February 16, 2010
Celebrated performance artist Marina Abramovic recently visited the Cinema Studies Department to discuss her past and present work. With a brief introduction by actor James Franco (Spider-Man 3, Milk, etc.), which consisted of a concise and well-paced summary of the many performance highlights of her career (the infamous Rhythm series, among others), Abramovic proceeded to speak to a packed house. Students, hungry for an Abramovic encounter, even lined the aisles of the theatre.
Abramovic’s artistic work is known for pushing the physical, emotional, and mental limits of the artist’s body. Long duration, deprivation of food, water, and/or privacy, extended immobility, cutting and burning of the flesh, and considerable risk of mortal injury, are all techniques that she uses in her performances.
Abramovic was invited to speak in the department by Franco, in conjunction with Prof. Chris Straayer’s Advanced Seminar entitled, “The Body: Sex, Science & Sign.” After Franco’s opening remarks, Abramovic proceeded to show clips from many of her early works including the Rhythm series, as well as excerpts from her decades-long collaboration with German performance artist, Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen). Between clips and explanations of individual works, she also explicated her overarching philosophy on art and performance. Using a video clip of the opening sequence to a schmaltzy Liberace TV program, she articulated a clear line of distinction between entertainment and performance, kitsch from art.
In addition to showing video clips of many of her past performances, she also showed excerpts from her recent film work, Balkan Erotic Epic (2006), in which Balkan folk tales and sexual superstitions are reimagined as performance pieces integrated within the generic conventions of an instructional video.
A group of filmmakers was also in attendance at this lecture, shooting additional material for an upcoming documentary film, entitled MARINA, which traces Abramovic’s lecture tour, and her extensive preparations for her 50 piece, 36 performer retrospective show, which runs from March 14-May 31 at the Museum of Modern Art. In addition to this retrospective, Abramovic will also be performing a piece entitled The Artist is Present, everyday, for ten weeks in MoMA’s atrium.