Deep shame, maximum self-consciousness. When I was young it was impossible for me to talk to people. Now I can stand in front of three thousand people without any notes, any preconception of what I’m going to say, even without visual material, and I can look at everyone in the audience and talk for two hours easily.
When I was fourteen, I asked my father for a set of oil paints. He bought them for me, and also arranged for a painting lesson from an old partisan friend of his, an artist named Filo Filipović. Filipović, who was part of a group called Informel, painted what he called abstract landscapes. He arrived in my little studio carrying paints, canvas, and some other materials, and he gave me my first painting lesson.
He cut out a piece of canvas and put it on the floor. He opened a can of glue and threw the liquid on the canvas; he added a little bit of sand, some yellow pigment, some red pigment, and some black. Then he poured about half a liter of gasoline on it, lit a match, and everything exploded. “This is a sunset,” he told me. And then he left.
This made a big impression on me. I waited until the charred mess had dried, and then very carefully pinned it to the wall. Then my family and I left for vacation. When I came back, the August sun had dried everything up. The color was gone and the sand had fallen off. There was nothing left but a pile of ashes and sand on the floor. The sunset didn’t exist anymore.
Later on, I understood why this experience was so important. It taught me that the process was more important than the result, just as the performance means more to me than the object.
Marina Abramović, 69, is a Serbian performance artist based in New York. Her work explores the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind. Active for over three decades, Abramović has been described as the “grandmother of performance art.” She pioneered a new notion of identity by bringing in the participation of observers, focusing on “confronting pain, blood, and physical limits of the body.” The passage above is from her recently recently memoir.
Over 30,000,000 viewers have watched her performance on this Youtube video: Don’t miss it here.