For Abramović, the performance is inseparable from the audience. “So many artists say they’re not aware of audience. For me is unbelievable,” she says, shaking her long mane of thick, glossy, dark hair that, along with an unusual radiance, helps make her look a good 15 years younger. “I remember Martha Graham said, ‘Wherever a dancer dance is holy ground.’ I say, ‘Wherever audience stand is the holy ground.’ I always want my audience to be touched on the deepest level possible.”
Perhaps more than any other performance artist, Abramović has made her audiences not merely bystanders or even participants but, as Paul Schimmel, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, observes, “actually complicitous.” Her harrowing Rhythm 0 (1974) was a groundbreaking example. Abramović stood passive for six hours as audience members in Naples, Italy, took turns doing whatever they wanted to her. She had laid out 72 objects, including a gun and a bullet, on a table for their use. She still bears a scar on her chest from a knife’s blade—and she shows it off like a battle wound. One man sucked her blood; one pointed the gun at her, though another took it away. “This is the thing,” she says, “you see how the public doesn’t have limits.” Abramović wanted to re-create the work at the Guggenheim Museum in 2005 as part of her “Seven Easy Pieces” show, which reimagined some of her peers’ classic works, but the museum refused out of fear for her safety. “Everybody’s afraid of the people here,” she says.
Her willingness to put her life in jeopardy could logically raise questions about her sanity....TO READ THE REST OF THIS FEATURE AND SEE ALL THE IMAGES, PICK UP A COPY OF THE JANUARY ISSUE, ON NEWSSTANDS DECEMBER 15.