Serbian-born Marina Abramovic is one of the world’s foremost performance artists. Back in my university days, I defined performance art by the work of American Laurie Anderson. Although obtaining a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture, Anderson was also a skilled musician and composer. As a result, her craft centred around the use of experimental music, most notably with violin and keyboard, adding multimedia, vocals and cutting edge technology to her works.
But much of contemporary performance art focuses on the performer’s use of the body in space. This has definitely been a signature of the type of work Marina Abramovic has produced since the early 1970s. Performances have involved deliberately inflicting bodily pain with and without objects, plus a number of interactive performances with the public. Objects have included knives, flames, and a bow and arrow aimed at her chest from close range. Areas of investigation through her performance art have included the performer’s state of consciousness, movement, space, extended stillness, long periods of silence, and the relationship between performer and audience.
Abramovic’s most famous work was at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in 2010, where she sat motionless and silent for 736 hours on a chair placed at a table in an empty space. One at a time, visitors to the museum were encouraged to spend a moment sitting opposite Abramovic in complete silence, interacting with the performance artist in their own personal way. The film The Artist is Present documents this performance. More recently, Abramovic worked with Lady GaGa on her 2013 album Artpop.
In June 2015, Marina Abramovic opened a five-month retrospective of her work at Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), before spending a week in Sydney as an artist in residence on a different project. Titled Private Archaeology, the MONA exhibition features a range of video installations of her work over the past four decades. There is also an interesting series of drawings, quotes, photographs and artefacts that chart Abramovic’s journey and stand as major influences for her works.