Marina Abramovic is a Serbian artist known for her physical performances, where she uses her body as a reoccurring theme. She often interacts with the audience and endures grueling sensory experiences through her live performance, incorporating photography, sculpture, sound, video, and other mediums. On November 30, 1946, she was born in Belgrade, where she later coupled with performance artist Ulay at the beginning of her career.
They continued working together while living in Amsterdam until they separated in the late 1980s. She has been in various performance groups and predominately works as a solo artist, exploring the body as a medium and symbol to express her narratives. An infamous quote by Abramovic is, “the function of the artist in a disturbed society is to give awareness of the universe, to ask the right questions, and to elevate the mind.”
In many ways, Abramovic is an excellent example of an artist exploring human anatomy, physiology, and psychology as major thematic threads. In one of her most noteworthy 1974 performances, Rhythm 5, she observed the mental and physical limits of the body. She drenched a large star in petroleum and lit it on fire. Abramovic cut her hair and nails, placing them within the star. Eventually, she layed in the middle of the flaming star, where she used up all of her oxygen. Abramovic states, “I lose consciousness. The viewers do not notice because I am supine. When a flame touches my leg, and I still show no reaction, two viewers come into the star and carry me out.”
Her performances are extreme, unprecedented, and utterly shocking to many people. However, she is one of the only artists that push boundaries and forces her viewers to think outside of the box about fragility, mortality, and the human condition. One of the photos with Marina Abramovic that sparked a lot of conversation was the bloody corpse cake of a woman created for a benefit function. The artist is close with musician Lady Gaga, whom she has taken under her wing as a student. Photos arose of Gaga licking a fake blood-filled spoon from Abramovic’s installation. While her work won’t be for everyone, it’s impossible not to recognize the prevalent themes she has mainstreamed through her career.
Another prolific performance piece was entitled The Artist is Present, which explored human endurance, emotion, and the need for connection. Stepping away from the physical body alone, Abramovic used this piece to highlight human psychology. For over two and half months, she sat at a table every day, and viewers would sit in a chair opposite her. They wouldn’t speak, but she would stare into the individual's eyes for multiple minutes. This performance elicited a wide range of reactions, as Abramovic aimed to highlight the enormous need for humans to have contact.
Abramovic is an artist in the modern world making a statement about the complicity of human anatomy and psychology. In many ways, it’s disturbing, as she goes to darker places that many people aren’t ready to enter. Her art reflects these inescapable parts of human existence, including the mind, body, and sentient experience. Having someone bridge the gap between these worlds is so important and influential today. Even though it may be hard to swallow, it sparks the question of how impactful these conversations are about the reality of the human condition.