Marina Abramović & Rhythm 0

When I was younger I never really placed any stock in performance art. I did enjoy theater, music concerts and performances of that nature, but I’m referring to a performance were the performer incorporates themselves physically into their “art piece”, in front of a live audience. The reason for this is mainly due to my lack of knowledge on this subject but in recent years I have come to except it as a medium capable of conveying a powerful message and invoking strong emotions in those viewing or experiencing it.

My favorite performance artist and arguably the most influential is Belgrade born artist Marina Abramović. Currently based in New York she had a career full of thought provoking performances. More recently, during a retrospective honoring her life’s work at the Museum of Modern Art, she exhibited a piece called ‘The Artist Is Present’. It consisted of Abramović sitting static and silent for 736 hours and 30 minutes while visitors to the exhibition were encouraged to sit opposite from her one at a time. Even Lady Gaga partook in this performance.

Marina Abramović
Marina Abramović, The Artist Is Present, Museum of Modern Art, 2010

The performance I find most interesting is her 1974 performance ‘Rhythm 0’. The piece wanted to test the boundaries between the performer and audience, but it exceeded expectations by exposing a ‘darker’ side to humanity which usually lies dormant in modern day society. The performance consisted of a table with 72 objects. The objects ranged from harmless objects like a feather to objects that can be considered dangerous like a gun and a single bullet. Audiences were allowed to use any of these objects in any way the pleased to manipulate Abramović’s body and actions. The performance lasted 6 hours and at first the actions towards her were quite timed but as time progressed and the audience got no reaction from Abramović, actions got increasingly more violent. People cut her clothes with scissors and another person cut her neck with a knife and then licked the blood. The most shocking of these actions involved the gun, a person held it to Abramović’s head applying pressure to the trigger with her own finger, Abramović didn’t resist. After 6 hours she stood up and started walking towards the audience, ashamed and afraid of confrontation they all ran away. The piece not only showed our fear of confrontation but also our willingness to compromise our morals and bring harm to others when there are no consequences.

Marina Abramović, Rhythm 0, 1974

Obviously not everybody will do things this extreme or harmful to someone else when given the opportunity and I would like to believe people aren’t running around harming each other solely because it’s against the law. I’d like to believe people are morally good and I do believe that but performances or even social experiments like these makes me wonder and that in itself is a testament to Rhythm 0’s brilliance.

Franscois Potgieter

Founder, Artist, The Mind Is Right

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