AP Interview: Marina Abramovic, performance artist

Associated Press Modified: October 5, 2012 at 11:16 pm •  Published: October 5, 2012
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — It's taken her 40 years, but performance artist Marina Abramovic says she's learned to relax the iron self-control that's at the heart of her craft.

The Belgrade-born artist best known for her piece "The Artist Is Present," which in 2010 saw her sit silent and motionless for 736 1/2 hours opposite a parade of strangers at New York's Museum of Modern Art, said a thirst for novelty pushed her to relinquish control to two movie directors.

"If you always control all points of view it's always the same," Abramovic told The Associated Press in an interview in Rio de Janeiro, where she's promoting two documentaries about her life and four decade-long career.

"Bob Wilson's Life and Death of Marina Abramovic," by director Giada Colagrande, chronicles the staging of a play loosely based on Abramovic's traumatic childhood at the hands of an abusive and tyrannical mother. Matthew Aker's "Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present" examines the 2010 MoMA piece that drew more than 750,000 spectators to watch her do nothing.

Both movies, playing at the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival, feature extensive footage from her performances and candid interviews with the artist.

"Artist Is Present" is the more intimate of the two films, with footage of Abramovic's early, self-flagellating pieces from the 1970s and interviews with her champions, friends and old lovers.

"Contractually, I couldn't be involved at all in the actual film, beyond receiving the crew in my house at six in the morning, with no makeup on, even when I was sick and throwing up," said the 65-year-old Abramovic, whose smooth, striking face belies her years. "I had to not really care about 'how do I look,' and trying to control the image part and all that."

First-time filmmaker Akers racked up more than 600 hours of rushes, including moving footage of legions of ardent Abramovic fans who lined up outside MoMA for hours or even days for the chance at taking a seat opposite the Sphinx-like artist. Staring into Abramovic's dark eyes, a surprising number of her "sitters," as they were known, broke down into tears.

When she and Akers met through a mutual acquaintance and launched into the documentary a few months before the MoMA show, he was "a total disbeliever in performance" art, Abramovic said. "He didn't believe it could be considered any kind of art. I believe so much in the power of performance I don't want to convince people. I want them to experience it and come away convinced on their own."

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