I’m certain the no one reading this believes the people around him/her capable of doing such things to another human being, but this performance proves otherwise.
William-Adolphe Bouguereau - Pieta, 1876
low cost housing development near berlin; architect: eduard ludwig, painter: theodor werner (1952)
The Lips of Thomas by Marina Abramović, 1976
First performed in 1976, The Lips of Thomas heavily references both religion and communism; at its premiere, it similarly transformed the passive audience into actors. Abramović begins this performance with sticky, transubstantiated reverence, consuming more than two pounds of honey and a liter of wine. After whipping herself to numbness, she carves a five-pointed star into her stomach with a razor blade. Abramović then lays on a crucifix fashioned from blocks of ice, with a heater positioned over her stomach. As the star’s bleeding is hastened by warmth, the rest of her body begins to freeze.
At the 1976 premiere, the audience was unable to watch for more than half an hour. After 30 minutes, members of the audience retrieved Abramović from the crucifix and carried her off set. The two subsequent performances, in 1983 and 2005 have lasted significantly longer; in 2005, at the Guggenheim, the performance lasted for a full seven hours.
Egon Schiele, Two Women Embracing, 1911.
Tim Knowles - Tree Drawings (2006)
“A series of drawings produced using drawing implements attached to the tips of tree branches, the wind’s effects on the tree, recorded on paper.
Like signatures each drawing reveals the different qualities and characteristics of each tree.”