By Bryn Fawn
Art is not always paint on a canvas, graphite on paper or clay molded into shape. Art is sometimes a performance, whether a stand-up comedy routine, a ballet performance or even allowing the general public to shoot you with a pistol.
Marina Abramović was born in Belgrade, Serbia, in 1946. Abramović is known for utilizing her body in her pieces, even when it becomes deadly.
“Rhythm 0” is perhaps one of her most infamous pieces. It was performed in 1974, in Naples, Italy. Abramović set up a table with 72 objects. Some of these objects include cake, a knife, flowers and a gun.
Abramović had written instructions on display for all participants, visitors and onlookers.
The instructions read: “Instructions. There are 72 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired. Performance. I am the object. During this period I take full responsibility.”
The performance would last six hours. Visitors were welcome to partake, utilizing one of the 72 objects on Abramović. Exactly how the piece began is unknown, with conflicting and confusing reports from critics and participants. However, it is known that it started relatively tame. Onlookers were hesitant to participate.
Critic Thomas McEvilley wrote: “Someone turned her around. Another person thrust her arm into the air. Someone else touched her somewhat intimately.”
Disaster soon struck.
Abramović was sexually assaulted, her clothes were cut off after only three hours, she was picked up and lofted around like an object and she was cut with the knife on her neck. Supposedly, a participant drank her blood.
Not all actions taken against her were violent. Some wiped away her tears. One individual fed her cake, another placed a rose in her hand and one kissed her.
Near the end of the performance, “end” was written on her forehead. There are several photographs showcasing her state. Abramović was nude, holding polaroids shot of the performance and flowers, with a blank expression on her face.
A man tried to rape Abramović. Another participant took a loaded gun and pointed it to her head. This caused a fight to break out.
“It was six hours of real horror,” Abramović said in an interview in 1970 at the Sean Kelly Gallery.
Once the performance was over, participants changed their tune.
“I start being by myself and start walking through the audience naked and with blood, and tears in my eyes, everybody run away, literally run out of the door,” Abramović said.
Once confronted with the fact that these individuals had done unspeakable acts to a person, they fled. The thought was unbearable. Abramović very well could have died that night. Once the six hours were up, visitors could have had a dead body.
The photos of the performance are captivating and horrifying at the same time. Throughout them all, Abramović depicts no expression, no feeling.
Abramović continues to make art and perform to this day, and still uses her body. She continues to play with death, pain and pleasure as that is the basis of her works.
“Rhythm 0” may never occur again, as it is one of the most contested pieces by Abramović, yet it shows how sinister humanity can get.