Marina Abramović: Pioneering Performer or Sinister Globalist?

A new book examines the career of controversial artist Marina Abramović, exploring whether her ideas are either troubling or inspiring.

Marina Abramovic

A new book examines the career of controversial artist Marina Abramović, exploring whether her ideas are either troubling or inspiring.

In 2020 you might recall Alex Jones’s sole intervention in the field of art criticism. On his Infowars site, Jones thundered about an artist involved with Satanism, “spirit cooking” and an elite globalist cult. Jones was speaking about Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović, subject of a new book by Ossian Ward.

In Marina Abramović, Ward surveys the artist’s 50-year career, viewed through documentation of her performances. Ward traces her beginning as an art student in Yugoslavia (now Serbia) to global art superstar.

Ward writes Abramović is “the pre-eminent solo performance artist of her time”. Since 1973, in endurance performances lasting many hours, the artist took drugs, inflicted bodily injury to herself and risked her life with weapons. She accidentally reduced herself to unconsciousness when flames surrounding her consumed all the oxygen. Many performances were done unclothed (one performance in Italy was ended when the police halted it on grounds of indecency.)

Abramović’s self-harm performance may be cathartic or repellent to viewers; like the activities of fellow artist Yoko Ono, they are intended to prompt strong reactions. Early performances, including her then-partner Ulay, involved fruitless tasks such as carrying bricks around a gallery, hauling a horse and screaming into each other’s faces.

Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present Photo by Marco Anelli. © 2010 Marco Anelli

Abramović’s involvement with traditional magic rituals has caused her to see art in shamanic terms. She wrote, “Everything depends on which context you are doing what you are doing. If you are doing the occult magic in the context of art or in a gallery, then it is the art.” Following traditional instructions, Abramović has developed recipes to feed ghosts, using symbolic ingredients such as blood and sperm in “spirit cooking”, which she performs in galleries and for private gatherings. When you learn that Abramović sees occult activity as legitimate art and once scrubbed bloody cattle bones for a performance, you can see how people might be suspicious.

Consider Aleister Crowley, self-proclaimed English occultist and libertine, who lived from 1875 to 1947. Crowley shocked ordinary people with his pronouncements and travelled the world to speak to select groups, being paid to conduct rituals for the initiated elite. When he mingled in high society, his presence created a frisson of danger. His activities were followed by newspapers, which he courted. Doesn’t Crowley sound like the original performance artist? The upper-class bohemians and creatives of the 1920s must have viewed an audience with Crowley the way today’s socialites treat an Abramović spirit cooking.

While there is no evidence Abramovic is a Satanist, Jones was right in saying that she is part of a globalist elite. Abramović has collaborated with Lady Gaga and Jay-Z. She partnered with Microsoft for two videos – which were pulled following the Jones controversy. Abramović is every inch an elitist.

Consider her attitude towards material objects. “I believe the twenty-first century will be a world without art in the sense that we have it now,” wrote the artist, in 1990. “It will be a world without objects, where the human being can be on a high level of consciousness and has such a strong mental state that he or she can transmit thoughts and energy to other people, without needing objects in between. So there will not be sculptures, or paintings, or installations. There will just be the artist standing in front of a public, which is developed enough to receive a message or energy.”

Abramović’s art is documentary materials not art objects; new pieces have included virtual reality. Once you realise that she has made her livelihood mostly without selling objects but through funded appearances, then her post-materialist thinking is explicable. It is all very well for an artist supported by millionaire donors and billion-dollar companies to talk about art becoming pure transmission. For artists who make objects today for a living, Abramović’s non-material vision sounds nightmarish.

You don’t have to think Abramović is a cult leader to find some of her performances distasteful and her ideas troubling. Ossian Ward’s book gives supporters and critics plenty of food for thought.

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