“When you perform it’s your blood. When you act it’s ketchup.”
Both the memoir and the documentary are just stunning. Even through the darkness of a Trump presidency, they are a beacon of what human willpower and passion can achieve. Who could have guessed just how applicable and necessary Abramovic’s memoir would be. In the next four years, the US will need artists who can endure pain and walk through whatever walls Trump fancies to erect.
But I’m projecting. The title Walk through Walls actually refers to a saying from Abramovic’s parents, who were both Serbian war heroes. A common saying growing up was that Serbs were so tough they could walk through walls. In her 40 year career, Abramovic would apply the same implacable attitude toward her art. In her words, with every piece of performance art, she walked through the walls of pain to reach another state of consciousness, a higher one that only the process of art can impart.
Like most who are open-minded about art, I am captivated by Abramovic, fondly (or not so fondly) called the grandmother of performance art. I love her dedication to using her body as a medium. What a radical difference in art; I’m grateful to live in a time when such a radical conception can be possible.
After reading Abramovic’s work, I don’t see how anyone can remain unmoved. Her dedication, empathy and foresight are astounding. With my own writing, her force encourages me to reach my absolute limit, to search for the truest combination of words out there and to remain unsatisfied until I find it. She has the “demented dedication” of a great artist, and it’s impossible to remain untouched.
This intransigent vision is what led to Rhythm 10, the first of what became known as the Rhythm series. From the photo below you can piece together what’s going to happen.
The memoir helps explain the power behind these pieces: Abramovic faced great fear going into each, but with an iron will was able to transcend that fear. As she writes about going into Rhythm 10:
“Beforehand, I was so nervous that I was scared I’d get one of my incapacitating whole-body migraines. I could hardly breath from the idea that I was going to do this. But I was also serious about what I was about to do, 100 percent committed. I was so serious about everything then!….Art was life and death. There was nothing else. It was so serious, and so necessary.”
In Rhythm 10, Abramovic plays a drinking game popular with Yugoslav peasants. On a table, she took a sharp knife and rapidly stabbed the spaces in-between her fingers. In the videos, you see that she truly flew caution to the wind. She nicks herself several times, bleeding sometimes profusely, before reaching for the next knife; she repeats this process with ten knives total.
“The crowd stared on, mesmerized, and the power of performance art clarified for her. “A very strange feeling came over me, something I had never dreamed of: it was as if electricity was running through my body, and the audience and I had become one. A single organism. The sense of danger in the room had united the onlookers and me in that moment: the here and now, and nowhere else.”
With ten knives down, she rewinds the tape and plays it again, this time aiming to nick herself in the exact places she had originally cut, missing only twice.
Complete with the second round, she rewound both recordings, played them, and left the room. From the applause she knew “I’d succeeded in creating an unprecedented unity of time present and time past with random errors.”
This experience proved to be intoxicating for Marina. After Rhythm 10, she knew this was the type of art she wanted to create for life.
“I had experience absolute freedom — I had felt that my body was without boundaries, limitless; that pain didn’t matter, that nothing mattered at all — and it intoxicated me. I was drunk from the overwhelming energy that I’d received. That was the moment I knew that I had found my medium. No painting, no object that I could make, could ever give me that kind of feeling, and it was a feeling I knew I would have to seek out, again and again and again.”