Abramović credits her foundational understanding of presences to her experience with Aboriginal tribes in Australia. In 1980, through a grant Abramović and Ulay traveled to southwest of Central Australia to live with the nomadic Pitjantjatjara tribe. The two immersed and embraced the ways of tribal life. Over time with nothingness and the emptiness of the desert, removed from city life, Abramović felt overwhelming lightness and happiness and her senses were heightened.
Abramović also found a strong connection with meditative repetitive tasks as part of a process of changing consciousness. This started with a three-month period where she lived in a Tibetan community in India making ‘tsa-tsas,’ small buddhas moulded from clay:
“You make thousands of little Buddha images by putting in eight hours of labour per day. You may make a thousand or a million. Then the next three months labour of this sort is done in running water and you don’t see any result because it is invisible. In the first sort you can see the result and touch it but for the water there is nothing. The result is not important. It is the process that matters. It’s about the physical preparation, the labour and the merit that lets us get close to the portal and open it.” - Marina Abramović
Read full interview with Pitt Rivers Museum curator, Clare Harris, FBA here.“Gates and Portals” took place at Modern Art Oxford, 2022.
After Abramović / Ulay’s The Great Wall Walk (1988) in China, Abramović wanted to create a new body of work which communicated her experience on the Great Wall by activating the public. Bringing together what she learned of Tibetan and Chinese medicine and her experience of the energetic properties of different minerals, she created “Transitory Objects,” interactive objects, connecting the body to the earth. She created a system which corresponded different minerals to different body parts.
Continuing to develop this research, Abramović made numerous trips to Brazil, exploring the rich and diverse spiritual healing practices. She engaged in shamanistic rituals to take on new perspectives on human energy and consciousness. She spent time in different mines to source crystals, such as quartz and amethyst, for new versions of Transitory Objects, which activated the body’s three basic positions - sitting, standing, and laying. Witnessing the conditions of mines and rarity of these earths’ minerals, Abramović commented on the ethical boundary of the work:
“I am perfectly aware that I am disturbing a fine, precious balance. But on the other hand I think we live in an age which faces emergency: our consciousness is completely separated from our sources of energy. I want to reproduce this consciousness… Very soon I shall need no more crystals. It would certainly be a catastrophe if everyone started to take crystals out of the earth.” - Marina Abramović
The Transitory Objects have been presented in numerous cultural spaces since its inception.
A culmination of numerous retreats, Abramović developed Cleaning the House workshop, a performance art workshop that took place in a remote location in nature. The conditions of the workshop required participants to not eat, speak, read, or have sex. During the workshop, participants take part in a series of long-durational exercises to improve focus, stamina, concentration, resistance to pain and ability to break through physical and mental boundaries.
Abramovic understood that if artists were given the opportunity to be in nature, away from distraction, and to participate in exercises that had an inward focus, they were more likely to have fresh ideas and to be able to execute performances that required intense focus and determination.
The Cleaning the House workshops have traditionally been used to prepare performers, however today the process is open to everyone.
Learn more about the workshop here.
“I always believed that the function of art is the function of the bridge. To bridge different people from different social backgrounds. Different religious beliefs. Different races. But it is also about communication between physical world and spiritual world. Or simply between two human beings.”
- Marina Abramovic
Throughout her practice, Abramović has been blurring the lines between the observer and the observed as they pertain to performance. Traditionally, the performer would be observed and the public would be the observer. By switching those roles, where the public has to participate in the action and be observed, they are given an opportunity to have their own experience in a performative process, and are better prepared to be a part of a long durational performance.
In 2012, Abramovic presented an experiment called The Abramović Method at PAC Milan. This exhibition was an experiment with three transitory objects, composed of copper and magnets. Upon entering, the participants were asked for check in all their belongings including cellphones, watches, and other belongings. They put on white lab coats and noise-cancelling headphones. While in the experiment, another public was allowed to watch. The experience lasted a total of 2.5 hrs.
In 2014, Abramović presented 512 Hours at the Serpentine Gallery, London. She embraced the concept of nothing by maintaining an energetic space through simple props and exercises. In this performance, the public was the work. Each morning, Abramovic and a group of trained facilitators arranged the space with exercises, such as slow motion walking, blindfolding, beds for sleeping, platforms, chairs.
As visitors enter the space, they are asked to deposit personal belongings, such as watches, phones, and cameras into lockers. They are provided with noise cancelling headphones to eliminate sound. Each exercise has a specific set of guidelines, but there is no set order or time frame for the experience. Visitors are free to follow these exercises in any order and for any length of time. By sharing this experience, participants create a collective energy and a community through encountering other human beings in a shared time and space.