Around photography (2004-2009) Anno 3 Numero 8 novembre 2005 / gennaio 2006
Balkan Erotic Epic
She is considered by the new generations of artists as a landmark, the history looks at her as one of the most important artists of the last quarter of the twentieth century. Marina Abramovic won in the 1997 the Gran Premio at the Biennale of Venice and now that she is one of the best performers in the world her vein of creativity doesn’t seem to give signs of exhaustion. The Hangar Bicocca in Milan dedicates to her an important exhibition and this is the occasion for her to present for the first time in Italy a new work created with the support of Destricted production, a firm known to the public to have produced erotic film by artists as Matthew Barney, Larry Clark, Sam Taylor Wood, Marco Brambilla. The result is still a work of a surprising humanity.
Stefano Pirovano: The new work, “Balkan Erotic Epic”, seems to carry on a kind of cycle that began almost ten years ago with Balkan Baroque. Then it comes the time to look behind...
Marina Abramovic: I decided to make an exhibition called “Balkan Epic” in which I really want to show all the works that I made in Balkan, or about the Balkan – you know, that is where I came from. The other works I chose are “Balkan Baroque” - which is one of the first works, the most complex one - “The Hero” - that is a performance made with children. Then I chose “Tesla Urn” that is dedicated to scientist Nicola Tesla who left Yugoslavia and lived in America - he experimented the wireless electricity and many other thinks - and then “Nude With Skeleton” that is a piece I made also in Yugoslavia as a reflection on death. And finally I chose “Balkan Erotic Epic” which really consists of two parts. It’s an indoor and outdoor installation...
S.P.: As it happened in one of your most famous work – “Balkan Baroque”, by which you were prized at the Biennale of Venice in the 1997 - you chose by “Balkan Erotic Epic” to reflect on a universal theme through a vernacular culture. Which are the reasons of that choice?
M.A.: It’s always seen in the way of the pornography a vulgar, as a kind of very expressive way to show the female bodies nude and fun. I would like to see how I can go deep into this idea of the erotic and find the roads of eroticism in the past. So I returned into the pagan culture - especially in Balkan one - and by looking and researching I find a lot of scriptures from the Fourteen, Fifteen and Sixteen century, and even some rituals kept these days, in the Nineteen century, where sexual organs - male and female - are used like tools for the healing, for removing the diseases, for fertilization, for communication with gods. I thought it would be very interesting to stage again some of that rituals that are never been staged before - and exist only in description - to figure out how actually we look at them. Then I tried to connect this very primordial understanding of sexuality to the present one.
S.P.: You lived the period of the sexual revolution sometimes reflecting with your work also on the values of the body as a territory of sensations (like, for example, in the performance “Imponderabilia” in 1977 at Galleria d’Arte Moderna of Bologna). In the meantime a lot of artists all over the world discovered the expressive power of the body connecting it to positive ideas as equality, liberty, fraternity. Through Seventies and Eighties the results of that revolution were sometimes exploited by the porn industry that grew up enormous. Now the first key word clicked on internet is “sex” and our society seems to have with sexuality some kind of problem, especially in relation with the childhood. What happened?
M.A.: I think that it is a really serious problem because sex is the first energy in our body, it induces reproduction; But this energy can be translated into different things. Your sexual energy can go into creative process but also it can go into aggression, it can go to the war, it can go into so many different directions. I think that in some way it has to do with the restriction, and the religion too. The political society always tries to put under control this energy through suppression, and the suppression is near to all incredible phenomena like rapes, and violence, and also the war. I always think that the war is strong connected to the repression of sexual energy. Here in America they are leaving a war, so you can show real weapons and violence on the TV, or in any kind of media. So it’s really something that is seriously not normal because on the other side we have also the constant exhibition of sexuality. Magazines are full of sex and I’m talking about Italian television, because it is so explicative when you see a weather girl reporter that looks like a Porno star. In my erotic and epic video I don’t show only the female. I show also the male and the male is never been shown in that way. I show the male in heroic positions, with erection, and it looks so different because if you show sex in connection with spiritual aspects the entire banality and vulgarity disappear. And it’s very interesting to see how here in America the explicit exhibition of genitals of women who lift their skirts running on the rain - from the old women of 75 to the ones of 20 – is perceived as something definitely not scandalous. It completely works another association, but still they are exhibited genitals. One of the roles of an artist is to take things in everyday life and to try to transform them and give them a new meaning and put this meaning in a new kind of relationship, and that is what this piece is about.
S.P.: So it’s only a matter about how things are connected...
M.A.: Exactly, and what is interesting is that the “Balkan Erotic Epic” is just a part of the entire epic structure of the Milan show that deals with the war, deals with incredible difficulties and sufferings, deals with problems with the future of the children. There is heroism, passion and a kind of unbearable heaviness in all the situation in what is Yugoslavia now - or Serbia and Montenegro now - and plus there is that erotic force that is actually the only possibility to survive. So that is in a mix...
S.P.: Themes as identity and origin seem to be embedded in your recent works. Do the problem of immigration and the preservation of foreign cultures inspired you?
M.A.: I left Yugoslavia for a long time; I left Yugoslavia thirty years ago. I went to Australia, I visited the aborigines, I went to Tibet, I went to the very far cultures and I was very interested in eastern ones, especially in the way those cultures use the body. A way that is much more focused on mind - and not so much on physical appearance - and on how you can control your mind. So I tried to learn as a performer artist the technique that I could use in my own work. When I was back to Yugoslavia I was not interested in my own culture and I tried only to forget. It took me a long time to have distance, because only if you have distance you can see deeper. Now I can do things concerning my own culture that I would never see or do if I was inside that culture. So I think that for me the idea of immigration and moving away from my own culture it’s a way to make me closer to it.
S.P.: How was working with Neville Wakefield and Frederick Carlström from the Destricted? Your approach to the work is changed?
M.A.: It was not really cinema because I only used better technology. In the first Seventies the video was always used with bad camera and bad quality. Then artists went into Super8 film and transcribed it into video, and then they went to digital cameras, and then to the 35mm film to put it again back to the video. It is just a matter of quality. But in the same time video work is different from performance because in video work I staged everything like you do in a film. I just really make a kind of production and I’m not the only one - a lot of artists use video and put materials back to the video. It’s only a matter that you use the film as tool which has better results than the video, but is not really film in the sense of film...
S.P.: Is in your opinion love more or less powerful than sex?
M.A.: There’s no comparison at all. Love is absolutely one of the purist and most important things at all. Sex is just an end of the reproduction instinct but... without love we don’t exist.
S.P.: Do you think that porn as the power to impose models to the new generations? Could art do the same?
M.A.: It’s really difficult to answer to this question because, as you can see, there is a huge amount of people in this planet who don’t need art but who need sex, who need porn, sport, football, and whatever you know. So the really question is how you develop spirituality ...and I always think that the pure porn is very low. People satisfy sexuality - or satisfy very simple needs - with every kind of material goods. But when you have all that there is a moment in the development of your consciousness that you understand that you have to have something higher than that - and then comes art. But art is really like an evolution and it is not possible to say that everybody wants to have it. There are so many people in this planet that can leave without art in all their life and don’t miss it at all. It’s really not easy to convince the large public that art can change the world. I don’t think that art can change the world, but I think that can really make some important questions and build awareness.
S.P.: In some way art is an act of love...
M.A.: One of the elements in art world is love. You have to give, artists have to give unconditionally. So I have to generate acts of love in order to give.
S.P.: I know that you collect video documents from theatre, dance, music and in general about performing arts. Have you recently found something you like to talk about?
M.A.: There are so many different things... I recently saw the performance of Isabelle Hupert. She is just standing for one hour and fifty minutes without moving, only let the text coming out of the mouth, and I found it such an amazing performance. I was really, really moved. Sometimes it is very difficult in the theatre to make something new but I think that it is possible to create some state of mind when those charismatic elements of performance can come to the public. She speaks in French in front of an American public and nobody moves, and it was really amazing. I look so many different things and I like to see and to collect them and to put them in my life because in my life I’ve never liked to talk about my own work. I like to put my own work in connection with other things I like around, because I think that it means much more sense.
A cura di Stefano Pirovano