Friday, 7 October 2016
Marina Abramovic: The Saviour of Insanity
To most, Marina Abramovic is the bearer of two conflicting titles. In the eyes of modern art aficionados and Clement Greenburg-style analysts, she is single-handedly fanning the flames of a dwindling and often ridiculed movement. To others, she is simply one more by-product of the modern art machine, spat out from its churning elements to join the existing ranks of formaldehyde showmen and bodily fluid enthusiasts.
And as if the dubious credibility of ‘Modern Artist’ wasn’t enough to contend with, Abramovic moves within the most revered and questioned branch of modernism - performance art. The very utterance of this term is enough to provoke proverbial eye rolling and communal titters. And speak those two words in any location but the trendier parts of London or New York, you will probably find yourself being dragged from the premises on the grounds of sheer pomposity.
But for me, Abramovic stands aside from other performance artists (or as they are more commonly referred to, ‘bullshit mongers’) because for some obscure and incomprehensible reason, I like her. Of course, it goes without saying that her creations are totally void of artistic skill and completely lacking in competent execution, but there is something about her unbridled and seemingly genuine insanity which endears me so.
Perhaps I am simply pining for a modern day solution to Frieda Kahlo, but I crave nothing more than a contemporary female whose projections of mania I can believe. Much like my Mexican messiah, reoccurring themes of inner torment can be seen consistently throughout her performance pieces. What the stillborn child is to Kahlo, the communist star is to Abramovic, and rather than elegantly painting her anguish onto canvas she prefers to cut these symbols of pain and oppression into her pale Serbian flesh.
Born in former Yugoslavia in the late 1940’s, Abramovic is the child of two individuals who successfully fought for the communist partisans during World War II. "We were Red bourgeoisie," she once told an interviewer. Bourgeoisie perhaps, but the grey war-torn landscape visible from the windows of the family home certainly had a profound effect on the young artist, which would later manifest itself as public displays of brutality.
Justifying her performances as "testing the limits of myself in order to transform myself", Abramovic has graced the sparse rooms of art galleries all over the world with such pieces as Rhythm 0, which saw her lying prone on a table for six hours surrounded by an array of carefully selected instruments, including matches, lipstick, saws, nails and perhaps most disconcerting of all, a loaded gun. Visitors were invited to do as they desired with her body.
Another piece entitled Lips Of Thomas, which took place in the Innsbruck Krinzinger Gallery, allowed visitors to observe the artist eating one kilo of honey, violently whipping herself until she no longer felt pain, and lying naked on a crucifix made of ice for thirty minutes.
And so it is because of acts of insanity such as these that performance artists should be hailed. Not of course, as significant contributors to art, but as a cathartic process of observing an individual with more loose screws than yourself. Perhaps if Abramovic and her fellow performance art gun-slingers repackaged themselves as performance therapists, their decidedly shaky reputations would glean sturdier foundations. They can't paint for shit and their attempts at sculpture would probably resemble the efforts of a limbless Chernobyl victim - but put me in a room with a woman who flagellates herself for kicks and I will leave a little less concerned about the voices in my own head.