suffering

“I am very much for the great Slavic suffering, for the cosmos, for the soul, for the universe.” Marina Abramović
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Over the new year’s holidays a vicious attack took place. She creeped up on me. Descended on me with impressive stealth. As I was driving across the countries that all used to be part of Yugoslavia I started to feel an itch within my nose. At first I didn’t care much for it since I had other things that occupied my being. One of them was extreme fog that decided to squat on a hundreds of miles of highway that connects capital cities of Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia. Another was my bloodstream drowning in copious amounts of espresso and adrenaline. After all once in Belgrade I was going to see Marina Abramović’s The Cleaner retrospective. Marina is an artist that I respect in ways that are hard to describe. I find her performances breathtaking. Literally. To see her extensive body of work that spawns from late 1960s all the way to present day is an absolute gift.
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So, as I was plowing through the miles at subzero temperatures, occasionally adding a bit of caffeine into the mix, blasting a mash up of music that I hand picked for this journey that was to be something deeper than usual, my nose started to drip. Just a little at first. A waterfall towards the end of the drive. Ears were ringing. Suddenly snow made an appearance. High winds materializing at the same time. All of these happened just as I stepped out of my car. What seemed to be a light headache was now a full blown migraine. Ice covered path in front of me. Leading me towards the museum of modern art in Belgrade. My body was screaming at me to go to the hotel and return tomorrow. My mind though was set on pushing through it all. I can still hear a whisper within me screaming: “You can rest when you are fucking dead!”
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The moment I entered the museum and the heat wrapped around me – my body temporarily gave up. I had to sit down. Nose a silver waterfall that was gushing endlessly. Eyes bloodshot red. Throat on fire. Lungs labouring. I couldn’t take a deep breath if my life depended on me. Suddenly I hear a thumping sound coming through one of the pavilions inside. Sound of a knife hitting a cutting board. It was accompanied by continuous screaming. Children’s quire singing coming from a different pavilion. I closed my eyes and identified Marina’s performances those sounds belonged to. I felt like I came home. Sick and depleted yet in a way home. I felt relief. I felt joy…
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I am in awe of Marina and her journey. Her art challenged her physical and mental limitations. Pushed them. Expanded them. Freed her of the pains she experienced and carried through her life. Helped her reach catharsis. In a way witnessing them post hoc via video recordings of her performances or extensive retrospectives inspires me in my own journey (whatever that may be). Her endurance art is an important ingredient in pushing myself (physically or mentally) to overcome my own limitations, my own deficiencies, my own flaws, my own demons…
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I immediately sought out Ritam 10 (Rhythm 10) performance installation. It marks the beginning of her performance art journey. Exhibition consists of sound recording on a loop and a series of photographs that documented this performance that lasted 1 hour and took place in Rome (Italy) in 1973. These are the instructions Marina wrote (her own words):
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Preparation
I lay a sheet of white paper on the floor. I lay twenty knives of different shapes and sizes on the floor. I place two cassette recorders with microphones on the floor.
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Performance
I switch on the first cassette recorder. I take the knife and plunge it, as fast as I can, into the flesh between the outstretched fingers of my left hand. After each cut, I change to a different knife. Once all the knives (all the rhythms) have been used, I rewind the tape. I listen to the recording of the first performance. I concentrate. I repeat the first part of the performance. I pick up the knives in the same sequence, adhere to the same rhythm and cut myself in the same places. In this performance, the mistakes of the past and those of the present are synchronous. I rewind the same tape and listen to the dual rhythm of the knives. I leave.
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Seeing the photographs, hearing the sound recording of the ordeal is just as brutal as you can imagine. What is left after her performance is a giant sheet of paper stained with the artist’s own blood. Every nick and cut captured on a canvas.
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rythm 10 aftermath
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Marina’s art provokes. It pushes you. Just like she pushed her boundaries and limitations, you are challenged to push yours. Her art is admired. Her art is hated. For some she is a pioneer of  a new notion of identity by bringing in the participation of observers, focusing on confronting pain, blood, and physical limits of the body. For others she is a masochist. A satanist even.
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I find her art inspiring on a very personal level. It puts many things in perspective. It pushes me when I want to surrender (not always for there are times when my mind is too clouded by a mess created by my heart or perhaps chemical imbalances in my brain…). Pushing through the pain and the suffering is the only way to truly grow and to expand. Nothing meaningful comes easy. Nothing beautiful comes without a pain, without a fight.
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The Cleaner featured every meaningful performance retrospective as well as Marina’s later art. All of them different yet just as meaningful. I couldn’t recommend more seeking out Marina Abramović’s exhibitions more. The Cleaner sadly closes on January 20th, however, there are Museum’s of Modern Art around the globe that feature Marina’s work (New York, London, Ljubljana, Oxford, etc.). If none of those is a possibility to visit then google will help you find a plethora of places that talk about and show in depth her works of art and her journey.
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On that day, her art revived me. Suddenly the flu was not a vicious attack anymore, it suddenly seemed nothing more than a temporary annoyance. Marina’s art also helped me to embrace myself and to start moving forward once again!

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