“I don’t want to do anything about dying anymore”: Marina Abramović on why she’s had enough of death
The Serbian artist has long placed a focus on the subject of mortality, as seen in her recent project The 7 Deaths of Maria Callas. We spoke to her to find out more about her new work and why, after nearly 50 years, she’s ready “to do living”.
Article published on It's Nice That, 16 November 2020.
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So let’s start, my dear,” says Marina Abramović, as she welcomes me with a pleasant and somewhat pixelated smile. The reason for her haste is that she plans to tend to her tomatoes after we talk, because, like many, Abramović has recently found solace in her garden.
It’s humbling to know that someone of such stature, who grapples with the most fundamental questions of human existence, can still find time to nurture the smaller parts of life. Especially as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to pose endless difficulties across the globe, forcing us to sustain a quieter life indoors. These moments among nature have become cherished; it’s a chance to find peace or relish in the act of growing something of your own. Or, if you’re Abramović, to tend to your tomatoes and reflect back on a life’s work: “I don’t want to do anything about dying anymore.”
Death has always been one of the driving concepts of the Serbian artist’s work, whose provocative pieces have garnered acclaim for testing the limits of her own body. Born in Belgrade, Abramović spent her first years growing up with her Orthodox grandmother, while her strict and politically active parents worked high positions in the public sector. At six, she moved back in with her parents, but lacked the space to express herself creatively. As such, Abramović’s spiritual exploration fully occurred after her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1972. A year later and she’d performed her first series, titled Rhythm 10 (1973), which involved her artfully stabbing the in-between spaces of her fingers with a knife – and she wasn’t always accurate.
Then there’s Rhythm o (1974), a further early example, in which Abramović performed with 72 objects (both harmful and harmless) laid out in front of her, allowing the audience to decide her fate. Then Rhythm 5 (1975), a piece in which the artist constructed a five-pointed star that later set on fire with her lying down inside it; and The Lovers (1988), a joint performance with her previous partner, artist Ulay Laysiepen, that saw them end their relationship with an embrace after a 2,500km walk to the centre of the Great Wall of China.
Clearly, Abramović has long been fascinated by death, so you’ll understand my surprise when she raises the prospect of moving away from the subject. But at the age of 74, Abramović has finally had enough of it. That’s not to say she no longer wants to address it at all, as death in fact crosses her mind just about every day – and for good reason too. “It’s the only thing you have to think about in order to cut out the bullshit from your life and really enjoy it,” she says. “There’s a presence, because you never know when death will come. You need to be ready.”