Tuesday night, the "grandmother of performance art" (her own designation), Marina Abramovic will tell Portland about her life's work, which has married highbrow art, self-mutilation, behavioral psychology, and religious asceticism for more than 30 years. While other similarly intense performance artists of her era have retired to less punishing practices, Abramovic continues to push the limits of her mind and body, even as she turns 60 this year. It's a free lecture, and it's going to be packed, so show up early. And keep your eyes out for some of these classic works.
Imponderabilia, 1977—Abramovic and then-collaborator Ulay stand guard at the entrance to a performance festival in Bologna. They flank the narrow doorway completely nude. In order to enter the galleries, each audience member must squeeze between the two naked artists, deciding which of them to face.
Rhythm 0, 1974—In what would become her most famous performance to date, Abramovic offers her body (and by extension, her life) completely to her audience. She stands in a room with a table that held 72 objects—needles, grapes, knives, chains, a saw, lipstick—and a loaded pistol. A sign on the wall gives the audience permission to use the objects on the artist however they want. Although they start off timidly, by the end of the performance her clothes have been cut off, and she has been sliced with razors. Someone holds the gun against her head, and another audience member wrestles it away. This goes on for six hours.
Rhythm 2, 1974—Abramovic takes a pill designed for catatonic patients. For two hours, in front of a packed audience, the artist's body seizes, lurches, and shakes uncontrollably. Ten minutes after the effects wear off, Abramovic takes another pill—one that paralyzes her body for an additional six full hours.
The House With the Ocean View, 2002—In a riff on endurance-based performance art from the '70s, Abramovic fasts and lives in the Sean Kelly Gallery for 12 straight days in full view of her audience. The only way she can stop the performance is by descending from her elevated living space via one of three ladders. The ladders' rungs are made of upturned butcher knives. For nearly two weeks, she does little but shower, go to the bathroom, sleep, and stare at the audience. She doesn't utter a word for the duration of the performance. Unlike Rhythm 0, this audience confrontation requires no props. CHAS BOWIE