Marina Abramovic is a Serbian performance artist, whose work explores the relationship between herself and another artist or herself and her audience. She was given to her grandmother to be raised before being returned to her parents when she was six years old. With her grandmother she attended church daily and was exposed to the rituals of religious worship. When she came to live with her parents, all that changed.
Abramovic survived a horrific childhood with parents who were violent to one another and to her. She had a mother who beat her and a father who smashed glass before he left forever. “It was the most horrible moment of my childhood.”
Abramovic attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade from 1965-1970. She completed her art studies at the Academy of Fine Arts University of Zagreb in Croatia in 1972 and taught at the Academy of Fine Arts from 1973 to 1975. In 1976, she moved to Amsterdam permanently.
Abramovic explored ritual and gesture, using knives to cut herself and to record her sounds. She would cut her nails and hair and throw the clippings into flames. She would ingest medication to lose control of her body. At times she would lose consciousness in her performances. She would allow audience participants to do whatever they liked to her body while she remained quiet. She made recipes with instructions painted in pig’s blood.
She collaborated for 12 years with Uwe Laysiepen ‘Ulay’ in various performance pieces. In one, they sat back to back for sixteen hours with their hair tied together in ponytails. In another, they connected their mouths and breathed in each other’s exhaled breath. They both fell down unconscious. In 1988, they made their final parting a performance piece. They each walked the Great Wall of China starting from the two opposite ends and met in the middle of the wall. It took them eight years to obtain permission from the Chinese government to do this.
In 2010, Abramovic was given a Retrospective at MoMA, the first ever to be given to a performance artist. The exhibition’s name was “The Artist Is Present,” taken from the name of the main performance piece in which Abramovic would sit and stare at strangers across a table. MoMA highlighted the films and slide shows of her early work: her work with Ulay from the 1980s; her work from the 1990s, which dealt with the history of the Balkans; and her recent performances, which integrated her personal and her public identities.
She received an honorary doctorate from the Art Institute of Chicago and a Golden Lion at the 47th Venice Biennale. She has exhibited and performed at MoMA, the Guggenheim, Whitney Biennial, Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and two other Venice Biennales.