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  • Writer's pictureNick Pike

Marina Abramović Royal Academy retrospective - My conversion to performance art..

My partner Rita introduced me to the work of Marina Abramović some time ago and whilst in London, thought we'd check out her show at The Royal Academy. I'd never experienced performance art before and though many of the acts were recordings of Marina's impressive body of work over the past 50 years, some presentations were re-enacted by young performers, trained by Abramovic herself.


While going through to a gallery room, it seemed daring to walk between a naked couple facing each other, who stood purposely too close so that visitors must brush past them - Rita thinks she accidentally stood on the guy's big toe..

I didn't get the show to start off with and found myself missing traditional artwork but the longer we stayed, I began to appreciate that many of the exhibits were about meditation.


In The House With The Ocean View, Abramovic spent twelve days in Sean Kelly Gallery, living in purpose-built units representing rooms of her house. She went without food and was being watched by gallery visitors day and night. It made me think of what must be going through the mind and how to stretch this experience out for such a long time. Watching her slowly drink a glass of water did make us think of mindfulness and how to take more notice of the importance within mundane activities.

One of the most interesting parts of the exhibition to me was a wall with 74 screens, relaying Marina's performance The Artist is Present (2010, MoMA), where she sat at a table over a period of two and a half months, in silence. Visitors would be invited to sit across the table, one by one, and they would stare at each other with the artist in a largely expressionless 'silent conversation' for a while, before the next stranger would take their place. Marina would close her eyes between each visitor, only opening them as the new stranger had taken their seat.


Unbeknown to her, former partner and artistic collaborator Ulay suddenly appeared in front of her. They had quite a history together as fellow artists and lovers - once walking the Great Wall of China from opposite ends to meet in the middle, where originally they were to marry, but instead this turned out to be the grand location of their parting ways.

Rita and I knew the history of this performance and staring at the screens (her face, which looked almost identical in each one), I was surprised to find the display where Marina was welling up with tears - this was clearly the moment where Ulay had arrived in front of her (their first meeting in 22 years).

The exhibition turned out to be an impressive and memorable experience. You can visit Marina's retrospective at the RA until 1st January, 2024.

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