Marina Abramović Will Be Present At Her Royal Academy Retrospective

Marina Abramović

The artist Marina Abramović will attend the private view of her highly anticipated retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy. The Godmother of performance art was diagnosed with an embolism, which will prevent her from flying. The artist however will travel by boat. The exhibition has been plagued by delays. It was originally set to open in 2020 but due to the Corona Virus was pushed to 2021. Now in 2023 the exhibition will finally open with the Artist.  

“For the next six months, I can’t take a plane. Usually, I take a plane every two, three, five days. So this is an incredible restriction, not planned. To come to London for the Royal Academy show, I must take the boat from New York,” she added. The condition means that she can sadly not participate in any stamina-busting performance pieces planned for the exhibition, including The House with the Ocean View (2002). Four significant works will be reperformed not by the starry Serbian herself but by emerging artists, the RA Magazine reported.

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 Abramović (b. 1946). Abramović has propelled performance art from its experimental beginnings to the mainstream in a career that spans over five decades. 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 Abramović’s seminal performance pieces, which performance artists will perform live in the galleries.

Marina Abramović Will Not Be Present At Her Royal Academy Retrospective
Marina Abramović  Royal Academy Retrospective Photo Courtesy RA

Originally trained as a painter at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, Marina Abramović turned to performance in the early 1970s and established the hallmarks of her practice: everyday actions ritualised through repetition and endurance. She pioneered using the live body in her work and has consistently tested the limits of her physical and mental tolerance. Abramović has continued to navigate a space between the personal and the social, the conceptual and the existential, the material and the spiritual. From 1975–88, Abramović collaborated with her then partner, the German artist Ulay (1943-2020), exploring male and female dualities. Returning to solo performances in 1989, the artist further tested boundaries by creating performative objects, performances to camera and audience participation.

The exhibition will open with Public Participation, featuring two works in which Abramović 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. The Communist Body will foreground Abramović’s origins in the former Yugoslavia and how Communist ideals, experienced socially and personally, have informed her practice. Works featured here include Rhythm 5, 1974 (London, Lisson Gallery) and The Hero, 2001. The artist has spoken of the Balkan mind as ‘baroque’ about 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 combine Abramović’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 Abramović’s work with Ulay, an intense exploration of human relations, including Imponderabilia, 1977, which will be reperformed. The next section, Absence of the Body will focus on the break-up of Abramović 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, Abramović 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 Abramović sought to shape 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, Abramović equates the ephemerality of performance art with the transitory nature of our own lives. Inspired by Tibetan monks’ practice of sleeping alongside the dead, Nude with Skeleton, 2002, will be reperformed. Also featured will be Good and Evil, 2020, which refers to the language of Slavic icons. Art making is a way of life for Abramović, and in using her own body as her medium, she has lived her life through her work. Through her experiences with different cultures, Abramović became interested in how feats of endurance act as vehicles towards a mental leap of faith. This transcendence goes beyond one’s physical limitations. The final galleries will focus on the transformative experience of performance art and equating this with different spiritual traditions, particularly giving shape to female spirituality, such as Bed for Aphrodite and her Lovers, 1990. Works here will be increasingly still, including Luminosity, 1997, which will be reperformed. Abramović 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 The House with the Ocean View, 2002 being reperformed. First performed by Abramović in 2002, she lived continuously for 12 days in a ‘home’ of only three spaces in the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York. Abramović fasted by only drinking water while ritualising everyday actions to the bare living conditions. Audiences were invited to witness it, and they didn’t speak but established an energy dialogue with the artist. Held a year after 9/11, the work created a collective vigil.

Marina Abramovic, Royal Academy 23rd September 2023 – 1st January 2024

Marina Abramović Institute Takeover is bringing immersive performances throughout the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall and backstages (4 – 8 October).

Curated by conceptual artist Marina Abramović and the Marina Abramović Institute (MAI), the experience is self-led, letting audiences explore all parts of the building (from backstage technical spaces to artist dressing rooms). In these usually hidden spaces, the artists perform site-specific, long-durational work that engages with endurance, presence and participation, creating an infinite possibility of encounters between visitors and artists.

Marina Abramović will participate in two performances (4 & 8 Oct) and will be present at other times. The artists featured are: Collective Absentia, Carla Adra, Paula Garcia, Carlos Martiel, Yiannis Pappas, Paul Setúbal, Despina Zacharopoulou, and more to be announced.

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