Marina Abramovic: A lecture on “The History of Long-Durational Work”


Tuesday, March 22nd - 2016


The Benaki Museum’s Auditorium, where the first lecture of Marina Abramovic is held, completely fills up. People of all ages are here to hear Abramovic’s keynote on “The History of Long-durational Work” and be part of the As One experience.

At 6.00’ pm, Marina Abramovic is already on stage. Before starting her lecture on the “History of Long-Durational Work”, she shares her thoughts on the fragility of life, after a bombing occurred in front of the hotel in Istanbul she had been staying in, just moments after she left the city. “Every day we get closer and closer to our death. But we really don’t know when it is going to happen. That’s why it is important to live every day of our lives, as if it was the last one.”

After a quick introduction to the subject of her lecture Abramovic begins talking about her philosophy on performance art:

“Performance deals with present – and present is the only reality we actually have. It’s a time-based art. If you are not present right here, right now when this thing happens, you miss it”. She refers to its immaterial nature and points out that “Immaterial Art is a difficult form of art. It's like the phoenix, the bird that always dies and is reborn from its own ashes again and again and again”.



Then she talks about art in the Eastern World – in Asia, in Japan, in China, in India: “For them, art is all about solitude. They spend a long period of time in nature, on mountain tops or in places with waterfalls; they hardly eat, drink a lot of water and comfort themselves in the chi energy. They meditate until they achieve altered states of consciousness. And after that kind of preparation, they return to secular life, to create great works of art”.


The History of Long-Durational Work

At this point, Marina Abramovic enters the main subject of her lecture, highlighting that “In early ‘70s, it was called body art: all performance artists those days had been using their body as the place where the art was being developed”.

The ‘80’s was a crucial decade for performance art: during the first years, all the galleries and art dealers put pressure on performance artists because of the art’s immaterial nature: simply because “you can't sell performance”. However, at the end of the ‘80’s the awareness of the body returned in different ways this time: David Bowie brought all this new sensibility to the relationship between performance - video - back to performance.

Nowadays, the financial crisis contributed significantly in performance art’s dynamic comeback, also due to the fact that the nature of material art favors its commercialization.

Abramovic then talks about the significance that mind control has in performance art.

“Our mind is our biggest enemy and, at the same time, our best friend. It’s very easy to control your body, but it’s very difficult to control your mind. Performance is about finding balance between those two”.


The importance of Body Drama

She explains how long-durational performance connects us to our true self: “If you keep doing something for one, two, three months – this is not performance, this is life itself”. To continue, she clarifies that when talking about durational work she does not mean just performance work, but also other disciplines such as science – and finally she concludes that since long durational work is about life, “You can’t act for such a long time, because you are dealing with total exhaustion. And exhaustion prevents you from acting – brings you closer to your true self. It is very interesting how you can transform yourself into what I call higher self”.

What does “body drama” mean, and in which way it is connected to long durational work? “Imagine that you do jogging in a park: at some point, you feel that you cannot take one step more, that you have reached your physical limits. And exactly at this point, there is a guy that tells you ‘I want to kill you, just run to save your life.’ What do you do? You run of course. But where have you found the energy to do so? You draw it from your survival instinct - it’s your survival energy: it is always there, and you don’t have to be in danger to use it, you have access to it whenever you want. That is the way that body drama connects to long-durational performance. And this is really beautiful”. Are you sure she was talking about body drama??

To continue, Marina Abramovic talks about the meditation state one needs to acquire in order to be able to use this energy whenever one wishes to. She explains that after years and years of personal research, she created the Method, as a significant tool that would help people accomplish that.

Long-durational performance works throughout the years

During the last part of her lecture, Abramovic highlighted some exceptional long-durational performance works, presented throughout the years. She discussed Richard Wagner, stating that he was one of the first long-durational artists in opera, as there were times his works were being performed for four days and fifteen hours per day; Andy Warhol, who filmed the Empire State Building for a long period of time; John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who transformed their wedding day into a long-durational demonstration about peace; Bob Wilson, who presented “The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin” for more than 12 hours; Tehching Hsieh, who presented five performance works during his life, each one of a one-year duration; John Cage, who created a music performance of the organ version of As Slow as Possible, scheduled to have a duration of 639 years, ending in 2640; Pina Bausch, who Abramovic considers as one of the geniuses of this last century Paula Garcia, a great performance artist and one of MAI’s partners, also invited on stage to talk about her last long-durational performance work presented in Terra Comunal, in Brazil, for two months.

“We have an incredible historical moment here, in Athens: 29 Greek artists are presenting for the very first time in their lives a performance work of that duration – they proposed the project, they experienced the Cleaning the House workshop, and now they are doing long-durational performance. It is not easy at all and I am so proud to say that this is the most incredible achievement so far. The audience’s presence is extremely important to them, because you give them energy to keep pushing their limits further”.