The two performance artists talk theatre and mortality on the eve of Abramović's upcoming exhibition at the Lisson Gallery
To celebrate the Dazed Digital relaunch, we asked Matthew Stone to interview his friend and fellow artist Marina Abramović. The Belgrade-born creative, who has specialised in performance as a visual art form, is exhibiting at London's Lisson Gallery later on this autumn. During her three decade long career, Abromović's use of bodies have been both her subject and medium. Matthew Stone, meanwhile, is the founder of London art collective !WOWOW! and a profilic artist, working with film, photography and performance.
Matthew Stone: Good morning Marina. What are you working on today?
Marina Abramović: At the moment, I'm inside a black box every day. I'm working on the only theatre piece of my life; titled “The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic”. It will open the Manchester Festival in July. Yesterday we were working on the funeral scene. I was lying there, dead, (laughs) while three other "Marina's" buried me. It’s very funny. So today, I will be lying in a coffin, thinking about my life.
Matthew Stone: So you’re working with your own legacy? Marina Abramović: I am really busy with the legacy at the moment. I am thinking that I am in the third act of life, the last stage. The death can come any moment. I may live another ten years, twenty, thirty or maybe five. Or tomorrow. Finish. You don’t know.
Matthew Stone: Are you also actively creating the legacy for performance art itself?
Marina Abramović: The legacy of performance is very important. I am working to open an institute for performance art. It is the long durational aspect of performance that is most important. It has a big potential not only to transform the performer, but also the public, participating in the work.
Matthew Stone: How has this durational work, transformed you?
Marina Abramović: We live thinking about the past or thinking about the future, but somehow, we always miss the point of being in the present. Performance is about the present. When you are really in the present, time doesn’t exist. That is a very important realisation I have had. I also realised that we are surrounded by universal knowledge, which is always there and accessible, except that we never choose to receive it. By not moving and not thinking and being in the present this knowledge is revealed. The only way to really communicate these realisations is through experience. The only way to experience it is through long durational work. So actually in the end the artist, needs time, to get to a space where there is no time.
Matthew Stone: And how can the audience best experience these realisations?
Marina Abramović: The audience have to give themselves unconditionally to experience it. During my performance at MoMa “The Artist Is Present” there was an enormous participation of the audience. You sit on the chair and look at me, but after a while, it’s not me anymore. I am just the trigger for you to introspect yourself.
Matthew Stone: Why do you think that it takes you to place yourself in the centre doing nothing to instigate this in others?
Marina Abramović: You, in your own life, can do this, but you don't. You make any excuse not to face yourself. But in this situation, there was no escape, you only focus on my eyes and then my eyes disappear too. You are alone with yourself. No time, no thinking. Everything is together. So many people went into a kind of catharsis and became incredibly emotional. I had these hells-angels types, who came to me suspicious and angry. But after ten minutes they cry like a baby and completely lose themselves.
Matthew Stone: So as the world continues, two people sit in front of each other, only to disappear. What motivates you to become the trigger? Or perhaps, what makes someone an artist?
Marina Abramović: Being an artist is like breathing. It’s this incredible urge to create, that you can’t question. Like breathing you just have to do it, or else you will die. This doesn’t make you a great artist, it just make you an artist. What makes a great artist is a different story.
Matthew Stone: What can you tell us about the London show at Lisson Gallery?
Marina Abramović: It will contain both old and new work. The new work is called "Back to Simplicity'. After "The Artist Is Present" I went to the South of Italy, and made work with goats and sheep. I needed something that was very much to do with the earth. I slept under the trees, and wanted to be within nature.
I first visited Lisson Gallery when I came to London in 1971 and I remember seeing an Art & Language exhibition. Nicholas Logsdail’s program and the gallery overwhelmed me. I was too shy to say to it to him then, but I felt that it was my dream to work with this gallery. It somehow took until 2009, when he came to the show I curated in Manchester. He asked me if I “wanted to be his Louise Bourgeois?”, I immediately said 'yes'. Then a very weird thing happened. The next time I saw Nicholas was when he visited MoMa on the final day of the show. At 4pm, one hour before I finished, he received a message to say that Louise Bourgeois had died. It was a very strange experience for both of us.
Marina Abramović, Lisson Gallery, 13 October - 13 November