Jasmina Tešanović: On Marina Abramovic, a "grandmother of performance art"

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Author Jasmina Tešanović writes this guest-essay on the work of 63-year old Serbian artist Marina Abramovic (above), the "grandmother of performance art" whose work will be honored in 2010 in a MOMA retrospective:

All her work is centered on body, her body which went through severe trials all these years: cutting, beating starving, public exposure... the dividing line between spirituality and trials is almost invisible, the path of living leads to death. An artist should be prepared to die and prepare her own funeral, that the last performance of her life.
Read Jasmina's entire essay, after the jump.


I will allow myself to be emotional since Marina Abramovic, at the end of her Torino lecture about her life work, was in tears.

I believed her: every word she said, every tear she shed. Many words, not too many tears. More than believing. I identified with her, her movements, her words, her Serbian accent onto perfect English vocabulary. Her globalized discourse, her nomadism and all the people and places we had in common: imaginary and real. Even the differences brought me closer to her emotions and her work.

This 63 year old world famous artist, who will next year have a big retrospective show in MOMA, a well deserved one, is in impressive shape: physical and intellectual. I've heard so much about her, gossip and artistic reviews.

I have followed her work in all these years, from the seventies in Belgrade when Belgrade conceptual scene was hot and I lived in Rome, and then on the Italian conceptual melting pot where art ideas were happening and un-happening at the bigger speed than in real time.

But in Torino at GAM, (a renovated gallery of modern art) this graceful, sincere and emotional guru and performance bomb, was not the person I expected. She was so much more, far more alive and kicking. As if her powerful work is only a shadow of her powerful personality.

She spoke of her childhood and early days as an artist. She spoked of her 12 year old love and work with Ulay, the Dutch artist; she showed us how she went on after breaking up with him on the top of the Great Wall of China, abandoning performance art for a while. She showed us musical performances that followed after with Yugoslav songs, songs from a country that does not exist.

Finally she ended her talk with a beautiful optimistic song sung by a young girl: in a down-ridden country that is modern Serbia.

She told us she doesn't not like technology, she thinks people should use telepathy and not telephones, to sharpen the levels of transcendental conscience and spirituality. Her famous tools (among others) for art and knowledge are pain, self-inflicted hunger, thirst and exhaustion for trying the body, for reaching its limits and experiencing the transcendent. How very Balkanic global!

All her work is centered on body, her body which went through severe trials all these years: cutting, beating starving, public exposure... the dividing line between spirituality and trials is almost invisible, the path of living leads to death. An artist should be prepared to die and prepare her own funeral, that the last performance of her life.

The grandmother of performance art, as she calls herself, today is teaching everywhere and proudly: she believes in transmitting knowledge and enhancing young people to perform, to make a contact between their bodies and emotions and those of the audience. Performance needs no rehearsal like theater,as a performer, either you have it or you don't.

For that purpose Marina Abramović purchased a theater two hours north of Manhattan in Hudson, NY, intending to establish the nonprofit organization, Marina Abramović Foundation for Preservation of Performance Art. She will use the space to work, to develop ideas by including video and post-production equipment, and as a second property to house resident artists.

However her art may look or sound today in this new technological posthuman era, her brisk and bright presence, her manifesto of art in which she exhorts artists to be humble and sincere, and servants of humanity, tell us that we should count on our grandmothers: especially when they, like Marina, walk the Chinese walls, let their body be cut by the audience, and live in the desert for a year.

Some years ago, Marina Abramovic made a performance in Amsterdam where she took the place of a prostitute in the window and had the prostitute took her place in the gallery: she did it to identify with the harsh reality of that woman. For those who doubt of the meaning of her art , I suggest that they do the same. Change your place with the person you want to understand. For just one day.

[ Marina in Torino, photo by Zarko Vujovic ]


Jasmina Tešanović is an author, filmmaker, and wandering thinker who shares her thoughts with BoingBoing from time to time. Email: politicalidiot at yahoo dot com. Her blog is here.

Previous essays by Jasmina Tešanović on BoingBoing:

- The Murder of Natalya Estemirova.
- Less Than Human
- Earthquake in Italy
- 10 years after NATO bombings of Serbia
- Made in Catalunya / Lou and Laurie
- Dragan Dabic Defeats Radovan Karadzic
- Who was Dragan David Dabic?
- My neighbor Radovan Karadzic
- The Day After / Kosovo
- State of Emergency
- Kosovo
- Christmas in Serbia
- Neonazism in Serbia
- Korea - South, not North.
- "I heard they are making a movie on her life."
- Serbia and the Flames
- Return to Srebenica
- Sagmeister in Belgrade
- What About the Russians?
- Milan Martic sentenced in Hague
- Mothers of Mass Graves
- Hope for Serbia
- Stelarc in Ritopek
- Sarajevo Mon Amour
- MBOs
- Killing Journalists
- Where Did Our History Go?
- Serbia Not Guilty of Genocide
- Carnival of Ruritania
- "Good Morning, Fascist Serbia!"
- Faking Bombings
- Dispatch from Amsterdam
- Where are your Americans now?
- Anna Politkovskaya Silenced
- Slaughter in the Monastery
- Mermaid's Trail
- A Burial in Srebenica
- Report from a concert by a Serbian war criminal
- To Hague, to Hague
- Preachers and Fascists, Out of My Panties
- Floods and Bombs
- Scorpions Trial, April 13
- The Muslim Women
- Belgrade: New Normality
- Serbia: An Underworld Journey
- Scorpions Trial, Day Three: March 15, 2006
- Scorpions Trial, Day Two: March 14, 2006
- Scorpions Trial, Day One: March 13, 2006
- The Long Goodbye
- Milosevic Arrives in Belgrade
- Slobodan Milosevic Died
- Milosevic Funeral

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  1. I am not surprised that Marina was in tears and that the interviewer believed her. She uses tears constantly and very effectively. As a performance artist she achieved international fame and crocodile tears are part of the performance.

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