Opening Lecture Highlights


quotes from marina abramovic

Photographs by Victor Takayama
Thursday, March 12 - 2015

Terra Comunal - MAI features a series of eight scheduled lectures delivered by Marina Abramovic on the subject of performance art. The first lecture takes place at the main auditorium of SESC Pompeia with a live audience of 800 people and many more watching via live stream on the SESC and MAI websites.The talk begins a series designed to deepen understanding of performance art.

In her opening lecture, Abramovic separates examples of performance art into five body-based categories: head, feet, chest, hands, and stomach. Each category has a corresponding lecture within the series, which begins with 20 videos of performances focusing on the human head by various artists including herself, spanning from the 1970’s to more contemporary selections. Later, she conducts a Q&A session with the audience.

Abramovic asks the crowd to close their eyes. She counts as they slowly inhale and exhale 12 times.

Selected quotes and highlights:  

"Performance is a transition of consciousness, from that ordinary human being to an extraordinary one." 

The lecture starts with Abramovic’s acknowledgement of her early performance pieces during the mid 1970’s in her home country of Serbia. She talks about the feeling of putting the body in perspective with performance.

"Performance is time-based art. And it's real - a knife is a real knife and blood is real blood."

What is the difference between performance and theater? The latter deals with emulations of reality, acting and scenographic elements - everything is artificial, while the former is about having a truly real experience. Performance stretches the limits of body and mind and reframes the notion of time.

"Art is not about matching a painting with your carpet at home: it should be disturbing, questioning, bring up your fears." 

At this point, Abramovic starts to show some performances that reinforce the potential of using just the head in such an unusual way that it’s jarring, probing at established habits and mindsets. She also says it's ironic to think that art must be beautiful, because it should be transformative; and there has to be friction for transformation to occur. Just then, Art Must Be Beautiful, Art Must Be Beautiful (1975) is screened, one of her early works (currently on view at Terra Comunal - MAI) in which she repeats the title phrase like a mantra while violently brushing her hair.

"A crisis happened to performance arts in the 70's: there was nothing to sell. With immaterial performance art, all that's left is memory"

Right before showing a video in which artists perform inside a nightclub, Abramovic provides some context of performance art history in her early career. In the 1970’s, performance artists started to present their work in a more formal and cohesive way, as the 1960’s were prototypical and paved the way for this form of art. The crisis was about intangibility: until then, the business of art was almost exclusively about exhibiting, buying and selling tangible works: paintings, sculptures, drawings. The inability to commodify their work put a lot of pressure on performance artists.

She explains that in the 1980’s, as the AIDS epidemic created a whole new way the body was viewed by individuals and society, performance artists started to realize they didn't necessarily need to show work inside galleries or museums. Places of cultural- and countercultural- expression such as nightclubs played an important role in the rise of the resulting site-specific performances.

Abramovic shows video clips of the remaining works focusing on the head as the medium, and then opens a Q&A session.

A man asks about The Artist is Present. Marina takes him to the stage and they make eye contact in silence for a minute

"Once you are there, looking at me, in the middle of a room with people all around the room, being watched, filmed and photographed, you have no other place to go but inside yourself. That's when you feel present"

Another audience member asks about art and feminism, and Abramovic states that art shouldn't be put in that perspective. Whether an individual is female or male, homosexual or heterosexual, transgender or cisgender, Abramovic feels that gender should disappear when performing

"I'm a female, but I'm not a female artist. I'm an artist. Art has no gender. The only division possible for art is: good art and bad art" 

The artist also answers questions about who she was and who she is now, taking time to give more context about her early days. She notes a few curiosities about her background and discusses how that affected her work, like growing up in Belgrade when it was part of Yugoslavia and the strictness of her mother Danica. Abramovic describes her 1970’s persona as "wild.”

One of the last questions is about the boundaries between spirituality and art, and if there's a need for art to enhance spirituality.

"Spirituality is different from art. But you need spiritual consciousness to make a good work."

The speech ends at 10pm with warm applause.

Check our calendar for dates and times of the other seven lectures to be delivered by Marina Abramovic.

Terra Comunal - MAI is free and open to the public until May 10, 2015 @SESC Pompeia, São Paulo - Brazil.