This scene (from Act III of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly) opens with Abramović traversing a blasted landscape, hand-in-hand with a child clutching a tiny American flag, as Callas launches into the opera’s famous aria, Un bel di, vedremo (One fine day, we’ll see). Both figures on screen are dressed in yellow hazmat suits, matching the yellowish tinge of the putrid air that surrounds them – this is no fine day. Unlike Madame Butterfly, however, it is not the remembrance of her long-lost American husband, who returns having married another woman, which Abramović pines for, but a larger, emotional or ecological crisis. As Dafoe approaches, the heroine turns away and dramatically disrobes, breathing in the irradiated air. She submits her naked torso to the poison, while Callas trills that her love will one day come home.
This dramatic exposure recalls Abramović’s own surrender to atmospheric dangers in her Rhythm series, especially Rhythm 2 (1974) in which she ingested harmful drugs to induce catatonic or hysteric states and Rhythm 10 (1974), her most deadly performance that allowed audience members to act on her using any of the 72 objects she had placed on the table that included a knife, gun and a whip, as well as a lipstick, perfume and flowers (illustrated above). The betrayal of the various heroines in Seven Deaths is mirrored in these historic Abramović works, in which her body was tested or threatened by everything from physical exhaustion through to the potential piercing of an arrow through the heart.