Category Archives: Marina Abramovic

Mel Brimfield

In this month’s Art Monthly I stumbled on a review of Mel Brimfield’s ‘This is Performance Art’, a fascinating work in which the artist has created a fictional history of performance art by mixing what an art historian would typically draw from the canon of performance with british cultural figureheads, especially those from early television series. As a result of a residency at Camden Arts Centre she has produced a ‘fake archival material related to a misremembered or parodied history of performance art.’ (Briers, 2010) The exhibition saw a mixture of authentic ephemera recontextualised or entirely invented ephemera.

The key to the whole project was Francis Spalding, who is the figurehead of a fictional radio series on BBC4 entitled ‘This is Performance Art’. On further research I found a recording of Mel Brimfield’s (Francis Spalding’s) lecture given at the Sculpture and Performance Conference at the Henry Moore Institute in 2010. Spalding gives a hilarious account of performance history which refers to performance art’s routes in ventriloquism, citing Joseph Beuys as a skilled ventriloquist and adept at animal training skills, who was the presenter of a BBC series called Animal Magic, in which he was the voice over for animals at Bristol zoo. He refers to Rosalind Krauss not as an art theorist or writer but as a ‘tabloid hack’ and described in detail the performance artist duo Morecambe and Wise who met at St Martins School of Art.

I find this work interesting as it attempts to parody the actual history of performance art. With so many contemporary performers looking to the performance artists of the 1970s and re-performing their seminal works I want to try to understand why. Why are we returning to this history. Marina Abramovic says her re-performance in her ‘Seven Easy Pieces’ was to re-correct the mistakes of the 1970s in which there was little documentation of the performances that took place. Are artists re-performing simply to bring these works to a new audience and guarantee their continued documentation and place with the performance art canon? What happens when these contemporary artists reinterpret the history or parody it as in the case of Mel Brimfield? Are they simply re-appropriating material from these performance artists from the past in the same way appropriation artists “borrow” images from the work of other painters or photographers. Are the scores of these early performances a free source for contemporary artists?


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Filed under Appropriation, Marina Abramovic

11 Rooms

The Manchester International Festival continued its celebration of live performance following on from 2009’s ‘Marina Abramovic Presents’ with ’11 Rooms’ held at the Whitworth Art Gallery back in July. Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Klaus Biesenbach, and featuring artists such as Marina Abramovic, Laura Lima and Tino Sehgal the show was made up of 11 identical white cube rooms and attempted to expose the human-to-object relationship by challenging the audience with the presence of the human body. What interests me most about this exhibition is the use of actors and actresses. Marina Abramovic for example was not present at the exhibition but employed trained performers to enact out her ‘Luminosity’ performance, in which a performer sits on a bicycle seat high up on the wall and is bathed in light. Laura Lima’s principle subject is the human body but never appears herself, instructing others to present pieces she has developed. How important is the training process of these performers by the artists who will ultimately author the work? In ‘The Artist is Present’, Abramovic’s 2010 retrospective she took her performers on her “Cleaning the House” retreats in which she essentially trains them up for the recreation of her durational performances. These performers, many of whom are artists themselves, are reduced down to a material, an object, of which they become a malleable entity for the artist to mould. In the show catalogue a long list of performers are credited but ultimately it is the artists Abramovic and co that author the work. And why should they not? It is not a collaborative pieces, the ideas and plans have been developed solely by them. These accredited artists have written the score have they not?

In the case of Joan Jonas she employs performers to reperform her seminal work ‘Mirror Check’, first performed in 1970, in which the performer scrupulously examines her own naked body with a small round mirror. What happens to this piece when someone else other than the artist performs it? Is the actual performer important at all?

John Baldessari’s work for 11 Rooms was quite different to the others, being the only work not to feature a live human presence. His work was presented as an ‘Unrealised Proposal for Cadavre Piece’ (1970). It is a work he had been trying to put together involving the presence of a dead corpse in a gallery in which he wanted to “make it look like art” to counteract the shock value. The proposal for the work drew on Andrea Mantegna’s painting entitled ‘Dead Christ” and would draw on Mantegna’s use of perspective so the viewer’s would look upon the body through a viewing hole. This work was first proposed in 1970 and although Manchester Art Gallery tried their best to realize this project it was not possible. With this work I am drawn on Baldessari’s desire to recreate something from Mantegna’s infamous painting, which itself was shocking in its time. Would the presence of a corpse be the equivalent shock to a contemporary viewer? This shows us how re-enactment or re-staging of various artworks in different contexts and times plays important role in their perception and meaning.

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Filed under Appropriation, Authorship, Marina Abramovic, Re-enactment

Celebrity Endorsement

Plagiarism only really gets picked up on as a problem in cultural arenas where the consumer is expecting a degree of originality. Posner discusses how contemporary readers are now so used to ghost written novels that there is little chance of a reader feeling harmed or deceived when they pick up such a piece of literature. We live in a culture where celebrities frequently endorse products, including books and novels, and although their name may be used as a branding device there is little expectation that said celebrity directly handmade said product. Celebrities attach their names to perfumes, clothes, dolls, shoes and it is through this branding that the item increases in popularity and value.

In art history Rembrandt signed paintings produced by his assistants and these “Rembrandt like” paintings therefore rose in value. I have been thinking about artists as celebrities and how through their name and brand they can endorse contemporary artworks. In 2009 Marina Abramovic curated a performance exhibition made up of 13 different performance artists at the Whitworth Art Gallery for the Manchester International Festival. The exhibition was entitled ‘Marina Abramovic Presents’ but Marina Abramovic herself did not effectively perform, she prepared her audience for the exhibition with an hour of meditative exercises.

The show was her creation so I am not disregarding her right to entitle it as she did. However, I do believe that the use of her name/endorsement brought huge publicity and esteem to the show that perhaps would not have occurred without her involvement. Abramovic is the self-proclaimed grandmother of performance art and is currently setting up the ‘Marina Abramovic Institute’ in Hudson, a school for performance art, another product in which she has attached her brand. I wonder whether Abramovic is the art equivalent of a celebrity who endorses perfumes and clothing with their name. I ponder on the idea of creating a real Marina Abramovic brand, creating a graphic identity to be attached to retail memorabilia.

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Filed under Authorship, Marina Abramovic