This autumn, the Royal Academy of Arts will present the first major solo survey in the UK of the work of internationally acclaimed Serbian performance artist and Honorary Royal Academician, Marina Abramovic (b. 1946).
In a career that spans over five decades, Abramovic has propelled performance art from its experimental beginnings to the mainstream. The exhibition, arranged in close collaboration with the artist, will provide an overview of her extraordinary practice with photographs, videos, objects and installations. It will also feature four of Abramovic’s seminal performance pieces, which will be reperformed live in the galleries.
Originally trained as a painter at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, Marina Abramovic turned to performance in the early 1970s and established the hallmarks of her practice: everyday actions ritualised through repetition and endurance. She is a pioneer in using the live body in her work and has consistently tested the limits of her own physical and mental tolerance. Abramovic has continued to navigate a space between the personal and the social, the conceptual and the existential, the physical and the spiritual. From 1975–88, Abramovic collaborated with her then-partner, the German artist Ulay, exploring male and female dualities. Returning to solo performances in 1989, the artist further tested boundaries with the creation of performative objects, performances to camera and audience participation.
The exhibition will open with Public Participation, featuring two works in which Abramovic famously engaged directly with her audience: from the radical physical interaction of Rhythm 0, 1975 to the quiet stillness of The Artist is Present, 2010. Held 45 years apart, the two works encapsulate the development of her practice. Following on, The Communist Body will foreground Abramovic’s origins in the former Yugoslavia and how Communist ideals, experienced socially as well as personally, have informed her practice. Works featured here will include Rhythm 5, 1974 (London, Lisson Gallery) and The Hero, 2001. The artist has spoken of the Balkan mind as ‘baroque’, in reference to what she describes as dramatic extremes of expression and emotion. Also included will be Balkan Baroque, 1997, a work related to the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Body Limits will bring together Abramovic’s key early performances, presented through video and photographs. Some focus on the use of her body and her physical stamina, while others represent a search for transformative release. Featured here will be Abramovi?’s work with Ulay, an intense exploration of human relations, and reperformances of Imponderabilia, 1977. The next section, Absence of the Body will focus on the break-up of Abramovic and Ulay’s relationship and feature The Lovers, The Great Wall Walk, 1988, a ritualised separation where the artists walked for 90 days across the Great Wall of China from opposite ends, meeting briefly before going their separate ways. During the Great Wall Walk Abramovic became fascinated by the mythology of the wall, that it was built along the earth’s energy lines, and by her study of Chinese and Tibetan medicine. This gave rise to a series of Transitory Objects, displayed in Energy from Nature, with which Abramovi? sought to give shape to nature’s energy flows. The surfaces of the objects are polished through use, bearing witness to the passage of bodies in time.
In Coming and Going, Abramovic equates the ephemerality of performance art with the transitory nature of our own lives. Works here will include reperformances of Nude with Skeleton, 2002, inspired by Tibetan monks’ practice of sleeping alongside the dead, and Good and Evil, 2020, which refers to the language of Slavic icons. Art making is a way of life for Abramovic, and in using her own body as her medium she has literally lived her life through her work. Through her experiences of different cultures, Abramovic became interested in how feats of endurance act as vehicles towards a mental leap of faith, a transcendence that goes beyond one’s own physical limitations. The final galleries focus
on the transformative experience of performance art and equating this with different spiritual traditions.
Works here will be increasingly still and give shape to female spirituality, such as Bed for Aphrodite and her Lovers, 1990, and reperformances of Luminosity, 1997. Abramovic said:
I call it liquid knowledge. When the body is exhausted you reach a point where the body doesn’t exist anymore. Your connection with a universal knowledge is so acute, there is a state of luminosity.
The exhibition will conclude with reperformances of The House with Ocean View, 2002. First performed by Abramovic in 2002, she lived continuously for 12 days in a ‘home’ of only three spaces in the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York. Abramovi? fasted by only drinking water, while ritualising everyday actions to the bare conditions of living. Audiences were invited to witness it on the condition that they didn’t
speak but established an energy dialogue with the artist. Held a year after 9/11, the work created a collective vigil.
Live reperformance schedule*
The live reperformances in the exhibition will be performed by individuals cast and trained by the Marina
Imponderabilia, 1977 Daily, 1 hour per performance – performances will take place throughout the day
Nude with Skeleton, 2002 Daily, 2 hours per performance – performances will take place throughout the day
The House with the Ocean View, 2002 5-15 October, 1-12 November, 29 November-10 December
12 days per performance, 24 hours per day
Luminosity, 1997 30 minutes per performance – performances will take place throughout the day. Please note, Luminosity will not be performed on the same days as The House with the Ocean View.
Reperformances will take place as follows:
Tuesday – Thursday: 10.30am start, 5.30pm finish
Friday: 10.30am start, 8.30pm finish
Saturday – Sunday: 10.30am start, 5.30pm finish
*The reperformance schedule is subject to change
Marina Abramovic, Saturday 23rd September 2023 – Monday 1st January 2024, the Royal Academy of Arts
Advance booking with pre-booked timed tickets is recommended for everyone, including Friends of the RA. Tickets can be booked in advance online (royalacademy.org.uk)
Marina Abramovic UK projects 7 Deaths of Maria Callas at the English National Opera, London, 3 – 11 November 2023