Marina Abramović talks to TateShots about her passion for performance art. The Serbian artist is, to many people, the definitive performance artist. Her works test the limits of the human body, and even the endurance of audiences who may witness performances lasting hours, days, or weeks.
In this film we join her in her magnificent yet minimal apartment, where she discusses the amount of work that goes into staging one of her ambitious pieces, and why it's never easy to explain what she does.
If I had the chance and somebody would tell me okay, you know, not yet, but let’s say in the next ten years, to go into the space ship to go to see out of our galaxy, somewhere completely unknown, and never come back, I would really go. I really… when I was a child this one thing I always want to know is what is behind the cosmos? My name is Marina Abramović. I was born in the former Yugoslavia, and right now we are in New York. It’s morning and raining and grey, and really shitty weather. I just came back from Moscow, so I have major jetlag, and I was in the plane, and the people asked me: what are you doing? You know, sitting, some businessman next to me. You know, I never can say exactly what I’m doing, so my best undercover is I always say I’m the nurse from New Zealand, and I’m here in your country, you know, interested in educational or health programme. And then conversation stops, which always works. For me, it’s such a huge preparation. People don’t understand how actually long it takes; Walking the Chinese Wall took me eight years to set up. Seven Easy Pieces in Guggenheim took me 12 years. The project in Laos took me two years; the Erotic Balkan Epic took me another two years. The same energy you spend on getting idea; the same energy you have to spend of placing the idea in right time and the right place. That’s really important. That all the complements have to be right; like one funny example is that I prefer to do all my performances starting, you know, and or finishing on full moon nights, when the moon is rising. And is like, you know, almost mystical thing, but actually the moon energy is incredible, and if they can move entire oceans, of course the water in our body, why not use that kind of energy when it’s available? So in The House with the Ocean View it was 12 days, and it was really an experiment. It was a really important thing, because it came just after September 11, when I think the American public become vulnerable in a different way, and I never left the gallery, you know, for the 12 days. So experiment was this: if I don’t eat and I don’t talk and I purify myself without eating anything except drinking pure water, can I purify space in this way? And can me and space can actually change kind of molecular structure of the energy that the public will come, and they will be there just for a short period of time, or longer period of time, and just be with me. And the public really complete the work. My work is very long durational lately. It takes a long time, and very little things is happening, and that means when you are dealing with almost nothing, that’s the real point. Because everybody wanted to have this, how you call? Kind of big concept where many things are happening, but this many things are happening is just a security that you hide yourself between objects, between ideas – between I don’t know – all kinds of ideas you want to expose. Actually, just being present as an artist in the space with full consciousness, and your attitude with your body, and telling the minimum with the minimum, that’s the most difficult. And this is… my process always starts with very, very complicated, and then I strip to the… just bare, you know, idea, and that’s it. So my kind of formula I could say that for me, the performance is mental and physical structure which you create in the front of the audience in a fixed time and space, you know, and you enter into that construction, and then performance starts. How I can explain what I am really doing as a performance artist? It’s impossible.