Wednesday, November 23, 2005

"Billy, it's performance art"

As the last installment of my shambling coverage of Performa05, the performance arts biennial, I now present an account of Marina Abramovic's performance at the Guggenheim. Sadly, Marina is no relation, though there was a strong Russian theme to the evening. You could barely miss it, what with the irritatingly-punctuated "Russia!" exhibition showing at the Guggenheim. For those of you who don't move in the right circles, Abramovic is a performance artiste who rose to prominence through nearly dying for her art. Twice.

On the first occassion, the artwork in question involved Marina lying down in the centre of a flaming crescent. As the rows of fire burned beside her, the oxygen supply dwindled so rapidly that an audience member had to plunge in and save her. Her most famous work, Rhythm 0, refined this idea further. Abramovic gathered together seventy-two objects of various destructiveness (knitting needles, razor blades, a loaded gun) and told the audience to manipulate them in any way they pleased. The crowd had already slashed away her clothes, and made cuts on her body, when one man commanded her to hold the gun to her head - which she did - and to fire. At this point, the audience once more intervened, turning against this man who would push the frontiers of art.

Over the last week, Abramovic has been performing "cover versions" of famous pieces of performance art (you know, the one where the artist is nailed to the Volskwagen, the one where she crushes the wine glass and, yes, yes.) So if any of you are feeling at all queasy, console yourself with the idea that what she's doing is really akin to that nice band UB40.

I went to see her second performance. It was my first time to the Guggenheim, which is a sleekly beautiful building. A large crowd had gathered outside. A printed legend on the curved white walls informed us that the patron for the "Russia!" exhibition was none other than Vladimir Putin. How things change, eh? But the most striking thing, was that as people wandered along the curved balustrades of this space-age structure, moving between the dulcitly-lit Orthodox iconography, and flattering portraiture of seventeenth century Russian noblemen, there on an elevated platform was a woman with tight leather trousers with the crotch missing, cradling an automatic rifle in her hands.

Was it to be expected, that the audience showed almost no sign of consternation at Marina Abramovic's crotch? At times, the lack of reverence bordered on the sloppy, as when punters accidentally wandered over the cordon, (very performance art) to be shouted back by the burly security guards, whose moral world must I presume have been slightly disturbed, though they showed no sign of it. Childred careered freely around the foot of Marina's platform without incurring similar censure. In the obliviousness of children, arms flailing, was either the final validation of performance art, and its conviction in participation, or else it's death knell - I couldn't be sure.

Some of the children looked up at their mother's with puzzlement, pointed at the lady's crotch and asked "Mother, what's that?" And the mother's every one of them, looked back sternly, and replied "Billy, it's performance art", or at least so I imagine.

On a note so entirely unrelated as to pose linking problems for even a children's television presenter, I am going away to Pennsylvania for an extended Thanksgiving weekend. While I am away, I ask you in true holiday style, to submit me the most vulgar and terrifying death threats you can produce. I have a friend, who when I moved to America promised to send me genuine death-threats, with the crazy lettering and all. They're yet to arrive, and she knows who she is. Though you don't get the benefit of crazy lettering, you can use the handy comments feature to behave like a psychopath, annonymously - and I, I receive the substantiation that only a victim can understand...


At 1:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


ewan. i will dead you good and proper. when I do it will be an Art, a performance Art, like the ones that you are describing but mine will be better because i will actually dead you, not just fiddle around absently with razorblades like some radiohead-addled teenager drunk on limegreen 20/20 and hormones. I will win the Turner Prize and tracey emin will be my new Best Friend and nicholas serota will be my new boyfriend and i will be brian sewell's Fag Hag. you will also be famous because you will be an Art but because you will have been thoroughly deaded you will not have tracey emin as your new Best Friend or nicholas serota as your new boyfriend. & you will never be brian sewell's Fag Hag because death will have eaten you up good and proper. i will spend the rest of my days making paintings of spots although i will not choose the colours spots, other people will do that. occasionally i will buy bits of chopped up cows and pigs in sainsburys and put them in big glass cases. people will pay me lots and lots of money. i will be super rich. Brian Sewell and I will go shopping together to chanel and gucci and buy shiny handbags. You will not spend the rest of your days making spotty paintings and selling bits of animal for lots and lots of money. you will spend the rest of your days hanging in one of the galleries that you describe, but you will be thorughly deaded so it will not be fun. Small children will point and say "Mother, what is that?"

At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah. I'm going to kill you, spider-boy.

At 5:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I think my death threat appears to have deaded you. You are very silent now. Is that because death has got you?

At 10:47 PM, Blogger greenpoint said...

Mother, is that you? I never meant to upset you, you understand. I simply reckoned without your ability to use internet technology correctly.


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