Friday, February 24, 2012

Marina Abramovic Q&A at

Last week, I got to interview Marina Abramovic. I was pretty scared about doing this, mainly because she loomed so large as a figure in my mind; I've known about and admired her work since art school.

So one of those weird things that sometimes happens when preparing for an interview happened: I read a bunch of prior interviews, watched the related documentary that was bringing her to Toronto (Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present, recommended viewing), and then, feeling that all had really been said already about Abramovic and the origins of her practice in prior documentation, I asked her about a few small things that I wondered about in terms of her practice -- things I hadn't learned in other interviews I'd read or seen.

As a result, the interview is a bit of a strange one, and presumes knowledge of her past work and some current projects. It was published yesterday on, part of the org that brought Abramovic to town for the doc screening.

Here's an excerpt:

Leah Sandals: One point made over and over in this new documentary is that your work is very much about the importance of being in the present moment. So to start, I wanted to ask, How are you feeling right now? What’s on your mind at the moment?

Marina Abramović: Yesterday, I finally got the master plan from Rem Koolhaas for the Abramović Institute in Hudson, New York. That’s on my mind. And this is really the future: I’m trying to create something called the Abramović Method, where we are going to teach students how to condition themselves for long-duration performances.

The institute and the method will also educate audiences on how to look at long-duration performance—including giving them special chairs to sleep in inside the piece, so they can have that timeless sense of never leaving the space. You wake up, and the piece is still going on. This has never been done before.

LS: I understand that a major cause for you right now—one related to you founding the Abramović Institute—is the preservation of performance art. How do you reconcile your desire to preserve this art form with your contention that performance art must be based in an experience in the present moment?

MA: Well, we still always have to be aware of the past. Historically, you have to know where performance has come from. So we will create the library, a very big archive where the public and students can go and study.

We’re also going to commission long-duration performance work. My dream is to commission David Lynch to make something 360 hours long, and do the same with other artists who may not have considered the form.

I’m doing all this because performance is a serious business, and everyone is taking it very lightly. Especially when you are in America, you can say performance is so many different things: performance of a car, performance of a football game, or stand-up comedy, or entertainment. Basically, it’s always connected to entertainment. I’m fed up with receiving emails like, “Oh, a gallery is opening, can you do a little performance for the opening?” This kind of attitude has to be changed, and this is why this institute is being created.

LS: In the film and elsewhere, you make that point repeatedly—that performance art is disregarded or misunderstood by art institutions. How can this still actually be the case when the fact is that museums have collected and exhibited your work for many years, as well as the work of other performance artists?

MA: But I’m not saying exactly this. I’m not saying this is not changed now; I’m saying it took 40 years to change it! It’s only recently that I made work in the Guggenheim and other museums. Since I started in the 1970s, I really wanted to place performance as a mainstream art, and I can say right now that it is mainstream art. Definitely the MoMA show contributed to this.

But it’s not just that I’m changing [the way performance is seen]. It’s very funny how performance comes and goes, and how every time there is economic crisis in the world, performance just pops up, because it’s so cheap. And performance is something that has enormous transformative power. This is what I’m fighting for.

You can read on for the rest -- including what Abramovic would be if she wasn't an artist -- at

And take note the documentary is screening again at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Sunday Feb 26th in the late afternoon. Worth a watch, especially if you're a fan of hers.

(Image: Production still from the documentary Marina Abramović The Artist is Present Courtesy Show of Force / photo David Smoler via


Anonymous said...

wow what an amazing experience that must have been for you Leah! Inspired what I saw you do at at NSCAD all those years ago & the one lil performance piece i did foundation year in the window of the gallery on barrington I introduced one of my classes to performance art. they were amazing.


Leah Sandals said...

Thanks Cabi! I recommend seeing the film, as it does provide a great behind the scenes of her as a person as well as an artist. Oh, NSCAD seems so long ago!