Marina Abramović takes her final bow. Photograph © 2010 Marco Anelli (via

Senior editor of and editor of BushwickBK Jeremy Sapienza unpacks some of the history of artist Marina Abramović to understand the power of her recent performance. He writes:

To those unfamiliar with Abramović’s past and past work, this is just a woman in a chair. But to know her background is to unlock the meaning of all this nothing.

And he gives us a taste of the historic legacy she is grappling with:

The artist’s influences are chiefly the air of Yugoslav nationalism in the postwar years — both parents were popular WWII figures; her great uncle was the patriarch of the Serbian Church — and the stark and dreary oppression of Tito’s communist regime. Abramović came of age under this anti-individualist orthodoxy; might this lead one to experiment further with self-denial, self-imposed stress positions — a popular tool in the torturer’s repertoire — and self-inflicted pain? She participated in a student protest that forced the dictator to convert a military building into an artists’ school, but Yugoslavia proved too stifling …

I never really thought of freedom as an important and crucial part of Abramović’s work, but it seems to make sense. Sometimes only when we are robbed of our freedom do we appreciate its worth.

Also, for those who may have missed it, MoMA’s Inside/Out blog has an extensive interview with Abramović. And in light of this post’s discussion of freedom and her background, I found this line particularly poignant:

What do you make of the fact that so many people became emotional?

What is very new about this performance is that we always perceive the audience as a group, but a group consists of many individuals. In this piece I deal with individuals of that group and it’s just a one-to-one relationship. So, when you enter the square of light and you sit on that chair, you’re an individual, and as an individual you are kind of isolated. And you’re in a very interesting situation because you’re observed by the group (the people waiting to sit), you’re observed by me, and you’re observing me — so it’s like triple observation. But then, very soon while you’re having this gaze and looking at me, you start having this invert and you start looking at yourself. So I am just a trigger, I am just a mirror and actually they become aware of their own life, of their own vulnerability, of their own pain, of everything — and that brings the crying. [They are] really crying about their own self, and that is an extremely emotional moment.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

2 replies on “Considering Abramović as a Symbol of Freedom”

  1. being recognized is a huge power, often leading to tears …

    and for sitting? has done it everyday for thirty plus years, meeting people, hugging them, one on one, for sometimes 24 hours straight …

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