Lisson Gallery

'‘I wake up happy! I’m singing all day’: Marina Abramović on pain, love – and her recent brush with death' – The Observer

17 September 2023

The pioneer of extreme performance art is exploring the possibilities of happiness as, at 76, she becomes the first woman to have a full Royal Academy retrospective

Marina Abramović has spent a good deal of the past 50 years inflicting pain and stress on her own body in the name of art. Earlier this year, her body got a bit of revenge. In May, having gone into hospital for a minor knee operation, the artist suffered a pulmonary embolism that nearly killed her. She was in intensive care for six weeks, had three operations, nine blood transfusions, and spent some time in a coma. For someone who has over the years – for the gallery-going public – lain naked on blocks of ice, gone a dozen days on a raised platform without food, deliberately induced unconsciousness and almost burned herself alive, hospital came as a shock.

When I first spoke to her from her home in New York state a month ago, sitting on her deck in the sunshine, she was still high on survival. She held a picture up to the screen of the long string of blood clots that had been removed from her lungs and laughed at the oddness. She explained how she believed the practice of endurance in her work – in perhaps her most famous performance, The Artist Is Present, she sat motionless six hours a day for three months while thousands of people queued to occupy the seat opposite her – had speeded up her recovery.

“To start with the doctors gave me opioids every four hours and I can’t deal with that,” she said. “I can’t take alcohol, I can’t take drugs, not even aspirin. I want to feel everything in my body, always. So I stopped taking them. The pain was unbelievable. But I knew this would give me a faster recovery because I could use all my willpower and everything I have learned to get up out of bed more quickly. Otherwise, I might still be there.”

Did intensive care feel like another kind of performance?

“No, because if you decide to do difficult things in front of the public, in order that other people can see and find some strength in their own life, that is your choice. Here, you can’t control it.”

Read in full via The Guardian.

'‘I wake up happy! I’m singing all day’: Marina Abramović on pain, love – and her recent brush with death' – The Observer
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