The associations between the figures of Maria/Marina are never stronger than when re-enacting the so-called ‘mad scene’ from a lesser-known opera (Lucia di Lammermoor, by Gaetano Donizetti, 1835) and in the accompanying alabaster, entitled The Mirror (2020-21), which blurs the boundary between self and other. “About a decade ago I began to have long conversations about how to work with sculptural material, but also how to give it some life and have immateriality at the same time… The process of cutting [alabaster] in this certain way allows you to have the image from a distance, but the moment you approach it, the image disappears, literally deteriorates, in front of your eyes – it is actually the non-existence of the image.”
Callas, the quarrelsome yet brilliant singer who was branded as temperamental and difficult by the media – known as the ultimate diva (nicknamed La Divina) – here shows her unmatched tonal range and versatility as a soprano through the full expression of Bel Canto (‘beautiful singing), plunging down through scales and up through to the highest notes with startling ease. Abramović too enacts an emotional outpouring, wordlessly screaming throughout the aria, disgorging her pain in a visceral struggle with a succession of mirrors and ripping a veil from her head in opulent surroundings.
Her earlier expressions of strong, convulsive femininity, including Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful, (1975), in which she chanted these words while violently brushing and hacking away at her own hair (illustrated above), revealed to audiences something of the inner turmoil of her psyche through painful and repetitive on-stage struggles. Similarly, a trio of Cleaning the Mirror works from 1995 saw the artist scrubbing at a skeleton and banishing her demons, but also aiming for self-improvement, enlightenment and, ultimately, for freedom.