Third Lecture Highlights



Text by Ulisses Carrilho
Photographs by Victor Nomoto
Thursday, April 2 - 2015

Marina Abramovic's third lecture on performance art at Terra Comunal - MAI began with twelve collective deep breaths. The event was held on Wednesday, April 1, from 8pm to 10pm BRT at SESC Pompeia's main auditorium. During this conference, breath took on a whole new meaning when several of the artist’s performance works from the mid-1970’s were presented, including Breathing in, Breathing out (1976), which was made in collaboration with Ulay. In this performance, the pair breathed the air from each other's lungs in turn until - almost to the point of suffocation - they were exchanging only carbon dioxide.

The breathing exercises that Sao Paulo audiences have come to expect when attending these conferences are a simple way in which Abramovic lets the audience connect with the present moment before she begins speaking:

"Here and now is the only reality we have. We have to get used to that."

Abramovic opened with some autobiographical context: her personal views on the political facets of her childhood in Serbia, and how this shaped her as an artist. She was raised in a strict communist household and gave examples of the harsh rules of everyday life, with which she was required to comply

"Before I started my performance work, I used to make sound installations. My focus was the sound."

After experimenting with painting at the beginning of her career, Abramovic recalled that her artistic research on immaterial art originated from a particular investigation of sound: an installation in which she put metronomes in five different rooms, all set to different tempos: andante (walking pace), allegro (fast), vivace (lively), and presto (faster). The fifth metronome was still and silent. 

Widely known for her relevance in the field of immaterial art and long durational performance, Abramovic has produced diverse work in a range of media, from live performances to installations incorporating sculpture to photos and video pieces. 

"After the sound, for me it was very important to put my body and energy in front of the public."

Abramovic didn’t take a chronological approach to describing her art, but instead decided to show pieces that represent the many aspects of her body of work. She read the audience a brief manifesto on how to live as a young artist:

“Art Vital:
no fixed living-place
permanent movement
direct contact
local relation
passing limitations
taking risks
mobile energy”

In 1974, at the Student Cultural Center in Belgrade, she performed a piece called Rhythm 5, where she lost consciousness inside the perimeter of a burning star and was dragged to safety. Discussing Rhythm 0, one of her most well-known and controversial early works, she cautioned the audience of the danger present in objects themselves:

"Objects are for pleasure and objects are for pain"

Using short clips from her video performances as examples, Abramovic explained how she developed an artistic language for performance art. Art Must be Beautiful, Artist Must be Beautiful (1975) was her first filmed performance. The piece is a creative reaction to what was then a newly market-driven arts system: 

"It was the 1970s, nobody would pay for performance art. But we did it because we believed in it.”  

Addressing today’s young artists, Abramovic talked about the first years of her career as filled with passion  –art and Ulay were central elements to understanding her own needs and free spirit. Offering what she found to be an invaluable lesson from John Cage, Abramovic emphasized the importance of failing as a means of furthering artistic experimentation:

"You have to be in constant movement. You have to understand how important is to fail." 


On art and the importance of learning through formal education, she continued to talk of her early years:

“I had this professor that said two things to me that I’ll never forget. First: if you learn to draw with your right hand, and you are so good at it that you can do it even with closed eyes, immediately change to the left hand, because you repeat yourself. And second: if you have a good idea, be careful. In your whole life you may have one or two good ideas, and that’s it. Then you just make variations.”

Abramovic took questions, mainly from young artists in the audience. When asked to expand upon the importance of failing, she answered with a simple statement:


"When you are young, maybe you know nothing. But you have your intuition. You really have to trust your instincts."

The lecture ended in applause at 10pm BRT.

Check our calendar for dates and times of Marina Abramovic’s remaining six lectures in this series.

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