In the early 70s Marina Abramović plunged knives between her splayed fingers in a gory game of five-finger fillet, blacked out in a fiery wooden star, took seizure-inducing pills, and had a loaded gun pointed at her head.
Her new show at La Fabrica gallery, Madrid is somewhat gentler. The Kitchen, Homage To Saint Therese consists mainly of portraits, some of which reference Caravaggio and Zurbarán paintings, shot by Italian photographer Marco Anelli. In them, the so-called "grandmother of performance art" can be seen cooking, meditating and levitating (thanks to a pulley system) in the former orphanage kitchens of La Laboral, a sprawling arts complex in Gijón, Spain. The writings of Saint Therese of Ávila – a 16th century nun who was said to have levitated in church and once – to her annoyance - in her kitchen while making soup – inspired the work. Her difficult childhood in Serbia also went into the mix.
Here´s what Marina Abramović had to say.
About her childhood... My theory was always that if you have a really tragic childhood, the better the artist you become – if you´re really happy it's different, nothing comes out of happiness. My mother and father were political careerists. They are both national heroes from the second world war – and having a child was not on their agenda, so they just gave me to my grandmother. One day, I was waiting for my grandmother. She was praying in the church, and I saw this thing in the font where you have to dip your finger to cross yourself. I was thinking that if I drank all this water then I would get holy. I was six years old and I stood up on a chair and drank the water. I just got sick. I didn´t get holy. Apart from that, my entire childhood was about going around the kitchen. The kitchen was the centre of my world. The kitchen was the place where I would tell my grandmother my dreams. The kitchen was the place where she would tell me stories, and the kitchen was the place where all the secrets were told. It was a kind of place where the spiritual world and the daily world met and mixed.
About her retrospective opening at MOMA next year which will include a new work, The Artist is Present –requiring 600 hours of performance time from Marina... It´s seven and half hours every day, and ten hours on Fridays. The only good news is that on Tuesdays I will be free. The museum is closed.
About the security meetings she has nearly every day because of the nudity in some of her landmark performances, which will be re-enacted at MOMA... In 1977 there was no problem, and it looks like now there is a problem. So, what´s wrong? What we are doing wrong, why is there a problem with nudity? In America, they showed the nipple by accident of Janet Jackson and that was the main news of any television programme for days, at the same time as the Iraq war. That is totally wrong.
About how her MOMA show will bring performance art into the mainstream... I feel like the guinea pig. The performance is always seen as entertainment. You have openings of exhibitions and they call you and say, 'Oh, can you do a performance for the opening?' You agree, but nobody´s looking and everyone´s having drinks and having a good time. Performance is not this kind of art, it has to be changed... this attitude.
About her art in general... My aim is to elevate the spirit of the audience.
About Spain... I like to come to Spain because there is a kind of similarity between my culture and Spanish culture. Everything is so emotional and melodramatic. And you have the corridas, I love corridas.
Dazed Digital: Tell us about The Artist Is Present (gallery visitors will be able to sit opposite her at a table for as long as they like while she gazes at them silently). You´ve stripped things right back for it?
Marina Abramović: Yes, we always start with all these distractions. I´m thinking of taking the table away too, but we´ll see.
DD: Are the time limits in your performances there to push you?
Marina Abramović: Absolutely. At MOMA I´m going to do it for 600 hours. I´ve never done anything like it. I´m so nervous. But I´ve done it for 10 hours, so I know I can get through it.
DD: You did it for 17 hours when your hair was tied to Ulay´s (Relation In Time, 1977)...
Marina Abramović: We did it for 16 hours and then the audience would come in and we would do the performance again. The energy from the audience takes you through to the end.
DD: In the writings of Saint Therese, she said the divine forces were sometimes impossible to resist. If you could choose one performance where these forces have taken you over, which would it be?
Marina Abramović: The House With The Ocean View. I got that illumination with this performance. I was thinking so clearly afterwards. I couldn´t turn it off. I felt so pure. I didn´t want to eat, and put this... The food was going right through me. You get this illumination, this energy, but what do you do with it afterwards? It can kill you.
The Kitchen. Homage to Saint Therese is at La Fabrica gallery until December 12.
Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present is at Moma in New York from March 14 to May 31, 2010.