Born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1946
Marina Abramovic is a performance artist who investigates and pushes the boundaries of physical and mental potential. In her performances she has lacerated herself, flagellated herself, frozen her body on blocks of ice, taken mind- and muscle-controlling drugs that have caused her to fall unconscious, and almost died from asphyxiation while lying within a curtain of oxygen-devouring flames.
Abramovic's goal is not sensationalism, however. Her performances are a series of experiments aimed at identifying and defining limits: of her control over her own body; of an audience's relationship with a performer; of art and, by extension, of the codes that govern society. Her profound and ambitious project is to discover a method, through art, to make people more free.
Many of Abramovic's performances over the past 30 years have been brutal and unnerving. Some of them reached completion only when a member of the audience intervened. By seeking the point at which an audience reaches the limits of its endurance in witnessing pain or danger, Abramovic creates a point of rupture, radically highlighting the spectator's own sense of the moment. She has said: 'I'm interested in art that disturbs and that pushes that moment of danger; then, the public watching has to be here and now. Let the danger focus you; this is the whole idea - to put you in the focus of now.'
Abramovic was born in Belgrade, the daughter of Yugoslavian Partisan parents. Her early performances were a form of rebellion against her strict upbringing as well as against the repressive culture of Tito's post-war Yugoslavia. Like all her work, they were ritualistic purifications designed to free her of her own past.
In 1975 Abramovic met Ulay, an artist who shared her date of birth as well as her artistic concerns. Over the next two decades they lived and collaborated together, performing and traveling extensively. Their performances explored the parameters of power and dependency within the triangular relationship between each other and their audience.
In one, Breathing In/Breathing Out (1977), with their mouths clamped tightly together and microphones taped to their throats, Abramovic and Ulay breathed in turn the air from each other's lungs, until - almost to the point of suffocation - they were exchanging only carbon dioxide. In another, Rest Energy (1980), they held a taut bow with an arrow loaded and pointing at Abramovic's heart, with only the weight of their bodies maintaining the tension. Microphones recorded their rapidly accelerating heartbeats.
Between 1981 and 1987 Abramovic and Ulay performed a series of actions around the world entitled 'Nightsea Crossing', in which they installed themselves as tableaux vivants in museums. Their last work together, The Great Wall Walk (1988), entailed each walking 2,000 km along the Great Wall of China, starting at opposite ends and meeting in the middle.
Abramovic has described herself as the 'Grandmother of Performance Art'. Of that generation of artists of the early 70s who chose performance as a means of expression, Abramovic is probably the one still most active today - and the most successful. In 1997 she showed the video installation and performance Balkan Baroque at the Venice Biennale, and received the Golden Lion Award for Best Artist.
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SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS
'Artist Body - Public Body', Museum of Contemporary Art Valencia, Spain, (touring exhibition), 1998
'Luminosity', Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, (touring exhibition), 1997-98
'In Between', UTA, Dallas, (touring exhibition), 1996-97
'Marina Abramovic; Objects Performance Video Sound', The Museum of Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, UK, (touring exhibition), 1995-96
'Die Mond der Sonne', (with Ulay), The Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati, USA, (touring exhibition), 1987
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
'Dream Machines: selected by Susan Hiller', Camden Arts Centre, London, 2000
'Future, Present, Past', XLVII Biennale, Venice, Italy, 1997
'World Wide Video Festival', World Wide Video Center, The Hague, The Netherlands, 1993
'Art from Europe', (with Ulay), Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, (touring exhibition), 1987
'Biennale di Venezia; Ambiente/Participazione/Strutture Culturali', (with Ulay), Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy, 1976
Abramovic, Marina, Performing Body Marina Abramovic, Charta Edizioni, Milan, 1998
Landscape. The Trace of the Sublime, RieseKunsthalle zu Kiel, 1998
Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979, The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, 1998
Schneider, Rebecca, The Explicit Body in Performance, Routledge, London/New York, 1997
Ulay/Abramovic, Performances 1976 - 1988, Van Abbe Museum Eindhoven, Holland, 1997
Solo Performances, 1988-1998
The Lovers, The Great Wall Walk, 1988
Continental Videoseries, 1983-1986
Mondus Vivendi, 1979-86
A Performance Anthology, 1975-1980
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Marina Abramovic, from the performance Thomas Lips, 1975
Marina Abramovic, from the performance Rhythm 5, 1974
Marina Abramovic, from the performance Cleaning the House, 1995
Marina Abramovic, from the performance Art must be Beautiful, Artist must be Beautiful, 1975
Marina Abramovic, from the performance Breathing in/Breathing out, 1977
Marina Abramovic, from the performance Rest Energy, 1980
Marina Abramovic, from the performance Nightsea Crossing, 1982