Today I’m feeling Marina Abramovic.
I stumbled over Seven Easy Pieces last night and I still have Gina Pane’s The Conditioning on my mind.
While Abramovic’s earlier pieces examined her own physical and mental limits, more recently her practice has evolved to examine the very idea of performance art and how it is documented and presented.
In 2005 she performed Seven Easy Pieces at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where she re-enacted over seven evenings, iconic performance pieces of the 1960’s-70’s including two of her own. These were:-
Bruce Nauman, Body Pressure (1974) where Nauman constructed a blank false wall mirroring an existing wall, and posted on the false wall instructions for visitors to perform their own action piece.
Press as much of the front surface of
your body (palms in or out, left or right cheek)
against the wall as possible.
Press very hard and concentrate.
Form an image of yourself (suppose you
had just stepped forward) on the
opposite side of the wall pressing
back against the wall very hard.
Press very hard and concentrate on the image pressing very hard.
(the image of pressing very hard)
press your front surface and back surface
toward each other and begin to ignore or
block the thickness of the wall. (remove
Think how various parts of your body
press against the wall; which parts
touch and which do not.
Consider the parts of your back which
press against the wall; press hard and
feel how the front and back of your
body press together.
Concentrate on the tension in the muscles,
pain where bones meet, fleshy deformations that occur under pressure; consider
body hair, perspiration, odors (smells).
This may become a very erotic exercise.
The next day Abramovic performed Vito Acconci’s Seedbed (1972), where the artist had originally occupied a space under a false flow and masturbated as he spoke into a microphone while visitors walked around and above him. Creating an instant intimate connection with the audience, the fact that this piece was now being performed by a woman made it a completely new performance.
VALIE EXPORT’s Aktionshose: Genitalpanik (Action Pants: Genital Panic) (1969) was the piece Abramovic performed on the third day. In the original EXPORT wore pants with the crotch removed and walked through a cinema while a film was being screened, provoking the audience with her exposed genitalia at face level.
Performance four was Gina Pane’s The Conditioning, first action of Self-Portrait(s) (1973), where Pane lay on a metal bed above lit candles for approximately thirty minutes.
On the following day, Abramovic performed Joseph Beuys’ How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965). With his head covered in honey and gold leaf, Beuys had cradled a dead hare, showing it pictures on the wall and whispering to it.
The sixth performance was Abramovic’s own Lips of Thomas (1975) where she ate a kilogram of honey and drank a litre of red wine out of a glass. She then broke the glass with her hand, incised a star in her stomach with a razor blade, and then whipped herself until she could feel the pain no more. Abramovic then lay down on an ice cross with a space heater above her, which probably caused her a lot more pain. I do admit that it is difficult to rationalise works like these, but to me Marina Abramovic is the sum total of every single work she has performed or created. The pain and self-inflicted suffering of this work was part of the process of getting her to being the artist she is today.
As the last piece, Abramovic performed a new work Entering the Other Side (2005) where she stood towering over the audience in a giant blue dress.
Marina ended the performance with –
I am here, and now.
You are here, and now.
There is no time.”