Walk Through Walls
by Marina Abramovic
In 2010, when Serb performance artist Marina Abramovic staged The Artist is Present in New York, hundreds of people (among them James Franco and Lou Reed) queued to sit in front of her in silence, communicating only with their eyes. Among the participants was her German former partner in love and art, Ulay.
He had been a guest to the show, but, she writes, “I never expected him to sit in front of me.” That moment, captured on video (below), is impossible to watch without a sob.
The back story is equally poignant, beginning with Abramovic’s childhood years in the then Yugoslavia, where she dreamed of freedom. She would become known for her daring work, which tested her physically and emotionally as much as it did her audience. At a six-hour performance in Italy, she allowed strangers to use on her body any of the 72 objects provided: she emerged bloodied from pin pricks and knife cuts.
For the most part Abramovic describes her work coolly, maddeningly so, reserving her passion mostly for the relationships that shaped her career. In later years, however, we start to see another side of the artist, one that is vulnerably human.