It’s an uncomfortable process in Marina Abramovic’s blockbuster exhibition at Royal Academy of Arts, and it gives us just a taste of the distress she’s put herself through in the name of furthering performance art: screaming until she lost her voice, stabbing herself in her hand multiple times and having a loaded gun pointed at her head. Looks like we got off easy in comparison, and for the prudish there is a route that allows people to bypass the naked couple.
Discomfort is everywhere we turn as a naked woman perches on a saddle sticking out of the wall, holding a position for 30 minutes, which must require some serious core strength to balance for so long. Visitors can pass through an archway of illuminated selenite crystals that is hot and bright enough to induce a migraine and even the wall-based works include a freeze-frame of Abramovic screaming preserved in alabaster: the performance art version of Edvard Munch’s famous Scream.
Among the intensity there are some moments of calm where visitors can stand, sit or lie on installations made of minerals to feel their energies. It almost feels like the palate cleanser before we dive back into another visceral experience, such as a video of when an arrow was held at tension aimed at her chest by her then partner. The fact she’s alive tells every viewer that the arrow clearly wasn't let fly to mortally wound her, and yet it’s still hard to watch and we stand ready to flinch.
The artist herself has been at the centre of all these works when they were originally performed, though at this show the artist is absent –handing over the performing to those schooled in her ways or having them shown in videos and stills. This relates to both her recent ill health, still recovering from a near-fatal pulmonary embolism, and the fact that as she ages she will inevitably have to hand over the reins if she wants her live performances to continue.
The Royal Academy should be commended in capturing as much of the energy and visceral nature of her performances as they can without the artist being present, even if it does feel like it loses a little impact without the charismatic presence of the artist.
For those new to Abramovic this exhibition will drive home how she has revolutionised performance, quite literally putting her body on the line in the name of art. It’s intense, it’s discomfiting, it’s memorable and it’s performance art at its finest.
Second image: Courtesy of the Marina Abramović Archives, and Lisson Gallery. © Marina Abramović. Photo © Royal Academy of Arts, London / David Parry
Third image: © Marina Abramović. Photo © Royal Academy of Arts, London / David Parry
|What||Marina Abramovic, Royal Academy of Arts, review|
|Where||Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Green Park (underground)|
23 Sep 23 – 01 Jan 24, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|