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Photo by Billy Farrell Agency

Marina Abramovic's Community Center Obod Centinje

The Serbia-born artist sat down with Dazed Digital during the Venice Biennale to lay out the plans for her multi-purpose art space in Montenegro

Marina Abramovic, the pioneering NYC-based performance artist, sat down with Dazed Digital during the 54th Venice Biennale to discuss her plans for the new Marina Abramovic Community Center Obod Centinje (MACCOC). The sprawling art complex will be situated in an old refrigerator factory in Montenegro, comprised of dozens of large industrial halls. Abramovic talked about her tumultuous relationship with theatre, her retrospective at MoMA and the transformative potential of durational performance.

Dazed Digital: This new project seems enormous in scale, what ideas is it generating for you?
Marina Abramovic:
I have this possibility now to have my dream become true, to invite artists that I believe in from all different areas. I have no limits now it is such a huge space, I can have a performer's universe, a place which I believe in and will put my own life into it. It is so overwhelming and i'm thinking of 10 years of my life that I want to dedicate to it.

Of course there is a huge infrastructure that you have to build, and I am busy with the general idea and aspects, but then there are lots of other parts – economical, where you employ people from the place itself, who live there and can create some kind of small industry which can actually support the mechanism. And we need a certain amount of money, and to be very frank with you we need around a 100 million Euro to create this project. So we will have to do it in parts, in September we have a renowned architect who will start to create this complex, and add new elements.

DD: How do you envision the MACCOC as different from the ubiquitous white cube exhibition space, or the traditional black box of theater? 
Marina Abramovic: 
It is a very different concept. First of all it will be multi-use, with many different objectives. For example, we would really like to bring the film industry there to make movies. Its an amazing landscape outside of the center and also we have these enormous halls which would be very easy to adapt to create huge film sets. I would like to invite different people - I have in mind; Abel Ferrara, Darren Aronofsky, James Franco - the one person who I think has invented an entire new language in cinema is David Lynch. I am interested in these people, not those who are just creating mainstream hollywood bullshit.

DD: You have a new production,The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, opening at the Manchester International Festival - I am curious how you approach the process of theater versus performance art?
Marina Abramovic: You see it is very different, the only theater piece I ever did in my life, was the theater of my life.  I started already in 1989 with Ulay [her former partner in performance], when I was walking on the Chinese Wall, walking towards each other to say goodbye [The Great Wall Walk, 1988]. I really had so much pain both personally and professionally that I wanted to stage my pain in a theater space, which I always hated. I never liked theater. You know if your a performance artist, if your young, you have to hate theater. Now I'm not young any more so I tolerate theater. But at the same time the theater took so many elements of performance art itself, and has become very different.

DD: How does your role in the play differ from your performance practice?
Marina Abramovic: The play is a unique piece of my life, and I always work with different theater directors. This time it will be from a new director, who directs me. I give him all material and I have no control over it. He can re-edit it how he wants, he can stay chronologically if he wants, he can take out things he doesn't like, put in other things he likes from my life; so that my life always looks new to me. And the idea is by giving up total control in the theater I have complete control in performance. But in the theater there is no control.

DD: You are also developing a space in upstate Hudson, New York - The Marina Abramovic Institute - how does this relate to the project in Montenegro?
Marina Abramovic:
 It is an old theater and that space is going to used for one simple purpose - I really wanted to make a space for long durational pieces of work. They can be video, theater, music, sounds, opera, or performances that I have done, but they have to be long durational. I really want them to extend from six hours on because I believe that long durational work of art can really change you, mentally, physically and in any possible way - and its not just the performer doing it, also the spectator looking at it, so the entire space will be adapted to the long durational. 

And I want to have a school for the long durational work, because to make long durational work you have to have really do certain mental exercises in order to be able to focus and concentrate. You can't just go on and make something that is 10 hours without preparation. So that kind of preparation, which you know came out of my own experience, and I see the effects of this on the audience, and to me, I see that this is really something which is very specific about my work. I want to create and teach about this new performance art.

DD: How did you arrive at six hours as a marker for long durational performance?
Marina Abramovic: You know I really think that six hours is kind of a good time. If you just take a simple situation for example a door and you start exercising by opening the door slow and closing the same door slow, but you don't actually enter and you don't exit. Just that action of opening and closing. If you do this one hour, OK, this is kind of an exercise, two hours you become tired, three hours your exhausted, four hours you think its completely nonsense, the fifth hour something else  starts happening and the sixth hour you transform this action into something completely different. It then becomes... something else. You really open the consciousness and you need time to do that.

DD: You have called for the 'reclaiming of time itself' in these long form durational performances. I curious whether this relationship that develops between the performer, the audience and the space also makes claims for maybe a new notion of community?
Marina Abramovic: Yeah, totally, this is so many times true when I do something long durational that communities form around this kind of work. It happened with the '7 Easy Pieces' [2005] at the Guggenheim, and at MOMA [The Artist is Present, 2010], especially at MOMA. Where people create the community themselves. They start to be connected to that type of extreme experience, with both themselves and then with people who have a similar experience. And that is really a phenomenon, we see that our society is so in need to have time, and we don't have it.

But we are proposing this kind of time in art. People enter into this time and really take it, and take it with such a hunger that you understand how much it is needed. You know with me when I was performing [at MoMA] for three months, it was life itself, the performance becomes life. There was not anymore a difference between life and performance and you need time to get into that type of zone.