Second Lecture Highlights



Text by Gustavo Bonfiglioli
Photographs by Victor Takayama
Friday, March 27 - 2015

Marina Abramovic's second lecture on performance art at Terra Comunal - MAI was held on Thursday, March 26, from 8pm to 10pm - BRT at SESC Pompeia's main auditorium, with 800 people in attendance.

After leading the audience in a few breathing exercises, Abramovic began the lecture by stating that art is a means of questioning and disturbing rather than simply decorating. A video screening followed that featured performances of hands and arms as both subject and medium,  such as Chris Burden’s Shoot (1971), in which the artist is shot at close range in the arm inside a gallery.

Abramovic then went on to talk about physical limits. She presented some of the Brazilian performance artists exhibiting works at Terra Comunal- MAI, and then answered questions. Here are the highlights divided by Abramovic's quotes:


"For me, it's important to look at rituals in ancient cultures, that often involve extreme and painful situations. Dealing with pain can unlock other levels of consciousness. When you confront pain fearlessly, it turns into something different"

Abramovic described a parallel between pain and performance, citing her research on the rituals of ancient African, Aboriginal, Chinese, Japanese, and Brazilian cultures, and how they influenced her work. She screened Expansion in Space (1977) and Rest Energy (1980), works that she performed with Ulay, her former partner and collaborator for 12 years, in which their physical limits are challenged.

"I wanted to have a range of different attitudes when I curated the performances that would be here at Terra Comunal - MAI. It was not just enough for me to show my work, I wanted to show Brazilian artists’ work."

Staying on the topic of physical and mental limits, Abramovic then showed videos of three long durational performances from the MAI Presents portion of the exhibition: Transmutation of Meat by Ayrson Heráclito, DNA of DAN by Maikon K, and Body Crumbling by Paula Garcia.

She then called a fourth MAI Presents artist, Fernando Ribeiro, to the stage. His performance The Typewriter consists of walking around SESC Pompeia in silence for eight hours each day carrying a typewriter and writing non-stop about everything he observes and feels. Ribeiro sat onstage while Abramovic called for three different volunteers to read his texts aloud.

At Abramovic’s request, the audience practiced a short version of her Mutual Gaze exercise, making uninterrupted eye contact with the person next to them, in absolute stillness, for three minutes. While this was happening, she put the microphone next to Ribeiro's typewriter to amplify the sound of his typing and describing everything.

During the Q&A, Abramovic emphasized the public’s role in performance, saying that the performer and audience necessarily build the work together with an exchange of energy.

Q: When do you know the performance is over?

Abramovic: "Concept is important, and you have to use everything you have, mentally and physically, to fulfill the concept. But public is essential. It's very intuitive: if there's still energy with the public, it's not over."

"When I did Rhythm 0 in 1975, I gave people objects, a gun with one bullet include[d], and the opportunity to do whatever they wanted with my body. And then I learned that the audience can potentially kill you. With The Artist is Present, I gave them another thing: energy."

A member of the audience asked Abramovic about pushing the limits in performance. She used Rhythm 0 and The Artist is Present as examples of how the energy shared by performer and audience doesn’t always come from a good place. She explained that in 1975, her primary concern was seeing just how far the public would go in reaction to her performance, but learned with The Artist is Present that it’s possible to maintain positive energy together with the public.

When asked about her relationship with Ulay and their performance The Lovers, in which they walked the Great Wall of China, beginning at opposite ends and finally meeting in the middle to end their relationship, Abramovic said:

"Suffering for an artist is a very good thing."

An especially poignant moment in the lecture was when a woman began her question by saying she had been coming SESC to practice the Abramovic Method everyday since the beginning of the exhibition. Abramovic interrupted her and called her to the stage:

"Let's switch roles. I'm the one who will ask you a question: what made you come to the Method everyday?"

The woman explained very emotionally that she had sold her car to come to São Paulo by bus from her home city every morning and experience the method in order to discover herself as a performance artist. The audience applauded and Abramovic told the woman that she had made her day.

The lecture ended in applause at 10pm BRT.

Check our calendar for dates and times of the remaining six lectures to be given by Marina Abramovic.

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