stabbing yourself in the hand for art -- 6/28/19

Today's selection -- from Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović. Marina Abramović is a Serbian performance artist who has created daring, memorable works over several decades, including a series of performances called "Rhythms" in the 1970s. The art critic Elaine Margolin has written, "The work that brought Abramović to the attention of an American audience is called 'The Artist is Present,' and it took place in 2010 at MoMA to great acclaim. Abramovic sat for eight hours a day for three months while spectators lined up to sit across from her. No speaking was permitted. Some people stayed for minutes, others for hours, locked in a visual embrace. The museum photographer took a snapshot of every person who sat down, and they revealed something spectacular: Their faces possessed an achingly raw vulnerability one is unaccustomed to seeing anywhere else. It felt as if these patrons believed that Abramovic was seeing directly into their hearts. Abramovic swears this response happened because she was able to give each person her unconditional love and her total presence. Skeptics might disagree and simply see distressed people seeking out affirmation of any kind."

In her book Walk Through Walls, Abramović makes the case that she has triumphed over the considerable abuse she suffered as a child, but she is not entirely convincing. Here Abramović describes her work Rhythm 10:

 "Rhythm 10 was absolutely crazy. It was based on a drinking game played by Russian and Yugoslav peasants: You spread your fingers out on a wooden bar or table and stab down a sharp knife, fast, in the spaces between your fingers. Every time you miss and cut yourself, you have to take another drink. The drunker you get, the more likely you are to stab yourself. ...

"My variation on the game involved not one but ten knives, and sound, and a new idea: turning accidents into the plan for a piece of performance art. On the floor of the gymnasium of Melville College­ ... I unrolled a big sheet of heavy white paper. On this paper I arranged ten knives of various sizes and two tape recorders. Then, with a big crowd watching ... I knelt down on the paper and turned on one of the tape recorders. ..."Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat -- I stabbed the knife down between the fin­gers of my left hand, as fast as I could. And of course because I was going so fast, every once in a while I would miss, just slightly, and nick myself. Each time I cut myself, I would groan with pain -- ­the tape recorder would pick it up -- and I would switch to the next knife.

"Pretty soon I had gone through all ten knives, and the white paper was stained very impressively with my blood. The crowd stared, dead silent. And a very strange feeling came over me, something I had never dreamed of: It was as if electricity was running through my body, and the audience and I had become one. A single organism. The sense of danger in the room had united the onlookers and me in that moment: the here and now, and nowhere else.

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"That thing that each of us lives with, that you are your own little self privately -- once you step into the performance space, you are act­ing from a higher self, and it's not you anymore. It's not the you that you know. It's something else. There on the gymnasium floor of Mel­ville College in Edinburgh, Scotland, it was as if I had become, at the same time, a receiver and transmitter of huge, Tesla-like energy. The fear was gone, the pain was gone. I had become a Marina whom didn't know yet.

"The moment I cut myself with the tenth knife, I switched the first tape recorder from record to playback, turned the second ma­chine on, recording, and began all over again with knife number one. Only this time, as the first tape machine played back the sounds of the knifepoint thudding rhythmically and my groans of pain, I tried quite deliberately to nick myself in precise unison with my previous accidents. As it turned out, I was good at this -- I only missed twice. And the second tape machine was recording both the playback and my next round of the knife game.

"When I'd gone through the ten knives once more, I rewound the second tape recorder, played the double soundtrack of both perfor­mances, then stood up and left. "


Marina Abramović


Walk Through Walls 


Three Rivers Press


Copyright 2016 by Marina Abramović


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