Sophie O’Brien: For many years you’ve worked with other performance artists, taking on the roles of teacher, guide, curator and collaborator. Your connection with other artists is a strong part of your own practice. Can you tell me more about how you see this engagement and how you navigate the different roles?
Marina Abramović: When I started doing my lectures, I found it incredibly boring talking about just my own work. I was always thinking that I would like to see my work in context of everybody else. When I showed Screaming Piece, I didn’t have any idea that at the same time, not just in the same year, but even in the same months, Gilbert and George were doing a very similar piece. That to me is interesting; I don’t see this as a contest. I just see it as a spirit of the time manifesting in different ways. I always like to have the larger picture, so I know where my work stands in every particular time.
SO: You created a three-part publication – Public Body, Student Body and Artist Body – which documents your work with your students. Few artists have recorded and presented the work of their students in quite this way. What gave you this idea?
MA: To me, it’s very important for artists to be generous about young artists. Nobody had ever been generous to me, nobody told me anything about work, about practice, about how it works.
SO: You’ve held many workshops for practising artists, developing exercises that allow the artists to prepare for making performance work, particularly long durational pieces. Can you talk about how you found and developed these ideas?
MA: It came very much from my own practice. I understood that if I want to do something long-durational, I can’t just run on willpower. So I went to learn all these different practices from different cultures, mostly indigenous cultures with knowledge we don’t use anymore, about how to work with the body.
Lynsey Peisinger: You talked to me about moving from Belgrade to Amsterdam, from a place with many rules to a place with few rules, and having to work that out. I feel that in your workshops it’s all about rules, all about discipline.
MA: I hated it when I was growing up in Belgrade – the discipline – and I tried everything to avoid it, but I figured out that discipline is incredibly necessary. When was involved with other cultures, especially Tibetan, and went to the retreats, there are absolutely strict rules. Ling Rinpoche was the first teacher of his holiness Dalai Lama. I went to see him in India just out of curiosity. He touched my head and smiled – of curiosity. He touched my head and smiled –that’s all he does – and I cried for four hours. This man, if he told me to jump from the sixth floor of a building, I would do it with absolute trust, total trust. So the idea of total trust, that’s the major thing between the teacher and the other person; to be vulnerable and not to question. That’s the hardest thing, to give up ego.
SO: Could you talk about the exercises that will be used in the In Residence project, and how they might be used by the public?
MA: I wanted to create a system in which the public is watching themselves performing. You create the circumstances, you create the tools for them to do that, and then you can leave.
LP: All we are doing is creating a certain circumstance for people to hook into an energy that already exists. These exercises were created for artists preparing for making performances, but it’s clear that they are useful for all humans - exercises that offer ways to be more in touch with your own body.
SO: And in terms of the Australian artists, what do you hope for? It’s a unique situation, creating a ‘live’ residency within a participatory performance.
MA: They are creating, working on their own different projects, and generating more ideas - ideas they might not even use right now. The artists will use the exercises and be a part of the work downstairs, which they can then use as a base for their work. I’m really looking forward to seeing what will come out of this.
Kaldor Public Art Project 30: Marina Abramović Keynote Address is on at 8pm, Tuesday 30 June, Roslyn Packer Theatre, 22 Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay (formerly Sydney Theatre). Marina Abramović’s Keynote Address is now fully booked. It will be recorded.
Sophie O’Brien introduces the Evenings In Residence series of screenings and events presented by the 12 participating residency artists at 5pm each evening, 24 June- 5 July, Upstairs, Pier 2/3.