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In conversation with Marina Abramović

The moment we’ve all been waiting for has arrived. The Stedelijk’s “Retrospective of Marina Abramović” is now open till July 14th.

Hey everyone, so yes, the moment we’ve all been waiting for has arrived. The Stedelijk’s “Retrospective of Marina Abramović” is now open till July 14th. As you float through the exhibition, the slow embrace of body-mind connection strips the layers of artifice you enter with. With performances never before seen in the Netherlands, and some you can take part in – 😉 – you know where you can find us for the rest of the spring. Although this exhibition first opened in London’s Royal Academy of Arts, it has since been revised for the Stedelijk to honour and explore her time here in Amsterdam. Well, we got the chance to catch up with Abramović before the opening to talk all things from religion, thoughts on sobriety, and skincare.

First off, how are you today?
Tired. Next question.

So we just got the chance to see the exhibition before talking to you today. One thing that really stands out is how each room bleeds into the next. How do your various works come into conversation when placed in such close proximity to each other?
Well, when you make such exhibitions, you never have enough space. This particular exhibition [at the Stedelijk] has 30% less work than the one at the Royal Academy of Arts. So I really had to take some work out – but it’s still too much. All the work needs to be in conversation with one another, for example the video projection piece is like opera, everything is happening at the same time. Then there are spaces that are a little more quiet, but you can hear the sounds everywhere, and you just can’t avoid it. There has to be one museum one day that doesn’t have this kind of problem, but I don’t know that museum yet.

You can make it.
Yea… but in my lifetime I’m not building a museum.

The first thing we noticed from your work is how it pushes the performer into a strong meditative state. We really see parallels to Eastern religions or just generally the practice of being present in your body or being present in the moment.
I’ve learned everything from Eastern traditions. I feel like my work is like a bridge. I’ve gone to the East and then to the West to give because our culture is so fucked up. We’re all technological, we don’t think through our bodies, we don’t use telepathy, we don’t use intuition. We don’t use any of these facilities. So I went around the world learning how to be present, how not to blink, how to slow down your blood stream, how to not breathe, how to really concentrate. To have the sort of will power to do the stuff I’ve been doing is not easy at all.

It may be a stretch, but – Eastern European to Eastern European – communism heavily suppressed religion. Do you think this suppression has contributed to your pull towards these kinds of outer body practices?
You know, our countries have something incredible, they have a completely different point of view on your personal life. From my mother and father, I learned that my life is not important, not personal. This is very important for what I’m doing and my message to society. It is always about achieving things that are greater than yourself. But then from my grandma, who hated communism, I learned about spirituality. So I’m a mix between the two. In the meantime, I also became a Tibetan Buddhist. It’s within this mix that I really learned. I learned the meaning of sacrifice, willpower, and control, but most of all I learned hard work.

Just to quickly add on that if you take Tibetan Buddhism and The House with the Ocean View,  they have a very similar way of life. What does making a performance and involving the audience add to this sort of new layer?
You know, with that specific piece, it’s incredible how the audience changes. Do you two live here?

Okay when The House with The Ocean View is on go and see it. Make it a habit. Go there for 10-15 minutes every day, and then on the last day you will see change. It’s a magic piece. The person doesn’t eat for 12 days, totally purifying themselves. You change the way you breathe air, even the air you breathe out is purified.

You go into the room and expect to sit for 10 minutes and find yourself still there after 2 hours. And then the last day is incredible. It is really about concentration and discipline, how you can actually mentally and physically elevate yourself. 

And also building on that, performing The House with the Ocean View requires an extreme level of endurance from the performer. But this meditative endurance can hypothetically also be achieved by an ordinary person not per se just the performer…
Any swimmer, any runner, someone who wants to create a record has a high level of adrenaline that pushes their limits to achieve that. But it doesn’t mean it’s spiritual. It’s important to learn how to achieve something mentally. What’s really important is the relation of body and spirit, they have to be in harmony.

In culture we have created various ways of purity, such as celibacy or sobriety. What are your thoughts on these cultural practices that require a similar meditative endurance?
Yes but it’s not a main practice for everybody, very few people are doing it. It’s not really mainstream. The mainstream is highly technological and completely fucks you up – It’s only about the machines. I’m proposing the Abramović method of deprivation, but that is just one way to elevate your spirit. It’s not the only way, there are various ways and you have to find your own. This is what I find in 55 years of my work. Oh god it’s 55, I have no idea how that happened…

Welllll, reflecting on your 55 years of work, how do you keep challenging yourself after all this time?
I have no idea. I just wake up with new ideas. I’m an incredibly enthusiastic human and I am hilarious in life. I love life, I love working and I love humans, and everything. This is what I do. I don’t know, I just find it easy, even when life is difficult, I always find a way to find positive energy. I almost died last year… and I didn’t – super happy! 

Would you say this sense of peace and positivity came more recently?
Yes it came later. This is what you call old age, and wisdom… so good. I’m so happy as I am now. 

Well, some hope for us ahah…
It’s great, you have to wait, suffer a little, suffer for all the wrong reasons. You don’t have that much time when you’re young. Now, I really get to do everything that I want and say no to all the bullshit. But you see, my public is people your age. My generation doesn’t really understand the world in the way I hoped for. They’re just so tired and opinionated, they’re not open. You have to look at your life every morning like a child. Like you just opened your eyes for the first time and are like oh good morning life.

And how does looking back at your work…
I never look back. Especially since it makes me so old ahahha.

Would you say then that you learn from the things that you have done in the past or no?
No, I learn whatever and then I move on. I’m not going back to learning again, are you crazy? No. I just keep on looking forward. I have my projects till 2027. 

I have a very big show in China now, totally different to this one and completely interactive. I want the audience to actively work with crystals. But the present is already in the past for me. I never look backwards.

Speaking of your recent projects, we’re curious about your skincare and wellness…
Oh my God, they’ve criticised me so much in the press but it’s not really about skincare. We’re developing energy drops with Dr. Nonna Brenner. I really don’t know shit about this, they’re just using my face. But she’s really helped me with lyme disease. 

But you know, it’s really about longevity, which means having a good system and energy to achieve what you want when you’re old. Beauty comes from inside, not from the outside. You can be as beautiful as you want from the outside but when you’re mean and evil, you see it. I was criticised but I’ve gotten used to it – I don’t care anymore. I’m doing something interesting and new for me. 

Any last thoughts you would like to share?
You have to follow your intuition and do what you love. Don’t go into bad relationships because everything can be changed for somebody but nobody can change anybody.

Words by Ella Paritsky and Evita Shrestha
Images courtesy of Stedelijk Museum