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PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 28.1 (2005) 29-50

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Performance, Pedagogy, and (Re)presentation

Marina Abramovic; has been pushing the limits of performance for over three decades. From 1965–70 she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, and soon after that at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, where she later taught. In 1970 she began working with sound environments, film, video, and performance. Five years later she met the artist Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen) in Amsterdam, with whom she worked until 1988. Together they devised performances that centered on the limits of human endurance, consciousness, and perception. Working independently since then, she has exhibited, performed, and taught internationally, establishing a body of work whose combination of extremity and intimacy is singular in the history of performance. In 1996 she completed two important theatre pieces, Biography and Delusional, and the following year her controversial performance Balkan Baroque won the International Venice Biennale Award. She received the Niedersächsicher Kunstpreis as well as the New York Dance and Performance Award for her recent performance/exhibition The House with the Ocean View at the Sean Kelly Gallery. For her November 2005 exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Marina Abramovic;: Seven Easy Pieces, she will re-perform seminal works by Vito Acconci, Joseph Beuys, VALIE EXPORT, Bruce Nauman, Gina Pane, as well as her own Lips of Thomas, and premiere a new performance. This interview is based on three conversations with the artist, the first of which took place in October, 2004 (Amsterdam), and the other two in April, 2005 (New York), around the time of her participation in the "(Re)presenting Performance" symposium at the Guggenheim Museum.1


The Idea of the Collective

THOMPSON: In reading the transcripts from the catalogue for the 1990 "Art Meets Science and Spirituality in a Changing Economy conference,"2 I was struck by your notion that that there could be some blend of Buddhism and communism. Is this an idea you have continued to develop over the past decade? [End Page 29]

ABRAMOVIC: It's really not developed or thought about; I come from communist country, so communism is something that was very close to me. I know the idealism of communism in the beginning, and I know the failure of communism in the end, and I know all the problems, and why it could not succeed. It was a very interesting concept in Burma; at one point, it was a communist government and a very strong Buddhist country, so in the government there were Buddhist monks. Again it didn't work. So all these concepts don't work because the mentality and the consciousness of people are not raised to the level that could make it work. The solution is really that we have to have a completely different relation to the materialistic world, and not to be attached to money. So it's very complicated because in communism, in the beginning, everybody is the same and we all have the same things. But soon, if you are able to buy two toothbrushes instead of just having one, you will do it. Then the entire communist society was nostalgic, looking to America—who has the wealth, the great cars, and TV sets and so on. So that's the whole thing. At one point it was interesting to me that communism could work in Sweden, because the level of the society was quite high, and everybody has the television, everybody has the cars, so there was no kind of need for that. But again it doesn't work. It's really about rethinking how we can raise consciousness. Only by changing ourselves we can change others. And that is a long, pioneering process.

THOMPSON: Over the last couple of days I've been talking with your friend Louwrien Wijers about the way that her Compassionate Economy project has developed.3 In one of the project's recent symposia in...