Marina Abramović’s exhibition ‘Performative’ at Sean Kelly was one of the most gripping shows of the year so far. As a Serbian conceptual artist, philanthropist, writer, and filmmaker, she challenges the notion of art and the role of the audience through physically and mentally demanding performances. With an aim to create an impact on both the public and the artist’s consciousness by using her own physique to convey ideas, her work confronts pain and the limits of the body and the mind, exploring endurance, identity, and feminism.
“Performance is about being in the present, it is about creating a luminous state of being.” - Marina Abramović
By bringing together four of her key artworks, ‘Performative’ highlighted the way Abramović globally shaped the trajectory of performance art, creating an anthology of work from her now 50-year career. Rhythm 10, presented in the main gallery, is one of her earliest works, made in Belgrade in the 1970’s. Throughout the film, she rhythmically stabs the space between her fingers at an increased speed with one of the 20 knives disposed in front of her until she cuts herself, changes the knife used and start again. This riveting cycle of pain emphasized by the sound of the stabbing makes on question the elements of ritual and gesture - the body being both object and subject. Rhythm 10 indeed allows a certain self-discovery and a new state of consciousness in the artist as well as in her audience, arousing strong cathartic emotions in both entities.
After completing a 3000km walk from one end of the Great Wall of China to its center point in 1988 and experiencing various energy states caused by the different minerals present in the ground, Abramović began to create what she would call ‘Transitory Objects’. It was the first time in her career that the artist invited the public to interact directly with her work. At ‘Performative’, four chairs and three quartz pillows were displayed in the main gallery, each object containing natural minerals that would enable her to transmit what she felt through her practice into the participants. The public would thus become performer too, bringing the piece to completion.
“All the transitory objects have one thing in common: they do not exist on their own; the public must interact with them. Some objects are there to empty the viewer, some to give energy, and some to make a mental departure possible.” - Marina Abramović
The Artist is Present is another work that chronicles the development of Abramović’s career. Through this static silent piece in which she sat motionless in front of her audience at the MoMa in 2010 while maintaining eye contact with each person, she tested the limits of physical endurance while questioning the constraints of art and defying the fundamental relationship between artist and public. By stretching the length of her performance to 716 hours and a half over three months, Marina Abramović challenged both herself and the participants emotionally, intellectually, and physically, altering the perception of time and fostering a profound involvement in the experience.
The lower gallery presented an immersive cinematic experience of the artist’s 2020 film, Seven Deaths, through which she highlighted the culmination of her lifelong passion and empathy for the talented and tragic figure Maria Callas. Abramović creates a meditation around the notion of the body, source of both power and pain, captivating the audience with the stunningly dramatic soprano voice of Callas and an interpretative recreation of her seven iconic deaths performed on screen.
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