Fourth Lecture Highlights



Text by Ulisses Carrilho
Photographs by Victor Nomoto and Victor Takayama
Friday, April 3 - 2015

Marina Abramovic’s fourth lecture at Terra Comunal - MAI was held on Thursday, April 2, from 8pm to 10pm BRT. Like the other conferences in the series, this one was at maximum capacity with 800 people filling SESC Pompeia’s main auditorium. In addition to the live audience, the lecture was viewed worldwide via live stream on the SESC and MAI websites.

A piece of paper was placed on each seat with a simple proposition for the audience: write down any action that a human can perform. The papers were collected, to be used at the end of the conference. The point of departure for this fourth lecture was the preparation of a performance artist.

Abramovic recounted the story of her first painting classes, when she was 13 years old. The artist described wanting oil painting lessons and instead being met with a teacher who demanded that students work with a cut-up canvas, glue, cement, and gasoline to set it all on fire. For Abramovic, the experience was disruptive. When she returned home from months of vacation and looked for her work hanging on the wall, she was surprised:

“The sunset was hitting the wall straight from the window. Everything melted down. All that was left was a pile of dust on the floor. The importance of this class came to me so much later, when I was already working with performance art: the important to me is the process, not the result. It’s from the process [that] you learn everything.”

Abramovic referenced Yves Klein as a major influence throughout her artistic trajectory, and how he too used fire to emphasize process over product:

“Yves Klein was very important to me, to my studying process. He would say he was in fact working with the fire itself. He would burn the canvas. The painting was just a leftover of his art.”

While on the topic of artists who shaped her vision, Abramovic talked about the specific state of mind required to complete the artistic creation process:

“State of mind is everything. Brancusi, the great Romanian artist, would say that’s not important what you are doing. If it’s a film or a piece of architecture, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the state of mind [in which] you are doing what you are doing. What matters is the kind of clarity you can express in your action.”

After discussing such Art History heavyweights as Brancusi and Klein, she then introduced the concept of solitude and its role in a creative process. Ancestral rituals practiced by indigenous cultures are, according to Abramovic, an equally important aspect of all this:

“During ancient times, in China and Japan, the writers, poets the architects, and the great painters would go to the top of the mountain. They would sit there in meditation, in solitude. They would confront themselves with the Chi energy. Just then they would go down and create their work.”

She recalls the early development of her “Cleaning the House” workshop, simple steps to prepare performance artists for work on long durational performance projects:

“We always clean the house that we will live in. We never forget to clean our homes, but we forget that the most important house to clean is your own body. For performance artists it is great, but for everybody else too, at least twice a year.”

To fully explain the “Cleaning the House” workshop, a never-before-seen video was screened. The footage was recorded last month as artists selected for the MAI Presents program participated in this workshop, held on a old farm near Sao Paulo and led by Abramovic and collaborator Lynsey Peinger.

The workshop consisted of five days spent fasting in silence and practicing simple exercises like counting rice, staring at one primary color for an hour, swimming blindfolded, sitting in the forest focusing only on the ambient sound, writing down your name for an hour, screaming in front of a fire, and of course, breathing exercises.

“It’s really cathartic, it’s really to purify. It’s to take energy out of your body. On the fifth day, we sat at the table and simply cooked the rice we had counted for hours and hours. Then we ate it with close eyes in slow motion. It was the first food in five days. After this we could talk and we were free again.”

The presentation was followed by an intervention by Lynsey Peisinger, assisted by Bruno Oliveira, titled I’m Doing What I think You Want Me To Do. The artist read aloud as she went through the pieces of paper with suggested actions from the audience. These notes were in Portuguese, and Peisinger interpreted their meaning instinctually, without much knowledge of the language. She then proceeded to perform the actions as she understood them.

The lecture ended in applause at 10pm BRT.

Check our calendar for dates and times of Marina Abramovic’s remaining four lectures.

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