Marina Abramovic's CBC Interview: Change Through Experience

A documentary based on Abramovic's MoMA
performance in 2010 is now making the film festival circuit.
Image source:

I finally had a chance last week to catch up on some of my archived podcasts. I especially enjoy the CBC radio program Ideas with Paul Kennedy, so I was especially excited to see that Marina Abramovic had sat down with the CBC for an hour long interview. Having spent several years researching and teaching about Abramovic's practice, not to mention reading many student essays and projects discussing her work, I was surprised about how much new information (and very personal and intimate knowledge at that) Abramovic shared with interviewer Eleanor Wachtel. Listening to the interview [find embedded link below], we learn more details about Abramovic's upbringing in 1950-60's Belgrade and the relationship she had with her parents and grandparents, all of whom were celebrated war heroes. She also details the life of privilege she enjoyed as a "red bourgeoisie" under the Communist regime of the former Yugoslavia. This was especially interesting to hear Abramovic describe because it complicates accounts of how her art practice was perceived by both her family and the art institutions within Belgrade who first supported her. She goes on to discuss in fascinating detail how and why she abandoned her painting practice, connecting her early and controversial "Rhythm" projects to an interest in sound installation that would eventually evolve to a performance-based practice. As Abramovic sums up about this transition, she discovered that her body was her best tool.

In the interview, Abramovic also tackles the more profound question of determining when one knows if they are an artist. She defines this through a number of criteria, reserving the category of the "great artist" only to those select few willing to sacrifice everything else for the craft. As Abramovic argues, "you have to be in a obsessed... it has to be the most important thing in your life." For Abramovic, the act of silence and being present in one's body are powerful and disciplinary tools that help shape that level of inner awareness, especially at a time when young artists are seduced into a perpetual and technologically-induced state of distraction. "The only real change comes from your own experience" states Abramovic, and this is perhaps the most concise summary of her artistic practice as a performance artist. The interview reveals an even greater depth of Abramovic's energy and passion which extends to all of her performances, perhaps none more profound than that of The Artist is Present (2010)-- a piece I have blogged about here. Now with the much anticipated documentary film about this performance making the film festival rounds-- most recently at Sundance and here in Canada at Reel Artists (P.S. fingers crossed that this film shows up at VIFF this fall!)-- we will be hearing a great deal more about what makes Abramovic so resiliant and perpetually relevant as a contemporary artist.

Here is a trailer for the feature-length documentary The Artist Is Present directed by Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre.