Probably many of you already knew Yugoslavian performance artist Marina Abramovic through the video of her painfully silent reunion with her former lover Frank Uwe “Ulay” Laysiepen.
Many people have hailed Abramovic as the “grandmother of performance art.” She has been staging thought-provoking interactive installations for more than 40 years.
Indeed, it can’t be denied that her performances have a lasting impact. In fact, one of her earliest performances is still being talked about today.
Abramovic staged a performance piece called “Rhythm 0” at Studio Morra in Naples, Italy.
To explain more concrete, visitors were invited to use any of the objects on the table on the artist for a period of six hours, who subjected herself to their treatment. It’s fair to mention that the artist has stated, ‘the experience I drew from this work was that in your own performances you can go very far, but if you leave decisions to the public, you can be killed’ (quoted in Ward 2009, p.132).
Also, it’s important to note that for the purpose of museum display, the gun has been deactivated and, together with other dangerous items, secured to the table. It is not the artist’s intention that the performance should be repeated. Instead, while many performance works rely on photographic or video documentation only, this work physically incorporates the ‘instruments’ used as props in the performance (or their replicas), so that the mechanics of threat and seduction played out in the original work are palpable to the viewer, especially when seen in combination with the slides documenting the event.
As with many of Abramovic’s works, themes surrounding the physicality of the body, endurance, pain and the staging of authentic live actions are dealt with in an experimental way, incurring a degree of personal risk and suffering. The objects that could be ‘used on her’ were chosen to represent both pain and pleasure. Through the risk to her own person in this work, and her acceptance of that risk, Abramovic also explored collective action and responsibility.
The ritualistic and quasi-sacred character of the table-as-altarpiece is a common theme in Abramovic’s work, as is her own performative contribution. Her role as shaman-like figure was played out in her performance for her 2009 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art: entitled The Artist is Present, it involved her sitting in a meditative state and staring into the eyes of one visitor at a time throughout the duration of the show.
At the beginning, only the photographers were going close to her.
The premise of “Rhythm 0” was deceptively simple: Abramovic would stand still for six hours straight while the people who came to see her were urged to do whatever they wanted to her using one of 72 objects that she had placed on a table
After some time, people began picking some stuff from the table.
Abramovic stood in the middle of the room with a notice board containing these words:
- There are 72 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired.
- I am the object
- During this period I take full responsibility.
- Duration: 6 hours (8 pm – 2 am)
Then, some people made her sit down, so they could easily humiliate her.
Among the things on the table were “objects of pleasure” and “objects of destruction.” Among the harmless objects were feathers and lowers. The dangerous stuff included a knife, razor blades, and a loaded gun.
There were even those who changed her position.
What happened in the next six hours was horrifying, to say the least.
Some people started to attach things to her.
Art critic Thomas McEvilley who observed the performance related:
“It began tamely. Someone turned her around. Someone thrust her arms into the air. Someone touched her somewhat intimately.
One man used a razor to make a cut on her neck.
“In the third hour, all her clothes were cut from her with razor blades. In the fourth hour, the same blades began to explore her skin. Various minor sexual assaults were carried out on her body. She was so committed to the piece that she would not have resisted rape or murder.”
It just got worse in the last two hours.
Someone even made her point a gun at herself !!!
Abramovic’s own account of what the people did to her was even more heartbreaking
“I felt raped, they cut off the clothes, they stuck me with thorns of rose in the stomach, aimed the gun to my head, another came apart.”
Not surprised that some men undressed her and groped her.
When the six hours were over, Abramovic started to walk among the people. They couldn’t look her in the face
… And then, the violence and the sexual harassment just escalated.
Abramovic observed that people didn’t want any sort of confrontation with her. They didn’t want to be held accountable or judged for what they did. It seemed as if they wanted to forget how they relished hurting her.
Listen to Marina Abramovic talk about her frightening experience.
“This work reveals something terrible about humanity. It shows how fast a person can hurt you under favorable circumstances. It shows how easy it is to dehumanize a person who does not fight, who does not defend himself. It shows that if heprovides the stage, the majority of ‘normal’ people, apparently can become truly violent.”
The list of props in the work is as follows:
sheet of white paper
piece of wood
bone of lamb
box of razor blades
Rhythm 0 is one of Abramovic’s most important works. It was the last work in a series of individual body art performance pieces that began with Rhythm 10, and according to the artist it presents ‘the conclusions of my research on the body when conscious and unconscious’ (Abramovic in Biesenbach 2009, p.74). For example, in Rhythm 10 Abramovic used a collection of twenty knives to stab repeatedly at a piece of paper between her fingers. Each time she cut herself she changed knives, until she had used all the knives. This series was made just prior to the important sequence of works Abramovic created in collaboration with the artist Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen).