Marina Abramovic was born in 1946, in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia. Her parents had joined the resistance movement in World War II. In the years from 1959 to 1965 Abramovic already worked on drawings and paintings. In 1965, she started to study painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade. Between the time of the student revolts of 1968 and the end of her studies in Belgrade in 1970, Abramovic did her first action-oriented projects as well as texts, while also keeping up drawing. She then continued her studies as a post-graduate in Zagreb. There she experimented with sound installations and took part in her first group exhibition. From 1973 to 1975 she taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Novi Sad.
Already in 1971, when Abramovic participated in a project done by Hermann Nitsch, she met photographer and artist Ulay (F. Uwe Laysieben, born in 1943, in Solingen, Germany). In the same year, and together with Ulay, she appeared in drastic Performances. The Performances were either recorded on video, or they were filmed or documented through still photography. Sometimes Abramovic even risked highly problematic audience reactions. In meticulously prepared Performances equipped with props, this audience could turn into a threat, into an assembly of perpetrators (Neapel 1974). Until their separation in 1989, Abramovic/ Ulay thematized all facets of a relationship. They did 80 Performances about their relationship as a couple that turned the intimate into a public act. Erotics, the conflict between »I« and »we,« physical violence, and ecstasy were among the topics they dealt with. With the Action The Great Wall Walk, carried out between April 30 and June 22, 1989, Abramovic and Ulay ended their artistic collaboration as well as their private relationship.
The Performance as a calculated, choreographed appearance in space and time that quite often took her to physical and psychic limits – this radical publication of private existence, has remained at the core of Abramovic’s artistic mode of expression. In the crossing of physical boundaries, in self-injury, in cutting and whipping, the artist has seen a possibility to liberate herself from elementary Angst and to reach a state of mental enhancement, but also an expanded state of bodily consciousness. In the Performance Balcan Baroque and the accompanying video Cleaning the House, staged at the 47th Venice Biennale (1997), Abramovic struggled through mountains of animal bones and fresh slaughterhouse waste right before the audience. The Performance took three afternoons. With water and brush Abramovic cleaned the bones from the remains of blood and meat and cut-off sinews. In a white dress that was soon wet and stained with blood, plagued by the sweetish stink of decay, Abramovic sat on a stool in the mountains of bones like a Madonna on a throne. She took the place of her war-beleaguered fellow countrymen and countrywomen, suffering the horror of slaughter, of dying, and of the transitoriness of being. The artist appeared as a veritable »St. Joan of the Stockyards.« In a pseudo-patriotic way, the video Cleaning the House commented on the self-inflicted agony. For this work, Abramovic was awarded the Golden Lion of the Biennale.
After her separation from Ulay, Abramovic continued doing Performances. Yet semi-precious stones and their mystical surroundings, ethnographic finds and their ritual context, as well as general aspects of a universal religiosity became increasingly important for her work. These relics of human perspectives on the world and the longing for salvation are carefully presented in archival cabinets, creating a world-encompassing »memory of being.« Already in 1971 Abramovic had been confronted with Nitsch’s cow blood paintings. Now she herself chose pig blood as a painting material.
Abramovic has held numerous teaching positions. In 1990/91 she was a guest professor at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. From 1992 to 1996 she taught at the University of Fine Arts, Hamburg, and from 1997 to 2004 she held a professorship for Performance at the Braunschweig University of Art. Currently she has made New York her home. With her one-time theatrical Performance The Biography that accompanied her exhibition Public Body – Artist Body at the Kunstverein Hanover, in January 2000, Abramovic demonstrated how radically she opens herself up to the audience and how, without any compromising or distancing, she transforms her personality into a work of art.
Marina Abramovic lives and works in New York and Amsterdam.
Bippus, E. (Hg.): Künstler in der Lehre, Abramovic, M.: About learning, Hamburg 2007
Abramovic, M. und Maranzano, A.: 7 easy pieces, Milano 2007
Abramovic, M, und Bulgari A. (Phot.): The biography of biographies, Milano 2004
Abramovic, M.: Student Body: Workshops 1979 — 2003, Performances 1973 — 2003, Milano 2003
Ulay – Abramovic, performances 1976 — 1988: Ausst.-Kat. Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 1997