The Labor of Production: Marina Abramovic Speaks on Performance Art at the GSD

Asked how she thought the body could activate space in the city, in Thursday’s open discussion with GSD students, performance artist Marina Abramovi confessed to thinking at first of outer space, not urban space. What is the relationship of time-based art to architecture? As Abramovi observed, the public has been taught over generations to understand Renaissance painting; we are only beginning to appreciate performance art.
Artistic production was a more immediate theme in Abramovi’s two-day appearance, which began with her brief survey of performance art on Wednesday. Dean Mostafavi, in his introduction to her lecture, highlighted the theme of work and routine. For instance, in “The Artist is Present,” her performance at the Museum of Modern Art last year, she made eye contact with visitors—one by one, all day, every day—for three months. As Sanford Kwinter put it (in Thursday’s discussion), in Abramovi’s work the body, producing the work, is “in labor.”
The psychological and physical limits confronted by Abramovi in her art run from inconvenience and irritation to physical pain and the risk of death. But training and preparation (which she called the “logistics” of performance art) are also involved. She maintained a 24-hour routine for the MoMA performance, sipping water throughout the night in order to remain hydrated all day. Abramovi’s work entails fasting, sleep deprivation, immobility, loneliness and various kinds of anxiety; but she maintains that depression is not an artistic ideal, though a degree of suffering may be indispensable to the creation of art.
Marina Abramovi delivered the 2011 Rouse Visiting Artist Lecture on November 16, 2011, in Piper Auditorium.