Rhythms realizing the Limits: the Life of an Unusual Performer


The art whether performing or exhibiting; holds the emotions sentiments and creativity of the person whom it creates. The performers had the choice and selection of their medium and the emotion it carries. Marina Abromovic` is an artist who chose a different medium for a different purpose and this selection marked her in the history of performing arts. Abramovic’ chose her body as a medium to demonstrate her installations through which it become possible to bring a connection between spectator and performer. She was called as the “grandmother of performing arts”.

From Neglected Childhood to Expressive Venice:
Marina Abramovic’ was born on 1946 in communist dictatorship of Yugoslavia. Her father left them at her childhood and her mother turned very strict. Though she got support for her artistic interest. On her later teenage she explored the venues outside Yugoslavia and attended biennales of Venice. She had her education in arts from various art schools of the country.

Marina Abromovic` always preferred to walk through different ways from the very beginning stage of her artistic career. Most of her works were lengthy and incur her own life. She always challenged the emotional stability of the Spectator. Marina considered the performing art as a sacrifice, ritual or a religion. She told once that, “to me the pain and the blood are merely means of artistic expression”. Marina displaced herself from the conventional method of sculpture and artwork, she chose her body as the medium to communicate with the world. She never put any limits for the usage of her body and mind and never put her leg back due to the effect created by the performance.

Expression of self: The Rhythm series:
During early 1970s the world was waiting for the performance of Marina Abramovic’. From 1973-74 Marina did five performances in rhythm series. The first one of the series include ‘Rhythm-10’ in which she adapted a Slavic game called ‘Five Finger Fillet’ where she placed her hand on a table and stab the knife back and forth between fingers in an increasing speed. She got cut and wounds, bloodsheds and severe injuries. She increased the risk by using 20 different knives of various shapes and size. Marina placed a tape recorder on the floor and recorded the sound created by the movement of the knife. It lasted for an hour and finished performance only after the usage of each knife twice.

She commented, “I take the first knife and stab in between the fingers of my left hand as fast as possible. Every time I cut myself, I change the knife. When I’ve used all of the knives (all of the rhythms), I rewind the tape recorder. I listen to the tape recording of the first part of the performance. I concentrate…”

In 1973 she performed ‘Rhythm-5’ which she considered as a failed attempt. In ‘Rhythm-5’ she used a five pointed communist star wit wood and wood carvings, later she soaked it with hundred litres of petrol. As a representation of crucification she paced around the star. Abramovic’ cut her hair and paced through the burning altar and fed bunches on the burning fire. Then she cut her fingernails, then toenails and did the submission as a sacrificial offering. After offering her body offerings she entered into the star and then he laid on the floor. Soon she lost her consciousness and two viewers removed her from the pose. But Abramovic’ got disappointed by the audience intervention. This performance made her realise the limitations of her body and this limits are showed in the upcoming rhythm series.

In 1974 she came out with ‘Rhythm-2’ in which she took the drugs intended to treat catatonia and schizophrenia and filmed her response in front of the audience. It lasted for six hours. It was a planned loss of control over her. The performance had two parts each of the splits of her experience between ingest of the pills. The two medicines indicated by the number ‘Rhythm-2’. Abramović sacrificed herself both psychologically and physically while still maintaining an active mind. The first part she had medicine used for the treatment of acute catatonia. Within few minutes Abramovic’ lost control over her body but her mind remains active. On second part he had a medicine which is used to cool down schizophrenic patients and soon lost her control and the sense of identification. It took five hours to diminish the effect of the medicines on her.

The ‘Rhythm-4’ lasted for forty five minutes is also a question to the limits of the body. She nakedly kneels down alone on a small room with a high power industrial fan. She captured the visuals and projected to the audience on the other room. The proceeded to the industrial fan and tried to breathe in as much possible. Soon she became unconscious. Abramovic’ took steps to avoid the intervention and asked cameraman to zoom in to her face as much as possible. But after few minutes of unconsciousness the cameramen called the staff to help her.

The most famous one among Marina Abramovic’ performance the ‘Rhythm-0’, is a challenge to the division of audience and performer by calling their participation. She placed seventy two different objects on a table. She pasted a poster stating that” I am the object, during this period I take the responsibility”. The things she placed include perfumes, sugar etc. which can be used for pleasure, the razor blade, nails etc. which can cause pain, a gun and a bullet. By placing such deadly object Abramovic’ placed herself in the hands of fate. The performance lasted for six hours from 8pm to 2am. First three hours of the performance the audience where not participated. She started staring into the free space and the audience became aggressive. Someone made a cut using the razor blade and drank her blood, someone wove a throned rose on her neck, finally someone placed a loaded pistol on her hand pointing on her chest and this marked the ending on the programme.

Meeting the Right Partner Ulay and Later Performances:
In the year 1975 she met the German born artist Frank Uwe Laysiepen – known as Ulay. Abramovic’ moved with him and they were in artistic collaboration and lovers for next 12 years. They travelled, performed and learned different things from different parts of the world. They travelled across Europe in a van, lived with Australian Aborigines, and in India’s Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and spent time in the Sahara, Thar and Gobi deserts. Their works got presented in various gallery spaces of Europe.

The collaborated works of Abramovic’ and Ulay include Imponderabilia (1977), in which they stood naked in a narrow doorway, forcing spectators to pass between them; Breathing In/Breathing Out (1977), in which they inhaled and exhaled from each other’s mouths until they almost suffocated; Relation in Time (1977), involving them sitting back to back with their hair tied together; Light/Dark (1977), in which they alternately slapped each other’s faces; and Night sea Crossing (1981-1987), a performance in which the pair sat silently opposite each other at a wooden table for as long as possible. Rest energy was a performance which started only for a few minutes but redefined the words trust and faith. It is also a highly intense piece that revealed the fragility of the line between life and death. The pair stands face to face and placed an arrow on tense bow just inches away from heart. They also placed a microphone on chest to make the heartbeat audible and its variation in growing danger.

When the pair decide to move away they did it as a performance. They started a walk from different ends of Great Wall of China, walked for three months met at the middle and say adieu.

After their separation Marina Abramovic’ did collaborated work with other artist and by herself. The Balkan Baroque was such a performance which shows her regret to war and the loss of life in war. She sat over the bloody bones on cows counted 1500 wearing white dress and cleaned those bones. It continued for four days with six hours a day. Surrounded by the images of her family and herself, the description about the method of killing rats in Balkan, some folk songs etc. The performance progression was made visceral due to the unbearable heat of the basement room and fetid smell. A similar one named “Reminiscent of Cleaning the Mirror #1” in which she sat on a stool for three hours cleaning a skeleton.
“The grandmother of performing arts” Marina Abramovic’ is someone among the artist who devoted their entire life for performance even in this late ages. She is a pioneer of performance arts and a reference for all those who portray the limits of the body. Her works uses female body of hers helped to develop a new sector of the performing art called feminist arts; through her confrontations with the physical self and the primary role given to the female body have helped shape the direction of that discipline. In her young ages the facility to record and store the performance was not very easy and common most of the works were not preserved and their recreation in its full essence is impossible and she argued continuing her life of these performance through recreations. Her commitment to giving new life to older performance works – both hers and the works of others – led her to create the Marina Abramović Institute for Preservation of Performance Art, set for a 2012 opening, in Hudson, New York. This non-profit organization will support teaching, preserving and funding performance art, ensuring an enduring legacy for her performances and, more broadly, for the ephemeral art form itself.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here