Book Review: Walk Through Walls

Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović with James Kaplan is a memoir. It’s the story of Marina Abramović’s life and how she became a performance artist. Marina grew up in Belgrade and was often punished for the slightest infractions. The punishments were almost always physical.

Marina Abramović’s mother and aunt used to hit Marina black and blue. Sometimes they would lock her into a closet. Marina was afraid of the dark and used to talk to the ghosts in there.1 Marina’s father was often absent but he never hit her. She came to love him for that.2

It’s incredible how fear is built into you,
by your parents and others surrounding you.
You’re so innocent in the beginning;
you don’t know.
3

Art was holy to Marina Abramović’s mother, so she encouraged Marina to become an artist.4 Actually, art was the only freedom Marina had. There was money for painting, but not for clothes.5 Marina Abramović realized however that two-dimensional art truly wasn’t her thing.6 Instead, she became interested in performance art.

A curator from Scotland visited Belgrade at the end of 1972, looking for fresh ideas for the next Edinburgh Festival.7 This gave Marina Abramović the possibility to visit Edinburgh.8 While performing Rhythm 10—which is a violent game with sharp knives—at Endinburgh a strange feeling came over Marina. She became one with the audience. A single organism.

Marina Abramović describes this feeling of total connection with the audience as she—at the same time—became a receiver and transmitter of a huge Tesla-like energy. The pain and fear was gone. She had become a Marina which she didn’t know yet.9 It felt as though the possibilities for performance art were infinite.10

Marina Abramović was later invited to Naples in 1975,11 where she turned herself into an object in Rhythm 0. There were several objects that anyone could use on her as desired. There was even a pistol with one bullet.12

At first not much happened, but then someone cut her neck with a knife and sucked the blood. A very small man put the bullet in the pistol and moved the pistol toward her neck. Someone grabbed him. The audience became more and more active, as if in trance.13 Marina Abramović realized after the performance, half naked and bleeding, that the public can kill you.14

In 2010, over 750 000 people waited in line for the chance to sit across from Marina Abramović in The Artist is Present. From the beginning, people were in tears—and so was Marina.15

…to achieve a goal,
you have to give everything until you have nothing left.
And it will happen by itself. That’s really important.
This is my motto for every performance.
16

The wall in the book title is pain. At first, the pain is excruciating, then it vanishes. That’s when you’ve walked through the wall and come out on the other side.17 Marina Abramović grew up with very much pain. She has spent a lifetime transcending pain through her performance art—not only her own pain, but also the pain of others.18 And sometimes there’s a deep connection on the other side of the wall.

Notes:
1 Marina Abramović with James Kaplan, Walk Through Walls (Penguin, 2016), p.7.
2 Ibid., p.8.
3 Ibid., p.1.
4 Ibid., p.13.
5 Ibid., p.14.
6 Ibid., p.48.
7 Ibid., p.56.
8 Ibid., p.57.
9 Ibid., p.60.
10 Ibid., p.64.
11 Ibid., p.67.
12 Ibid., p.68.
13 Ibid., p.69.
14 Ibid., p.70.
15 Ibid., p.309.
16 Ibid., p.146.
17 Ibid., p.75.
18 Ibid., p.342.

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