Marina Abramovic and the Fluxus legacy

By Rali Chorbadzhiyska

Remember that time Shia LaBeouf closed himself in a room with a bunch of (random) items and invited people to come in and do whatever they like to him (using these items) as part of an artistic performance/experiment? Shia was alone in the room and combined with the passivity required by the nature of the performance, the actor was allegedly raped!

In fact, Marina Abramovic originated the performance in 1974 and she was the first to take the technique of using her body and its natural functions to produce art to an extreme. Marina is a Serbian-American performance artist and in an interview I found of her with James Franco from 2009 she comments on why she began as a painter but focused on performance art: ‘Art comes from life, not from [the] studio’. Therefore, her motivation aligns with the Fluxus ideology from the 60s of merging life with art to re-imagine the trivial and refocus the public’s attention to non-elitist aesthetics. She adds, ‘Everything is part of the piece because you can’t predict it’.

This is a definitely experimental approach to theatre where the outcome of the performance is not clear from the start and depends on the audience-performer interaction. To explore this relationship, Marina orchestrated and performed the famous piece ‘Rhythm 0’ in MoMA in 1974.[1] Although the artist does not want to repeat the performance, its legacy is present in the art of the 21st century (with the example of Shia LaBeouf to begin with).

The exhibition of ‘Rhythm 0’ in Tate Modern in London from 2011 displays a table with numerous objects and photos of the original performance. Marina’s original score is available on the Tate’s website:

Instructions.

There are 72 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired.

Performance

I am the object.

During this period I take full responsibility.

1974

Duration: 6 hours (8pm–2am.)

Studio Morra, Naples

(Reproduced in Biesenbach 2009, p.74.)[2]

The instructions resemble Alison Knowles’ (a famous Fluxus artist) Event Scores in being simple and succinct. There is a list of the 72 different objects, which lack description and tie in with the minimal character of Fluxus: ‘gun, bullet, blue paint, comb, bell, whip, lipstick, pocket knife, fork, perfume, etc.

marina
Rhythm 0 at the Tate

These items represent activities from everyday life with a strong presence of violence (objects like a gun, a knife, a whip or a needle); they were ‘chosen to represent both pain and pleasure’. In their mundane character or simply in their human usage, all the tools are Fluxus tools, enabling the re-enaction of life in the form of art.

The piece was performed in a gallery, which goes against the movement’s ideology abolishing contained art spaces. At the same time, by being designated as art, the piece invites participation. The spectators interact as a result of being aware that this is an extraordinary event and that Marina has claimed she will take full responsibility for their actions.

Here is the difference to Shia’s risk as well. He put all his trust into one person at a time in an enclosed space. Marina took the risk in front of a crowd and was endangered by some but also rescued by others. Therefore, she put her faith in people’s good and bad and let them manifest or compete in public. Meanwhile, Shia risked to experience either good or bad since he only let a single person in,which resulted in more serious consequences. (I do not mean he asked to be raped, neither do I mean Marina’s experiences were not traumatic. I respect both artists and am interested in differentiating their approach to the performance and the differences in the artist-spectator relationship.)

Therefore, it is my speculation that the Fluxus artist has to accept the limitations of a gallery, so that the visitors become participants in the performance and not dismiss it as ‘life’ but also, for the same reason, have a slight restriction in mind. Marina’s ‘Rhythm 0’ challenges the spectators’ interaction to the extreme as well; people tried to kill or rape her before other members of the audience stopped them.

The trust in strangers and the subsequent uncertainty constitute the extreme experimental nature of this specific piece. While the audience of Alison Knowles’ ‘Make a Salad’ (an event score where the artist prepares a salad and the audience eats it) were forced to participate by having the salad at the end, the ones who attended ‘Rhythm 0’ were encouraged throughout but were not given limitations or strict instructions.

I was fascinated by Marina’s empowering vulnerability and I believe she promotes Fluxus art in away that attracts the public whether or not they are aware of any intentions behind it. If you are interested, here is Marina’s (controversial) collaboration with Jay-Z, which proves her ability to permeate the popular culture and subordinate it to producing meaningful and influential art!

 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/may/12/marina-abramovic-ready-to-die-serpentine-gallery-512-hours

[2] http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/abramovic-rhythm-0-l03651

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