Marina Abramovic acts as a powerful woman. This 74-year-old Serbian celebrates her recent Princess of the Arts Award with a speech between refractory and mystical. The news of the award came to her while she was working in her studio in Hudson, New York, where she receives this newspaper by videoconference, surrounded by computers and work desks. He set out on the road to stardom thanks to a genre, the performance, which takes the body as an artistic unit. He formed his wit in the environments sixties of a Belgrade raised up against the Tito regime, but it immediately left its pioneering mark on the main cultural institutions of the world. And from there, to the conquest of the general public.
Question. Did you imagine getting here?
Answer. If in the seventies, when I started, someone had told me that I was going to receive this kind of award, I would not have believed it. That was a difficult time, I felt like the first woman to walk on the Moon. I dedicated myself to performance against my family, against my teachers, against the art critics of the former Yugoslavia. I could assure you that I always knew I was right, but the truth is that the pressure around me was enormous. It has taken me 50 years for my actions to be a mainstream in art. It was not just an unknown discipline, it was also an unknown word. The term refers to the contact between people, I have brought that contact to the public in an emotional way.
P. What answer have you found?
R. Art has been fundamental throughout the centuries. It has sustained governments, legitimized ideologies and religions. The art of this century has to attend to what happens to the planet, hunger or politics. It is our obligation to ask ourselves the right questions. Here, in this office, I do them all the time.
P. Did the worst of the lockdown happen in that study?
R. I was rehearsing my opera about Maria Callas, which was to premiere on April 11 in Munich. I have read all eight biographies of this woman, all of which exist, and found many similarities with me. We are both Sagittarius, the same sign, and we also suffer from our mothers. Now, thinking about confinement may seem crazy, but then I dedicated myself to working to keep the premiere. Art must be inventive and find a way to develop, so I insisted and insisted, although in the end it had to be postponed until after the summer, with a safe distance and a reduced audience. The play will inaugurate the Paris operatic season in September, it is a project of which I am very proud. My big dream is that I arrive at the Teatro Real in Madrid. With another opera Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, I had the opportunity to meet him. Amazing.
I am very critical of my early works, but now they are part of history
P. How did you find out about the death of Ulay, your artistic partner during the seventies, who passed away that March?
R. He passed away early in the health crisis, so I was unable to attend the funeral or pay my respects to his family. It was not surprising, he had been ill with cancer for more than 10 years. I last spoke to him in November. I congratulated him, because we had our birthday the same day. A very intense conversation, even though he was already having difficulty speaking. It’s a sad story, I’ve finally outlived it. We had a relationship with many ups and downs, he was not a simple man, but in the end we reconciled. I only have love and respect for him.
P. You have said it yourself, a large part of your work is built on direct contact, difficult in these times.
R. It has been the worst of confinement, the loss of contact, the very essence of the human being. We had to forget the hugs. But, on the other hand, I experienced it as a challenge. I thought about how we can relate differently. I was very lucky to collaborate with the television channel Sky Art, we did a five-hour program on the origins of the performing arts, we showed millions of people the work of 64 creators from 31 different countries. That the media allow me something like that is like a revolution. With my recent piece The Life, which combines virtual reality and augmented reality, I show that the artist can be anytime, anywhere.
If I had listened to the critics, I would never have left my house
P. Many credit him with popularizing art. Is there a formula for it?
R. Determination, believe in yourself and never, never give up. I am very critical of my early works, but now they are part of history. If I had listened to the critics, I would never have left my house. In many ways it is easy to start painting or sculpture, but the performance It is immaterial, it is only time. You have to be there where it happens and it is only preserved if the audience remembers it. Many of those who started with me left later, changed course. I am the only one of my generation who remains in the gap.
P. Was the pain necessary? Losing consciousness from suffocation, as he did with Ulay?
R. Yes, totally. If you really believe in performance, you will do anything for her and it will change your life.
P. Cultural institutions and many great museums in the world include these actions in their programs. Is it still the revolutionary discipline that you often describe?
R. Of course, it is the most complex form of art. I invented it, it didn’t exist before, but it will outlive me. Just look at the young creators.
P. Have you also changed? His life interests even the pink press.
R. Not at all, I am the same Marina. That fame is not something that comes from me, but from the public, I am not responsible.
Many of those who started with me left later, changed course. I’m the only one of my generation who stands in the gap
P. But he uses it, he takes advantage of it.
R. As a platform to give my opinion, influence and help other artists to find their way. Nobody listens to the anonymous. Our responsibility is to use fame in a positive sense.
R. That fame must be exhausting. At the end of his memoirs, Tearing Down Walls (Malpaso, 2016), you describe a time of strenuous work and a lot of stress. He even experienced panic attacks. Now you take it more calmly?
P. It is the coronavirus that has made my life easier. Before I traveled all the time, it was very stressful. I don’t hang pictures, delegating is impossible, I have to appear in galleries, halls or museums. However, many of these events have been canceled throughout the year. I finally have time to read, enjoy nature and be alone. What a pleasure!
P. The last chapter of the book happens in 2015, will you write about the years since then?
I have a long time, my grandmother died when she was 103 years old. I’m sure that I too will be long-lived
P. Things have not stopped happening to me. Maybe because I’m curious and I try to surprise myself all the time. But it would take at least another two decades to start typing. I have a long time, my grandmother died when she was 103 years old. I am sure that I too will live long. What I would like is to publish short stories, stories that have made me think.
R. For example?
R. I go to India very often. When you walk down the street, it is common for children to approach you and ask your name or where you are from. But I remember that once I was in a small town, I was walking along the forest, when I realized that a little boy was accompanying me in parallel. He did not ask my name or my nationality, I had never seen a boy like that. I stopped and asked him: “How are you?” He stopped short and replied: “Different.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.