Videos, photographs, paintings, objects, installations and the live re-enactment of her famous performances: the main periods of the artist’s career on exhibit in Florence.
The retrospective exhibition dedicated to Marina Abramovich, promoted by the Palazzo Strozzi Foundation, confirming the group’s vocation to Contemporary Art, will be held in Florence until January 20th, 2019. This artist of Serbian origin, after her pictorial beginnings, defined herself as one of the most interesting and provocative performers on the artistic scene. The exhibition with the evocative title of The Cleaner is aimed at offering an analysis of her career, in order “to keep what is necessary”, as stated by the director of the Foundation, Arturo Galansino. Videos, photographs, installations, for a total of 100 pieces, retrace her 50-year career.
The exhibition is both a historical and “live” reinterpretation, with the repetition of five performances performed by artists trained by Abramovich (schedules can be found on the exhibition’s website). Therefore, a wide-ranging overview that includes paintings from her debut, as well as the Citroën van with which between the ’70s and’ 80s she travelled around Europe with Ulay, her partner in life and art. Moreover, on show are 5 Transient Objects (Power Object) “energy tools for inner travels”. Installations with quartz, crystals and obsidian inserted on metallic or wood supports, which act as transmitters of energy.
Among the performances presented there is that of 2010 at the MoMa in New York, gaining her fame among the general public thanks to the stir it created. Sitting in a chair, every day for three months, she looked into the eyes of thousands of visitors who sat opposite her. The aim was to bring the other person into her energy field and create a deep communication, an exchange of auras.
At the foundation of these actions, as explained by the artist herself, there was the need to “explore new forms of communication”. An experimentation carried out through a use of the unscrupulous body pushed to the limit, the result of a need for the absolute. The performances of the first years are in fact evidence of resistance beyond fatigue, fear or humiliation in order to reach the limits of tolerance and self-control.
This is on the lines of Rhythm 10 of 1973, when she kneeled and with her open hand she stabbed a knife between her fingers, often injuring himself. The show was a sadistic game that had already been played in 1936 by Dora Maar in the Parisian bar Deux Magots to attract the attention of Picasso. Even more extreme was Rhythm 0 of 1974 in Bologna, an unconditional offer of self as a modern martyr: for six hours she made himself available to visitors who could freely use various instruments chosen by her and placed on a table. On that occasion, the initially shy public then showed a ferocity that forced the intervention of the police who suspended the performance. In the exhibition slides and other tools illustrate that event.
In the following years, her masochism is mitigated, yet not her provocation. In 1977 in Bologna, Imponderabilia (reissued on the first floor) was interrupted by police forces this time for pornography. Marina and Ulay naked, facing each other in a narrow passage, letting the visitors, who were placed before the choice to face the man or the woman, slip between their bodies. Provocation but also investigation of the male and female relationship and the need to explore the boundaries of the body, one’s own as well as that of the other. Perhaps the best performance that deserves to be reviewed in Florence is Balkan Baroque, with which she won the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale in 1997. Troubled by the war in the Balkans, she washed the bones of bloody cattle for eight hours a day, intoning popular songs in an impossible desire to cleanse all peoples, as well as her own, from the blood of war. Sitting in the middle of a pile of bones, with the white dress stained with blood, between worms and nauseating odours, she posed as a sort of modern priestess. Beyond the provocative aspects, she has an inner core made of ascetic intensity, handed down by the grandfather of the Orthodox patriarch, and rigour in her work that is due perhaps to being raised by military parents.
The exhibition is an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of an artist who has always posed important questions about body, language and relationships, and in doing so – in such a radical and profound way – she forces us to confront ourselves. She is the “modern shaman of our times”, as one critic has defined her, a guide to the discovery of our limits.