Rhythm 0 was the last in a series of five ‘Rhythm’ works performed by Marina Abramović between 1973 and 1974. These works used performance to test her body’s endurance and psychic limits, making it both object and subject of the artistic action while exploring its capacity to embody the mental processes of conceptual art.
Rhythm 0 was a six-hour performance at Galleria Studio Morra in Naples during which Abramović allowed herself to be manipulated by the public in any way they chose, using a range of objects laid on a table, such as grooming tools, food and weapons. The artist submits her body to a ‘dialogue of energy’ with the audience, who are implicated in the collective generation of meaning. Drawing on traditions of self-flagellation, catharsis and mythology, Abramović engages with unfamiliar ethical territory through being manipulated by the audience to create a powerful essay in submission.
As the documentation shows, the performance evolved into one of constructed trauma, ending with the artist holding a loaded gun against her own head, with tears in her eyes, her blouse pulled open to expose her breasts, and bleeding from a head wound. Abramović commented: ‘That was the heaviest piece I ever did because I wasn’t in control. The audience was in control.’
The surrounding works extend the significance of Rhythm 0 by tracing a concern with performative endurance, abjection and theatricality, in which the body is used to reveal hidden meanings and trauma is presented as a form of sculptural language.