Marina Abramoviç

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borderline experience, gender, sexuality, violence
Performing Arts (performance)
Europe, Southern, Europe, Western
Serbia and Montenegro, Germany, Netherlands
Amsterdam, Belgrad, Paris
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May 20, 2003
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Marina Abramoviç
Marina Abramoviç abramovicdet.html


"My body is art"

Born in Belgrade in 1946, Marina Abramoviç is one of the most important performance artists of our time. In her performances she tests social taboos and her body´s limits of endurance. For Marina Abromoviç the body is raw material for artistic, aesthetic and ethical practice. After years of working with the German artist F. Uwe Laysiepen, known as Ulay, she worked in the 90s alone. For her performance ´Balkan Baroque´ she was warded the international prize of the jury at the Venice Biennial in 1997.
Limit experiences of body and soul are central to the artist Marina Abromoviç, who in her performances goes to her physical limits. She takes the body as raw material for artistic, aesthetic and ethical practice. Her performances are based on her early experience of political violence in her homeland under Marshal Tito, as well as on personal confrontation experienced between the sexes. Marina Abramoviç´s performances are exceptionally imposing. By using simple yet expressive images as well as by strenuously using her body, she manages to build a bridge between bodily and aesthetic awareness.

She nearly stifles in a sea of flames, cuts her body open with a razorblade, yells till she is hoarse, whips herself numb, lies on blocks of ice or lets snakes creep over her body. For thirty years this "grandmother of performance", as she has termed herself, has repeatedly driven her body to the limits of endurance, only to overcome them with her insuperable will. Since her debut as a performer at the age of 27 in Belgrade, she says she has realised "that the limits of the body must be my art´s basic theme". But her many techniques of exposing herself are not ways of playing with pain - "it is not about pain but about determination" - or with shock: "I was never interested in being shocking. I was interested in reaching the physical and mental limits of the human body and soul. I wanted to experience these limits together with the public. I could never achieve this alone. I have always needed the public as an observer, since this produces an energy-dialogue."

This artist uses her own body to show taboos and social coercion. She called her spectacular performances in 1974 Rhythm 5. She poured petrol over a Soviet star, lay on it, let it be lit and then fainted since flames consume oxygen. During the two hour performance "Thomas Lips" she took a razorblade and carved a communist star in her belly as a bloody cipher.

On having left Yugoslavia in 1975, she delved into the depths of society and its human components in the west too. In a gallery in Naples she handed herself over to the public for 6 hours after having spread 72 objects, including knives, axes, needles, syringes and whips on a dissecting table. For the artist the performance became a horror trip. The men tore her clothes from her body, beat and mishandled it. The performance got fully out of control as a man aimed a pistol at her. "If another guest had not acted at the last moment," she recalls, "I would have been shot".

In 1975 in an Amsterdam gallery Marina Abramoviç got to know the German artist Uwe Laysiepen, known as Ulay. The joint performances of this dream-pair of the art-scene are legendary. In 1976 they both begin their relation work. Their performances in museums and galleries were preoccupied for years with the relationship between the sexes. They stared at each other in silence over a table day after day and boxed each other´s ears till they (not the ears) dropped. In 1988 their relation work rose to its climax on the Chinese Wall: The Great Wall Walk. For over 1000 km the lovers plodded towards each other, with Marina Abramoviç starting at the Yellow Sea, and Ulay in the Gobi desert. But this reunion after three months led to separation. "Bye bye extremes, bye bye Ulay" said Marina Abramoviç later about the end of their relationship in the performance The Biography.

"After 20 years of working as an artist, I now feel the need to present my life and my work in an autobiographical framework. I have decided to present various experiences from the moment of my birth up to the present day chronologically. I think of this work as being a cross between performance and theatre. It is not called Autobiography but Biography, since I want to keep at a certain distance to myself, so as to play myself."

Since her separation, the artist has again been working alone. In a series of performances at the start of the 90s she equated her body with the earth´s. Five snakes crept over it and squeezed her face into a grimace. In "documenta" in 1992 she showed her work Departure. Visitors had to wear amethyst-shoes weighing several kilograms so as to feel for themselves the effect of the stones. Since 1996 she has also been incorporating sound installations and videos into her performances.

In 1997 Marina Abramoviç´s contributed Balkan Baroque to the Biennial in Venice and created a furore. Upset by the war in Yugoslavia she sat for six hours a day for four days on a mountain of bloody cow-bones, sang mournful songs and rubbed the last shreds of flesh from the bones. On the video screens there flickered the images of father and mother. For her oppressive allegory of the war she received the International Prize of the Jury.

In 1998, together with Pierre Coulibeuf she wrote the script for the film Balkan Baroque, which Coulibeuf then directed. The film is as mournful, fragmentary and discontinuous as memory itself. The chronological story breaks up again and again into autonomous images and sound layers. The film casts a new light on Marina Abromoviç´s work, extends it into other fields and enables the viewer to have new sensations.

In January-February 2000, the Kunstverein Hannover showed video-sculptures and -installations, objects and texts from Abramoviç. In 2001 she is the artistic adviser of the director Michael Laub, for whose Swedish ensemble, Remote Control, she has already designed the stage-settings for Planet Lulu and for Frankula. For the opening of the Berlin festival Tanz im August (Dance in August), her work Total Masala Slammer / Heartbreak No. 5 was premiered in the Hebbeltheater. For this version of Goethe´s Sorrows of Young Werther as an Indian soap opera, Laub flew to India with Abramoviç as his artistic adviser to learn from the Bollywood productions.

When not performing, Marina Abramoviç gives lessons. At present she has a professor´s position at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste (Art College) in Braunschweig but lives and works mainly in Paris and Amsterdam.
Author: Haus der Kulturen der Welt


Marina Abramoviç was born in 1946 in Belgrade. From 1965-70 she studied painting at the art school there, but soon she turned her attention to acoustic works typical of her from 1970-73. In 1973 she began performing and moving towards body-supported works. In 1976 she began working with the German performance artist Ulay - a partnership which lasted till 1988. From 1980-83 she went to various deserts like the central Australian desert and the Sahara. In 1988 she travelled round China.

During her artistic career, Abramoviç has taught in several places: From 1973-75 she taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Novi Sad; from 1990-91 she was a visiting professor at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin as well as at the Académie des Beaux Arts in Paris; in 1992 she was a professor at the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste in Hamburg and also appeared at "documenta 9" in Kassel. In 1997 she represented the Netherlands at the 45th Biennial in Venice, and was a professor at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Braunschweig, Germany, from 1997 to 2004. In 2005 she moved to New York and founded the Marina Abramovi? Foundation for the Preservation of Performance Art.


The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, Manchester

Production / Performance,
Manchester International Festival

The Artist is present, New York

Production / Performance,
Museum of Modern Art

Balkan Epic

Production / Performance,

Entering the Other Side, New York

Production / Performance,
Guggenheim Museum

Seven Easy Pieces, New York

Production / Performance,
Guggenheim Museum

The House with the Ocean View, New York

Production / Performance,
Museum of Modern Art

The Biography of Biographies, New York

Production / Performance,
Sean Kelly Gallery

Human Nests, Cádiz

Production / Performance,

Public Body: Installations and Objects 1965-2001

Production / Performance,

Marina Abramovic, Kunstverein Hannover

Production / Performance,

Artist Body: Performances 1969-1998

Production / Performance,

Balkan Baroque, Venice

Production / Performance,

The Biography, Frankfurt

Production / Performance,

Documenta, Kassel

Production / Performance,

Departure, Paris

Production / Performance,

Boat Emptying/Stream Entering, Düsseldorf

Production / Performance,

The Great Wall Walk

Production / Performance,

Nightsea Crossing, Berlin

Production / Performance,

Rest Energy, Dublin

Production / Performance,

Relation in Space, Venice

Production / Performance,

Freeing the body, Berlin

Production / Performance,

Rollentausch, Amsterdam

Production / Performance,

Rhythm 20, Rome

Production / Performance,

Rhythm 10, Edinburgh

Production / Performance,


Cultural Leadership Award, American Federation of Arts

Honorary Doctor of Arts, University of Plymouth,UK

Niedersächsischer Kunstpreis

New York Dance and Performance Award (The Bessies)

International Association of Art Critics, Best Show in a Commercial Gallery Award

Golden Lion Award, XLVII Venice Biennal


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

Homeland Art (HeimatKunst)

Cultural Diversity in Germany

(01 April 00 - 02 July 00)


Artist´s Page on

Upcoming and current exhibitions

Review in the New York Times

"Performance Art Preserved, in the Flesh"

Interview in the Guardian/The Observer

By Sean O´Hagan (3 October 2010)
Work: Title Unknown