Would you dehumanize a person if you know they wouldn’t fight back? Obviously, most of us when faced with this question would know the answer. No. However, when we are put in certain situations, we can defy what we think we know about ourselves. Take for instance the work of Marina Abramović, who describes herself as the ‘grandmother of performance art’. Abramović’s work explores the relationship between the performer and the audience, she also delves into the limitations of the body and the vast possibilities of the mind. She does this through the use of her body and her work is shocking, moving and they are perhaps best appreciated through re-performance in the sense that it is difficult to comprehend the degree of how much her performances represent the relationship between the performer and the audience whilst it is being acted out. It is not until after the social experiment that one can truly look back and reflect on the power of it.
One of her most famous and memorable performances tests the relationship between her and the audience. ‘Rhythm 0’, performed in 1974, is without doubt my favorite. This was a trust exercise, in which Abramović placed 72 objects in front of her. She lay there for 6 hours without moving and invited her viewers to use the objects on her in any way they wanted. Objects ranging from a feather boa to a knife. Initially, the viewers were peaceful with her, but then violence escalated quickly. Marina said ‘The experience I learned was that… If you leave decision to the public, you can be killed.. I felt really violated: they cut my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed a gun at my head, and another took it away’.
In 1965, almost ten years earlier, Yoko Ono sat on a stage, fully dressed and gave her audience a pair of scissors. Yoko Ono’s nine minute long performance “Cut Piece” involves the artist sitting on stage while members of an audience come up and cut pieces of her clothing. The audience slowly disrobe Ono and leave her open to and unprotected from the touch of the other. As the performance unfolds, more and more men come to the stage and they become more and more aggressive with her and her clothing, until she is left nude, cupping her breasts. Displaying her emotional discomfort and her vulnerability.
Both these performances shine light on what humans are capable of when put in a certain situations. How readily people can be to harm one another under unusual circumstances. I am certain that no one reading this will believe that they are capable of doing things like this to another human, however both these performances prove otherwise.
Abramovic’s performance is shot through with violence, pleasure and nonsense making gestures. In her performances she makes no eye contact, no connection with anyone in the audience, willing herself to become an object and is therefore treated like one. We are constantly expected to overcome difficulties as women. Difficulties such as body-hatred, eating disorders etc. We should capitalize on our flaws. We should revel in and intensify the damage rather than seek to capitalize on it. We should not apologize for our transgressions as this is what hegemony wants. Performances such as ‘Rhythm 0’ put forward a display that even if sadistic people can perform these acts on your body, you should not become a victim of it. That is perhaps why Abramovic ‘s displays are shocking an upsetting. She is well aware of the awful things that happen to her, but she decides to deal with it in they way she chooses, rather than capitalize on it, in a way that we would expect.
A truly moving performance…