*Walk Through Walls*

by on October 27, 2016 at 1:24 pm in Books, Film, Philosophy, The Arts | Permalink

That’s the new and very direct and frank memoir by Marina Abramović.  It is a narrative of how a very smart and insightful person can choose (almost) never to think like an economist, and how she might evolve from a naive Serbian virgin to one of the world’s most worldly, serene, and profound performers.  Here is one part:

My parents’ marriage was like a war — I never saw them hug or kiss or express any affection toward each other.  Maybe it was just an old habit from partisan days, but they both slept with loaded pistols on their bedside tables!  I remember once, during a rare period when they were speaking to each other, my father came home for lunch and my mother said, “Do you want soup?”  And when he said yes, she came up behind him and dumped the hot soup on his head.  He screamed, pushed the table away, broke every dish in the room, and walked out.

As for her famed lover, the unreliable Ulay, the cause of her broken heart:

A small crowd was there to watch our meeting [on China’s Great Wall].  I wept as he embraced me.  It was the embrace of a comrade, not a lover: the warmth had drained out of him.  I would soon learn that he had impregnated his translator: Ding Xiao Song.  They would marry in Beijing in December.

This book passed the core test that I wanted it to be much longer than it was.  Here is a good Carl Swanson profile of the artist and the book, maybe the best piece I have read this week.

1 Rick October 27, 2016 at 1:30 pm

So can someone more in tune with the high brow nonsense scene tell me why this person is supposed to be interesting or important?

2 Managing History October 27, 2016 at 2:15 pm

I think white yuppies ran out of stuff to distinguish themselves from the non elite so they pretend to enjoy things that are extremely absurd. To me, most modern performance art reads like a Monty Python skit.

3 Larry Siegel October 27, 2016 at 2:36 pm

Don’t forget that Monty Python skits are also performance art, and they’re very good.

4 dearieme October 27, 2016 at 2:41 pm

Put her in the comfy chair.

5 Peter Akuleyev October 27, 2016 at 2:44 pm

Performance art, at least as performed by Marina Abramovic, is not “high brow.” Lady Gaga and Jay Z would not be hanging out with her if it were. High brow requires significant erudition and thought to be enjoyed, and appeals to a fairly small portion of the population, generally not rich collectors trying to impress their society friends. Arno Schmidt is “high brow”, Abramovic is middle brow – perfect for the NPR audience. Abramovic’s stuff works on a pretty visceral level, and some of it could be enjoyed by a five year old (naked people hurling themselves at monoliths repeatedly? Most five year olds would be laughing hysterically). Which is not necessarily a criticism. Not all art has to be intellectual.

6 Art Deco October 27, 2016 at 2:57 pm

appeals to a fairly small portion of the population,

Who insist on government subsidies for its production.

7 Thiago Ribeiro October 27, 2016 at 8:35 pm

“High brow requires significant erudition and thought to be enjoyed, and appeals to a fairly small portion of the population, generally not rich collectors trying to impress their society friends.”
There are kids who appreciate Shakespeare, and I doubt everyone who enjoys Mozart or Chopin has got “significant erudition and thought”. Few “high brow” Literature classics can’t be appreciated by the proverbial intelligent layman. More often then not, “erudition” as a requirement for art appreciation is just an excuse to justify not being as famous or well-regarded as one thinks one should be. “They don’t get my art.”

8 A Black Man October 27, 2016 at 3:01 pm

I think it is a form of conspicuous consumption. Rich people spend millions for paintings that look like what I have on my refrigerator, knowing it is garbage, but it shows they are so rich they can waste money on garbage art. For people that fashion themselves as the cognitive elite, pretending that this mentally disturb woman is an interesting performer is a way to signal their sophistication.

9 coketown October 27, 2016 at 3:45 pm

If you haven’t read Tom Wolfe’s “The Painted Word” I highly recommend it. It’s short, but helps illustrate what has driven the upper classes to embrace increasingly nonsensical art for the last ~80 years. It was published in the 70s, I believe, but is still as relevant today.

10 Brian Donohue October 27, 2016 at 4:13 pm

+1 on Painted Word as a guide to the modern art world.

11 coketown October 27, 2016 at 3:38 pm

She at least sounds interesting. I think her importance, though, is a consequence of the same factors that have influenced the art scene since the 1920s, chief among them an anti-bourgeois bias. She’s been performing for over 40 years but has been art-famous (that is, eminent in the elite art world) for around 10. It was around that time that the previously iconoclastic Young British Artists had become mainstream and déclassé: awarded OBEs, named as Royal Academicians–so bourgeois. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a YBA (and potentially winning a Turner prize as a consequence), and all those mounds of coloured dirt, plexiglass-encased sharks, and unmade beds were taking up a lot of space and, apparently, posing a fire hazard. They needed something new. So as the elite art world had done with Pollock, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Koons, Hirst, etc., they arbitrarily ordained Abramovic a Preeminent Artist. It’s a bonus that her art is intangible and exists only once before being lost to history. It’s ultra-exclusive: it can be experienced by an audience exactly once and never again. Less exclusive, but carrying equal cache, is her acquaintance. You can’t collect her performances but you can collect her, and apparently she’s quite a fixture at New York parties and galas now. I’m passingly familiar with her work and can’t agree with Tyler’s assessment that she’s profound. She’s a celebrity only; a Paris Hilton for high-brow poseurs. It’s also why, as the article states, she’s the only famous performance artist. A second would significantly diminish the value of the first. That, at least, is my assessment of her.

12 chuck martel October 27, 2016 at 4:37 pm

“It’s a bonus that her art is intangible and exists only once before being lost to history. It’s ultra-exclusive: it can be experienced by an audience exactly once and never again.”

That makes her similar to a professional basketball player, except she doesn’t seem to be televised. If she were, she wouldn’t be as famous as the basketball player, however, because the best consumer demographic would be watching basketball instead of her.

13 Jeff R. October 27, 2016 at 4:57 pm

Her parents came from the Jerry Springer guest pool?

14 Sam Chang October 27, 2016 at 1:31 pm

How much status do I gain by caring about Marina? It sounds like a joyless drudge, so I want to know if the payoff is worth it.

15 Peter Akuleyev October 27, 2016 at 2:45 pm

I wanted to gain additional status by reading her memoirs in Serbian, but apparently she dictated them in English to an actual writer.

16 prior_test2 October 27, 2016 at 1:44 pm

‘This book passed the core test that I wanted it to be much longer than it was.’

Riffling through pages can be such a sensuous pleasure that one never wants it to stop, tight?

17 prior_test2 October 27, 2016 at 1:45 pm

tight, right, sight – just a single letter, and then someone is impregnating a translator somewhere.

18 Peter Akuleyev October 27, 2016 at 2:52 pm

they both slept with loaded pistols on their bedside tables!

Somehow, even without a 2nd amendment, gun ownership was pretty common in Communist Yugoslavia. And the Soviet Union too for that matter, especially in the countryside.

19 Art Deco October 27, 2016 at 2:55 pm

The smart money says this ‘memoir’ is part of the performance.

20 david m October 27, 2016 at 3:59 pm

marina is a pretty interesting cat. i attended loads of events back when she had her giant studio on sutter street here in SF, that building was a major social space for people inclined a certain way.

it was only after she closed up in SF that i learned that she is actually quite well-known.

she was wasted on us.

21 Thiago Ribeiro October 27, 2016 at 6:18 pm

“Maybe it was just an old habit from partisan days, but they both slept with loaded pistols on their bedside tables”
A friend of mine used to do it, the gun used to be next to the phone. People say that one day the phone rang late at night and he answered the gun. True story.

22 albatross October 27, 2016 at 8:19 pm

It’s not all *that* rare for people to sleep with a loaded gun in arm’s reach.

23 Thiago Ribeiro October 27, 2016 at 8:53 pm

I still prefer the old “below the pillow” strategy.” The pillow doesn’t ring when one is sleeping.

24 peter October 28, 2016 at 1:22 am

I sleep with a loaded gun in the drawer of the bedside table, which I believe is more typical then placing it in plain sight.

25 too hot for MR October 28, 2016 at 2:36 am

Unhygienic and I can only assume there’s no woman in bed with you. Put it in the nightstand you savage.

26 Thiago Ribeiro October 28, 2016 at 4:15 am

“Put it in the nightstand you savage.” I would rather live. “I can only assume there’s no woman in bed with you. Put it in the nightstand you savage.” Why? I am not pointing it to her.

27 jorod October 30, 2016 at 3:55 pm

Sick woman.

28 Anon November 4, 2016 at 7:07 pm

Interesting timing, the satan worshipper who may be the final nail in Hillary’s coffin

29 George November 6, 2016 at 9:15 pm

The NYTimes review has a different take: “A tolerance for a certain amount of pomposity is a prerequisite for keeping up with serious art; otherwise, you’re always sitting at the short table and using the plastic cutlery. In “Walk Through Walls,” Ms. Abramovic pushes this tolerance to its limits.

You will need to be able to withstand a great deal of conversation about clairvoyants and tarot cards and didgeridoos and kundalini life forces and monks and gurus and “how the soul can leave the body through the center of the fontanel of the head” to make it very far in this memoir…Ms. Abramovic reports in “Walk Through Walls” that under the right circumstances, she can foresee world events. “I dreamed of an earthquake in Italy: 48 hours later, there was an earthquake in southern Italy. I had a vision of someone shooting the Pope: 48 hours later, someone tried to shoot Pope John Paul II.”

There’s a self-help aspect to this memoir — “I hope that this book is inspirational and teaches everyone that there is no obstacle that you cannot overcome” — that blends poorly with the implicit injunctions to warm one’s hands on the blaze of her greatness. She likes to say things like, “I’m only interested in an art which can change the ideology of a society.” Her art, judged on that scale, shrinks further in size.

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