Saturday, 25 June 2011


By Rachel Lois Clapham

MIT Press, 2010

I have heard Marina Abramović publicly claim she created Performance Art; a typically grand claim by Abramović. The significance of the artist in relation to Performance Art – a significance that will be brought into widespread and acute focus upon her death - is no doubt the intriguing ‘?’ the portentous title of this biography hints at. Using the event of her death as a pivot then, we may ask of When Marina Abramović Dies, what might her death do to Performance Art? What might Performance Art be after Abramović dies? Might Abramović’s death be Performance Art? And, not to cheapen said event in any way, where can we get tickets? As a biography, written by the artists’ former assistant James Westcott, When Marina Abramović Dies, does not set out to answer such forward facing questions. It is, instead, crammed full of facts. Some big, some small. Here is a curious collection of some of those facts.

Stalin excommunicated Tito in 1948.

In the summer of 1977 and Ulay and Abramović island-hopped around the Adriatic, sunbathing and picnicking naked on the beaches.

Abramović’s parents celebrated her birthday on Yugoslavia Republic day.

Yugoslavia Republic day is not Abramović’s birthday.

In the 1970 Belgrade International Theatre Festival Abramović watched as a student broke eggs over a naked woman. At the time, she recalled she thought it was stupid.

Vojo Abramović (Abramović‘s father) was born into a poor family in Cetinje, Montenegro, on September 29, 1914, and grew up in Pec, Kosovo.

Abramović’s maternal Great Grandmother put every pot on the stove and filled them with water to create the illusion of a plentiful kitchen.

Abramović on the event of her death: ‘In the case of my death I would like to have this at my memorial ceremony: Three coffins. The first with my real body. The second coffin with an imitation of my body. The third coffin with an imitation of my body.’

Since, the 1950’s, Tito had enacted relatively laissez-faire reforms in the Yugoslav communist system, shifting from Stalinist command economy towards a unique program of quasi-independence for municipal and industrial bodies in which the workers shared in profits and ran their own factories (though the state still had the final say).

Abramović used to have a job delivering mail. A couple of weeks in, she decided to throw away all the letters on her round that looked like bills and deliver only those with nice handwriting on the envelope. She was promptly fired.

Abramović’s mother forced her to eat horse-meat. She would pretend to obediently finish everything on her plate, but sometimes, rather than swallow the last mouthful of meat, stored it under her tongue all night as she slept, and spat it out in the morning.

Abramović first met Uwe Laysiepen, or Ulay, on 30 November; her birthday, also his. To prove this co-incidence, Abramović and Ulay got out their respective diaries. Both had the page 30 November ripped out.

Abramović’s great-grandmother – Krasmana Pejatović-Rosić – summoned the entire family to her deathbed to watch her die. However, she went on living, for a while, despite her best intentions.

In 1970, Abramović made a proposal to the Doma Omaldine Gallery. The proposal consisted of Abramović standing in front of an audience in her own clothes, which she gradually changed, ending up wearing the kind of clothes her mother dressed her in (dowdy calf-length skirt, heavy stockings, orthopedic shoes). She would then put a pistol to hear head and pull the trigger. Instead, Abramović put on an exhibition of her cloud paintings.

The arguments between Abramović’s parents were relentless and violent.

The Yugoslavian establishment Fine Art style was academic modernism, a holdover from the 1950’s that addressed pictorial problems only and contained no real political or critical dimension.

Danica Abramović (Abramović’s mother, born Rosić) never kissed the young Marina, fearing it would spoil her.

Abramović felt an enormous need to be loved, which her mother never met.

Friends at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, remember Abramović as an exuberant young woman, confident in her beauty, fabulously gifted in communication - ‘famous to get under your skin’ as fellow student Zoran Popovic puts it – and almost obsessively optimistic.

Abramović painted figuratively, prolifically and with gusto, at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade. She used bigger canvases than any of her peers could afford- about 5 ft by 5 ft.

In Rhythm 0, Studio Morra, Naples, 1975, someone wrote ‘IO SONO LIBERO’ (I am free) in lipstick on a mirror and made Abramović hold it. Someone wrote ‘END’ across her forehead. Someone else slowly poured a cup of water on her head. Someone else wiped the tears from her eyes. The gallerist drove Abramović back to her hotel when the performance was finished. When she awoke the next morning, Abramović noticed a clump of her hair had turned gray.

As an infant Abramović was carried across town every day in order that she could be breast-fed by her mother.

Abramović says she was never breast-fed.

An exhibition at the SKC in October 1971 was arguably Abramović’s first performance. She lay down on a table in one of the adjacent galleries for no other particular reason than because she was tired - fellow artist Era Milivojević mummified her prone body with some packing tape he happened to have handy.

With her parents’ illustrious war record and prestigious public roles, political and economic hardship was absent from Abramović’s life.

Marina on working with Hermann Nitsch: ‘I wanted to see how far I could work within another artist’s concept. And I found out that I didn’t have the motivation for this. I was irritated and repulsed by the smell of the blood, it was like a strange Back Mass. I felt something very medievally negative, without any solution or opening. I couldn’t see through the piece, and so I had to stop.’

In the summer of 1977 and Ulay and Abramović island-hopped around the Adriatic, sunbathing and picnicking naked on the beaches.

The Life and Death of Marina Abramović featuring Robert Wilson, Marina Abramović, Antony, Willem Dafoe is showing at The Lowry as part of the Manchester International Festival 2011. See here for details.

Sunday, 19 June 2011


by Rachel Lois

Phil Terry, David Berridge and I are headlining an experimental poetry night at The Other Room in Manchester on 24th August. David and I will be presenting our individual work, and presenting a joint publication specially developed for the night. Here are our previews on The Other Room website.

We hope to see you at The Old Abbey Inn on the night if you can make it.

Differ and Repeat

By Rachel Lois

My Reading Room score has been re-made and will appear in Differ and Repeat, a solo show at Dance Art Foundation by Joe Moran. Differ and Repeat is a choreographic collection of live performance, film and installation occupying multiple spaces across The Place. Considering new and critical propositions concerned with choreography as a form, discipline and subject that may be distinct from dance and dancing, Differ and Repeat engages in curation as choreographic intervention.

The show opens this week at The Place in London and incorporates a series of publications that will be presented in an installation space, in counterpoint to a sound work. Full information about the show can be found online here: