Histories of Violence: Breaking the World

In this work, you sat for over four days cleaning the flesh and blood off a pile of bones. So you can take this image of me scrubbing away flesh and blood from a pile of bones, and it invokes other forms of violence. In 2016, the Marina Abramović Institute (MAI) in collaboration with NEON at the Benaki Museum in Athens, Greece, created As One. My contribution as an artist is to propose a different perspective. The wolfrat story seems to be the human story of war. When I stopped painting, I started with sound and sound brought me to use the body and the use of the body brought me to performance. I realized over a long period of time I became an obstacle for experience, because the moment I am physically there in a space and people engage with me, I become an obstacle to my own work. This is something amazing because people are not having normal conversation anymore. That is an complex question. There was a sound piece called   The Airport, another called   The Tree,   and these sound pieces were really thinking about rhythm and repetition. This discussion is with the renowned and widely celebrated Yugoslavia-born performance artist Marina Abramović. I think intuition in art is really important. You create a situation based on frequencies and people exist in the space through this shared vibration. People connect through the silence and human touch. At the same time, I was doing an act that I could never finish, washing or cleaning blood off bones is an impossible action because you never fully clean away the memory of the killing. Someone once asked me if you could suggest a book for politicians to read, and I immediately suggested the biography of Gandhi. It becomes a universal image. Fifty-two thousand people went through this process. So I am really more interested in art that has different layers, layers of meaning, one layer can be political but another layer might be the layer of futurity, to me that is very important. We are just part of this strange scenario, like we are in a macabre opera and we don’t actually change anything. There are many choirs of all kinds. For example, the duration or endurance of the performance itself. Here, performance art seems to become strategic. Now MAI has been invited to do something at PinchukArtCentre in Ukraine. In order to change anything, you have to change yourself, then you can change thousands and that is exactly what Gandhi did. APRIL 24, 2017

THIS IS THE SEVENTH in a series of dialogues with artists, writers, and critical thinkers on the question of violence. Political art is like an old newspaper, today’s news is tomorrow’s old news, it is not relevant anymore. This is what I am doing now, community events. Is this how you understand it? He succeeded without a drop of blood. And then I was thinking about the piece you did at MoMa. Human beings have always been killing each other throughout history. You literally have to imagine the world coming to a halt and then you get to work to rearrange reality. I gave the choirs complete freedom to choose their own repertoire. There is a politics to engaging collective memory here. That said, I am not so interested in making political art. There is always the same exercise or ritual being performed over and over again over hundreds and thousands of years. That is fascinating because you have often talked about the importance of the body in your work and that the art is made through the body, and I was looking back at many different performances of yours and it seems to me that rhythm is just as important as the body in your work. So I wanted to ask you about how you see the role of rhythm in your work? Today, people are tired of just looking at something; they want to be part of something; and they want to have their own personal experience. I remember those pieces with Ulay from when I was a child. I am thinking of the Balkan Baroque, for which you won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 1997. Together with my collaborator, Lynsey Peisinger, we held auditions for over 120 choirs including two homeless choirs, an all-female Iraqi choir, which is the only one in Europe, a choir of Syrian refugees, a Slavic choir, a Gypsy choir, and various different religious choirs. We had people waiting outside in freezing temperatures to participate. If you told political jokes, you go to prison for four years and if the joke was really bad you go for six years. In order to see clearly, you have to stop the world. In 2014, she helped bring   Louder Than A Bomb, the largest youth poetry slam in the nation, to Cincinnati. Eighty percent of what you read, you have to read behind the lines and see things in context. I am more like a conductor, where using the simple tools, I facilitate the public’s experience. Politics as inherently emancipatory and transformational. The reason for this is that people are like antennae, and in a minimal environment, a depth of collective experience and feeling arises. I tell a story of how to catch a wolfrat in the Balkans. Rats don’t usually kill members of their own family, but if you put them in certain circumstances they do; they turn into a wolfrat where they just don’t care anymore who they kill. And I think that a lot of the work you do taps into those principles of the political. It concerns how politics works. I think this was probably the most political piece I have ever made. But one phenomenon is that everyone sings there. So it sounds like you are describing an art of democratization, which for me is not the same as the democratization of art, where art is understood as a practice anyone can engage in; rather, it seems to me that in this instance art is creating a democratic phenomenon where all kinds of differences come together and through the sharing of those differences a moment is created, one through which art is realized. So what I am trying to do now is to create large community events where I give people the tools to forge their own experience. Would you like to comment on that? I made a piece in 1971 called Freeing The Horizon   where I took photographs of Belgrade and with paint, blocked out the buildings in the landscape to expose the horizon. MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ: My relationship to the audience has slowly been changing over the course of my career. So now I do everything from behind the scenes. Speaking of repetition and cultural memory, it is interesting that you are now working with collectives of people. The important thing is that there is no conversation; apart from the music there is silence. But also you knew what the restrictions were and what the consequences were when you cross them. How do artists predict the future? Repetition like this creates a particular kind of quality and energy. I don’t call them performances anymore. This kind of work is very subtle. The show starts with my early paintings. Total attendance reached 8,000 for the event, which lasted eight hours a day for seven days. Repetition is very important in my work because it is also relevant in many cultures since ancient times. What we see happening is not the way it really is. ¤
Adrian Parr is an Australian-born philosopher and cultural critic, a professor, and the director of the Taft Research Center at University of Cincinnati. Obviously you have the Rhythm series you did back in the ’70s, and even if you consider the pieces you did with Ulay. We have done this since the beginning of time through to today. In this way, it became a political piece. It is the simple event of human being to human being. The idea that we have political freedom and democracy is a farce. How politics is represented to us is one thing, but in reality things are very different. For a child to sit through a durational performance could be unbearable at times, but the rhythm was hypnotic for me and that is what I remember most about those performances. We kept the choirs singing continuously, so the music never stopped. Most recently, I did a very large community event called The Cleaner, at Eric Ericsonhallen church at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. This piece was also related in a way to my own situation, and in the same piece I interview my mother and father, and a professional rat catcher. There is a population of refugees in Sweden right now. This image is a really important reminder to us of that. The way I understand the political is different from institutionalized politics. The Swedish people are often very closed off and don’t open their emotions. The performance community was very live in the 1970s and gradually it completely disappeared from the 1980s onward when art became more and more a commodity. In my country where I came from, ex-Yugoslavia, it was so much more honest because the restrictions were clear and visible. But here in America, everything is sugar coated. And now you are talking about these collective works that are about sound, not necessarily speaking, but a voice, and the ways in which voices come together as one is the result of a variety of rhythms and vibrations. Very much so. In a world where space and time are increasingly being filled to the brink with political exaggeration, alternative facts, and endless consumption, your minimalist gesture of silently occupying a space and slowing down routine time invokes another reality, almost a forgotten one. So there is a really strong connection here with rhythm because I did a lot of sound works, which I call sound environments, that people don’t know much about, that I am now trying to reconstruct. It is like a politics of encountering the collective memory and trauma of the Yugoslavian war and it is also a way of occupying space whereby art emerges in association with bodies that are both whole and broken, and in relationship to different times that harken back to the past, such as a collective trauma, and the present. Although there is no longer a war in Yugoslovia, there are wars everywhere, in Syria, in Iraq. I try to understand the need of the different communities in the places I conduct these events. In this regard, to what extent can art be political if what we understand by politics is a process of remaking the world? Even now in the 21st   century, we are still killing. You find rituals and practices based on repetition in the histories of the Australian Aborigines, the Tibetan Buddhists, and Brazilian Shamans. It was in response to the war at that time, and I was so ashamed by this war. Before entering the church, the public was required to leave behind all technological devices like laptops, cell phones, and watches. That is very interesting because I just had a retrospective at Moderna Museet in Stockholm and it is going to Louisiana Museum in Humlebæk, Denmark, in June. This story seemed a lot like the war to me, where you had neighbors who once lived next to each other peacefully for 35 years, neighbors who shared everything and then from one day to the next day they are killing each other. Socially, it is complicated situation. ¤
ADRIAN PARR: I have always been intrigued by the ways in which your body occupies space and time and how it encounters other bodies. Rhythm emerges once more, because you sit still at the table but a rhythm arises with each person who joins you at the table and their emotional state is shared with you. Some artists are more in touch with intuition than others. It is not a huge, loud event. I think this is an important turning point. I wanted to create an image that would be relevant not only for that particular moment, but which could also become an image that invokes any war at any moment anywhere. I am a conductor, staying more in the background of the activity. People across different ages, races, and religions have a shared human need to be connected by sound, and to come together in one special space. The wolfrat became a synonym for war. He was such a unique politician. It is amazing my dream of freeing the horizon came into being quite literally, as many years later, some of the buildings I painted out of the photograph were actually bombed by NATO during the war in 1999. I wanted to ask you about the strategic placement and occupation of bodies and times and whether you see this as a politics of performance at all. They exist in space as a community. It also creates rhythm. If you stand next to a total stranger, and touch them on the shoulder with your hand instead of talking, the feeling is so much stronger. They can if they are really connected to intuition.