Marina Abramović reflects on all the moments that made her the performance genius that she is today—in which the artist is, indeed, utterly present.

Design Matters From the Archive: Marina Abramović

PERFORMANCE ARTIST

2021

Marina Abramović / performance art / fine art / The Artist is Present / MoMA / Ulay / fear / failure / John Cage / Laurie Anderson

Transcript


Debbie Millman:

Marina Abramović once said that she only learns from things she doesn't like: pain, silence, blood. Over her nearly 50 year career, she has chased after her fears, testing the limits of her mind and body. She has methodically cut the skin between her fingers and on her abdomen. She has screamed until she has no voice, and she has sat silently for 736 hours looking into the eyes of strangers. Marina's performance challenges audiences with uncomfortable and illuminating experiences, and she has permanently changed the way the world sees and understands performance art. Today I'm going to talk to Marina Abramović about her career, her life as art, and her incredible body of work. Marina Abramović, welcome to Design Matters.


Marina Abramović:

Hello.


Debbie Millman:

Marina, I have to confess there was a big part of me that was tempted to sit here staring at you without speaking one word for the duration of our interview, but I decided against it because I have too many questions for you.


Marina Abramović:

But also it'd be interesting how we will do this with radio.


Debbie Millman:

Well, sort of John Cage–like, right? Just an occasional breath or a cough.


Marina Abramović:

I know, but the problem is that John Cage did it already.


Debbie Millman:

Exactly.


Marina Abramović:

We are really forced to do this interview. Real words, real question, real answer.


Debbie Millman:

Yes. When you were 4 years old, you were walking in the forest with your grandmother, and you saw something very strange, a straight line across the road. You were very curious and went over to touch it, which caused your grandmother to scream. Can you talk about what you were mesmerized by, and how that impacted you?


Marina Abramović:

It was one of the first experiences [about] how I confront the fear. But the fear was not the moving object; it was actually a huge snake. It was the scream of the grandmother. So, that fear embodied somehow in my memory because she was afraid of the snake. I didn't know what it was; I didn't have the shared experience. And this is so strange later on thinking about how the children actually get fear from the parents, from the society, from things already experienced, but they didn't have this direct experience themselves. And with my life, it was all about direct experience later on.


Debbie Millman:

I thought it was ironic because the night before you were born, your mother dreamed she was giving birth to a giant snake.


Marina Abramović:

I think the snakes will follow me all the way through, and in a way, later on in my life I was as everybody else, afraid of snakes. So I decide to make the performance by putting five snakes on my body, which is interesting. But snakes, they follow the geotic energy of the Earth. So I was thinking, "What if I'm this Earth, and I will put them on my body, and they will just follow my own energy?" But just before the audience came, the trainer who holds the snakes put a very big boa constrictor around my head and he told me if anything happened, if she fall down or she will go around your neck, please don't change your breathing pattern because she will really struggle at you, and I could not do anything about it because the muscle is so strong. It happened that somehow I moved the head and she really fell under my neck. This is just before public came. And she started really tightening up and of course the panic is natural, kind of, you know [crosstalk].


Debbie Millman:

[crosstalk] a boa constrictor …


Marina Abramović:

Yes, it was.


Debbie Millman:

… constricting on you.


Marina Abramović:

And then he screamed … and he said, "Breathe slowly." It was [an] incredible experience to actually, in panic, calm down and breathe slowly. And I really succeeded. And then she just kind of released slowly because I'm for her the tree, nothing else. But my own fear will actually kill me, so I understood that. And then, then she just went around the body and the public arrived. It was [a] pretty strong experience before even the performance happened.


Debbie Millman:

I believe you also learned how to swim when your father threw you into a lake when you were 6 years old. How did you survive that?


Marina Abramović:

Actually, it was a sea.


Debbie Millman:

The sea, even worse.


Marina Abramović:

My father [taught] me to swim first. I was swimming with my … you know, water just till my knees, so I actually … [inaudible] his opinion I could swim. But I was afraid of the big sea. So he took me on the little rowing boat and in the middle of the sea, he took me like a little doll and just [threw] me into the sea and—


Debbie Millman:

And then rowed away.


Marina Abramović:

And rowed away. Around 100 meters, and I absolutely panicked. I went down under the water and I swallowed the water, and I was drowning. And then I come up again and he didn't look, and I could not believe that my father didn't care that I just [could] die. And I get more water and more panic, and I got so angry. I said, "I don't want to die." And I actually start swimming. And he still didn't turn back, and he heard me coming in. When he heard me coming in, he just extended his arm and just put me into the boat. But you know, I'm still afraid of deep sea.


Debbie Millman:

I can imagine. Do you think he would've left you to die?


Marina Abramović:

I don't know. My parents are both national heroes and [had] been in the war and been so tough. I have no idea. You know how Eskimos, what they do with their children when they're just born? Six, seven months, they make the hole in the water and they put the rope, and if they kid can't hold the rope above the water, it just drowns. And they just, in that way, keep the strongest. I mean, that's pretty brutal selection of nature. So I'm not sure what he [would have done]. I still don't know.


Debbie Millman:

You've written quite a lot about your parents being war heroes. You've written about how they fought against the Nazis with the Yugoslav partisans and how after the war, they became important members of the party with important jobs. Your father was appointed to Marshall Tito's Elite Guard and your mother was the Director of the Museum of Art and Revolution. But Marina, they were also quite brutal with you. You were punished frequently and the punishments were almost always physical. You were hit until you were black and blue. Why did they treat you like this?


Marina Abramović:

My best memories [are] being with my grandmother till I was 6 years old. My grandmother was deeply religious, so I was constantly in the church with her, and my parents [were] like strangers coming to just give me some presents, which I didn't like. And I would give them away because I never played with the objects; I just played with shadows and things like that, and invisible beings. When my brother was born, I was 6 years old, I was brought to my parents’ home. And everything become so brutal and horrible.


Marina Abramović:

I don't remember my mother ever [kissing] me in my entire life. And when I was 35 years old, I [inaudible] my mother and I asked her, "But why [didn’t you ever kiss] me?" She was so surprised with this question. She said, "Of course I didn't kiss you. My mother never kissed me either. Just not to spoil you." But that, not being kissed and loved, actually affected my entire life for a long, long time. This is maybe [the] reason why I never want to have family, never have children. And I really, the whole world, I give the love to my public. That becomes actually … that imaginary mother in a certain way.


Debbie Millman:

Talk about the invisible beings. You've had an extremely spiritual life. You've been trained and have sat with monks and Buddhists, the Dalai Lama. Talk about how these invisible beings have impacted you.


Marina Abramović:

I have to start really from really young childhood. I had this cupboard we called [inaudible], but this is like a deep cupboard that you go in. And I, when it comes to dark, I would … and this invisible being comes out and I will see them. I think this [is] not just something special for me; I think all children do that. All children playing with their teddy bears and the dolls and they become really like real things. And then later on when they grow up, they kind of dismiss the [inaudible]. But that invisible being for me was so real in that time, and also spending my entire time in the church with my grandmother.


Marina Abramović:

I remember [a] really funny story that she would just go and pray and left me just sitting there on the bench, and I remember looking at the people coming to the church and there is a big kind of … can you call, niche with the water. They will always go there and put [their] fingers [in] and cross themselves. And they will go to pray. So I was thinking, "Oh my god, what if I drink all this water? I would become holy." I was like, I don't know, 4 years or 5 years old. So I put a chair there, my grandmother was in the front and didn't see any of this, and I drink all this water. I got so sick. I got diarrhea. I think it was like so many dirty hands there. But anyway, I didn't become holy, but I was always busy with this invisible being with levitation with appearances of strange aliens coming from space.


Marina Abramović:

I have a very strong imagination and I will play with the shadows on the wall, or I will go under the blanket and make shadows myself. But objects never interest me. It was so interesting that also in later life, I find that performance towards the best, because [it] doesn't really require objects. To me, I was always interested in energy.


Debbie Millman:

Do you believe in God?


Marina Abramović:

No. I definitely don't believe in God. I don't believe in kind of God sitting up there with a beard. But I believe in energy. I believe in energy and I believe that certain energy where we don't even understand [it] but [it] can come through us sometimes, which causes [us] to see things, open our intuition. You know, intuition is very important, that kind of gut feeling that comes from nowhere. Sometimes you would just walk in the park not even busy with ideas, and out of nowhere something will come in your mind and say, "Oh my god, this is [the] right thing." You know, that's how Einstein invented relativity theory. He didn't invent it sitting in his laboratory. Just suddenly came from outer space. I believe that the knowledge, which I call this kind of universal knowledge, exists everywhere.


Debbie Millman:

Is that the liquid knowledge?


Marina Abramović:

Yeah, that we actually can tap into that knowledge, which is available. But we have to create stillness in ourselves to be able to get this type of knowledge.


Debbie Millman:

My cousin is a social worker and works quite a lot with children that have been brutalized, and has told me that often children that have been really hurt physically and emotionally often have a very keen sense of perception and intuition because they're constantly on guard around their surroundings to be able to …


Marina Abramović:

That's really interesting.


Debbie Millman:

… perceive what might be a threat. I'm wondering if that early brutalization actually helped to create your really deep sense of the world around you, and people and feelings, and the deep emotional connection that you seem to have with your audience.


Marina Abramović:

I think I was deeply hurt because I was unloved. And then I was actually creating my own world, and that own world was my protection against this other world, which I didn't like and love, and I was afraid of that kind of outside world. So I remember reading books; I was so much reading books. It was, like for me, [a] huge exit to this other world. I remember reading Dostoevsky and not literally coming out of the house till I finished the whole thing, so the reality of the book became more real than real life. I identified with the characters and I would be inside the book.


Marina Abramović:

It's so funny that I still now, even I go to see something which is [a] good movie or good theater piece, I do the same. I have this ability to kind of go in. And when I start teaching, because I've done lots of teaching in different parts of the world, [I’ve] done the same with my students. I will see their world and then I would enter their world, and I can give them the best criticism about their own work without actually putting myself into it. And I was first thinking that it's [a] very important ability to actually get out of yourself, and then go back again.


Debbie Millman:

You said this about your childhood, "I was so ashamed of myself and my family, of the complete lack of love in my household. And that feeling of shame was like hell." Was that what first drew you to art?


Marina Abramović:

You know, I don't know because probably that inner world—first of all, I dreamt a lot. My dreams [were] very vivid. I had dreams in color. I had dreams that I fall in a dream and then I dream in another dream. I remember dreaming the one house that I always go to, and the house is in the forest, and the people there [are] always [the] permanent part, and everybody was happy and they want to see me, and they would be—


Debbie Millman:

[crosstalk] alternative reality.


Marina Abramović:

They will be like [a recurring] dream, or comfort, in different periods of my life. And then, there was a period I didn't have this dream for maybe a year. And then I dreamed again, same house, and I was so happy to go back, but all people got very old and I was still a kid. That's not possible. … You can get old in the dream? I was thinking that dream was like, you know, you never change. And that dream was my big source of material to paint. So, as a young child, I was painting. All what I was painting was my dreams. It was given to me. There was nothing to actually … to look for any other subject. I will go to sleep, and sleep was like work. I dreamed the dream, I wake up, and paint.


Debbie Millman:

You were a very creative child. You also made your own clothes from curtains. Your parents were willing to spend money on paint for you, but not for pretty clothes.


Marina Abramović:

You know, this was so terrible. I never got any presents that I really wanted. I hated my birthdays because as a child, as a young girl, I would love to have something that other children and girls would have, and I [would] never get it. My mother will always give me for [my] birthday flannel pajamas. It was at least three numbers bigger and with horrible prints, and she always said they will shrink when washed, and it never did. I hated it. I hated it so much that it was just never really … I was never really getting something that I really wanted.


Marina Abramović:

And also another thing, whatever my achievement was, even later on—it's really, I achieved a lot in my life. Till my mother got sick and had Alzheimer’s and died, I could never impress her with anything because always somebody was better, and always somebody achieved more. I remember when we [were] like 12 or 14 in the school, my brother was six years younger. If I [got] good notes, my mother [would] go to the professor and [say], "This is not possible. She didn't do anything. You have to question her more." And then of course he would question me more. I [would] get bad notes and she [would] be satisfied—"You see, you didn't work." It was never enough.


Debbie Millman:

After she died and you read her dairies, you were really surprised by her inner life.


Marina Abramović:

Yeah. You know, if I knew one page of her diaries before she died, my relation to her would [have been] totally different. She was [a] very emotionally hurt woman. It was terrible. She was so emotional in her diaries and she was so hardcore outside. And I think that she wanted to make the warrior out of me; she would make the soldier. When I was sleeping in bed, she'd wake me up because my bed was too messy. I mean, in the middle of the sleep [crosstalk].


Debbie Millman:

When you were making … you were moving while you were sleeping.


Marina Abramović:

So now when I go to hotels, I will sleep and people in the morning think that I [wasn’t] even in the room because [I] sleep very straight. I'm so well trained. I just don't move. It's interesting that on the other side, she was so emotional and so hurt, and I think the only way that she [could] make me strong is to be that way.


Marina Abramović:

But you know, looking back now, everything, what happened in my life, I think that what I am now, I actually [would] not want to be any other way, because it's so interesting when you look [at]s the art and artists and art history. You know, artists suffer a lot in their life. Nobody make anything from happiness. Happiness is a state that you just like to be in [inaudible] to change. Actually, happiness leads you to laziness. And laziness … and actually suffering is a creative process. Depression is a sickness, that's something else, and it should be treated. But the suffering is like a teacher. You learn and then you …


Marina Abramović:

In my work, every kind of work I've been doing is really about transformation of one state to another state and learning all the process. And now, this year, now in November, I'm 71, and I say, "I will never want to go back [to] when I was 20, or 30, 40. It was so much suffering." Now I really know things. You become wise and can enjoy life so much more.


Debbie Millman:

I was recently reading an article that Seth Godin pointed me to about the difference between happiness and pleasure. The article stated that with pleasure, we just want more and more and more and more. We just can't enough. We want more pleasure, more pleasure. But happiness is actually when you feel like you have enough.


Marina Abramović:

Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

I thought that was pretty profound because I think we're all actually chasing pleasure in the guise of happiness.


Marina Abramović:

But again, to think about Buddhists, especially Tibetans, which I really can relate a lot, you're attached to happiness. But happiness is not permanent, like everything is impermanent. And then, you stop the happiness, you have the suffering, and then comes happiness and you suffer. So it's like endless attachment to one or another. It's important that things, you take how temporary they are and don't actually attach to any of this.


Marina Abramović:

You know, I was in India somewhere. I have this philosopher, which I like very much, and he wrote some beautiful books. Every time I travel in India, I see him in ashrams, like Krishnamurti or this ashram. He's always traveling. And then one day I wanted to send him something, the book of mine. And I said to him, "Can you give me your permanent address?" He looked at me so surprised and said, "How?" You know, to send the book. He said, "How can I give you [a] permanent address when I'm impermanent?" And I said, "That's a good point."


Debbie Millman:

Well, impermanence sort of brings me back to your first art lesson. You received your first painting lesson from the artist Filo Filipovic.


Marina Abramović:

Perfect pronunciation, congratulations.


Debbie Millman:

Thank you, I've been practicing. He was one of your father's friends. Can you share what happened in that first lesson for our listeners?


Marina Abramović:

Filo Filipovic was actually a soldier in my father battalion, and so when war stopped, he become [an] abstract painter. … When I was 14, I wanted to have oil painting because I was just doing watercolors and crayons. But oil was like, "Oh my god. This is like another step to be [a] serious painter." So I asked my father, "This is my wish for [my] birthday," apart to the big pajama who never shrink, that's always there. But apart to this. So, he called his friend that time and said, "She wants that. I don't know where to go, what to buy."


Marina Abramović:

So he came with us to shop. We got all these boxes of paint and canvases and lots of stuff. And I had a little room in the house where I called my studio. He gave me his first lesson. So he takes the canvas, but he didn't put the canvas on the frame. He just cut it irregularly and put [it] on the floor. And then—remember he was [an] abstract painter. So he takes the one can and puts some glue on, just kind of spread over it, and then on the [inaudible] of the top of the glue, some cement from another can. And then he put red pigment and yellow pigments, a little bit of blue, some white. And then he spread turpentine over all the stuff, takes the match, put [it] on this whole thing, and everything explodes. Literally exploded in my front of my eyes. And he looked at it, he said, "OK, this is sunset." And he left.


Marina Abramović:

This is the first painting lesson. I was 14. This is very impressive for me. So I didn't know what to do, so I couldn't even move because I was in the middle of the room. I wait for a few weeks to get all thing dry, and then very carefully I just painted and put it with four nails on my wall. By that time, it was August and I went with my parents [on] vacation. And I came back and you know, there was a window on the opposite side of the room. It was actually getting straight light into the … and sun, to the painting, so that everything with glue just melted, and it was a pile of dust on the floor. Nothing was left.


Marina Abramović:

Later on, thinking about [that] first lesson, it was so important for me because I was thinking really about process in performance was more important than actually ending the piece. Ending, it was not about result; it was about the process. And then thinking about Yves Klein, who talked about that his painting was just ashes of his art. And talking to Jackson Pollock who, actually, when his diaries, he said when he ... in his mind, he was doing figurative painting because he was putting paint in the air with a gesture, or making words and making figures. But only when they fall down, they become abstract. So this whole thing, that lesson, kind of opened completely another world because it was not traditional in any way. But then I went to Academy, traditional, I have to paint, you know, the still lifes and models and everything else.


Debbie Millman:

You're quite a good painter.


Marina Abramović:

Yeah. Actually, I painted a lot in those days, and I was completely inside the painting till one day, I stopped.


Debbie Millman:

As you were continuing to paint on your own, you had an experience that changed your approach to making art forever. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about this story of seeing the 12 military jets and how that resulted in your future realizations about what art could and should be.


Marina Abramović:

… In the beginning, very young, I painted my dreams. And at first exhibition, I was 14, and I was so jealous of Mozart who started at 7, and I was already 14 and said, "Oh my god."


Debbie Millman:

Competitive even then, Marina, huh?


Marina Abramović:

Yeah. I just kind of could not take it, but you know, it's better early than never. And then after the dreams, I started painting the truck accidents. And then after this, I turned from looking to the ground, into the sky, and I would start painting clouds. And then I developed all this kind of theory about the clouds, like clouds who are coming, clouds who are disappearing, clouds who were hitting the human bodies, black holes, projection of shadows, so the clouds and so on. So it was just all universe in the sky.


Marina Abramović:

One day I was lying on the field and just looking at the sky, and just always studying clouds. But this particular moment, there was [a] completely blue sky; there was nothing at all. And … there arrived out of nowhere 12 ultrasonic military planes. And with such a force, and they create this … you know, how the air passes. They create this drawing in the sky. It was fascinating. I was looking at this drawing and in the front of my eyes, this drawing was disappearing and become blue sky again. I think I had some kind of realization in that moment, really. I stood up from this grass and I said to myself, "I will never go to [the] studio again. I will never paint again. I will never do something which is two-dimensional." An entire world opened to me.


Marina Abramović:

You know, being an artist, you can make things from anything. You can make things from dust. You have this miracle, possibilities. I can use my body. I can use the fire, the air, the planes, you know, whatever. So I went immediately to the military base and asked there the major if he [could] give me 12 planes to paint my drawings in the sky. He called immediately my father and said, "Your daughter is insane. And you know how much [it would] cost for me to [inaudible]?" So they threw me away.


Marina Abramović:

And then from that point, I start thinking of projects; most I couldn't realize, some I did. And that actually was abstract. It was not anymore involving the canvas or paint. It was really working with sound. I remember one project that I wanted to put big speakers on the bridge with the bridge collapsing. The idea was he was standing on the bridge, visually you see him, with sound the bridge [doesn’t] exist. Again, I have to go to City Hall to ask for permission. Again, they throw me out because they say from vibration, the bridge actually can really fall. So this was not possible.


Marina Abramović:

Then I put the speakers on [a] house where I live. That was only for a few minutes because the people who live in the other floors run out thinking there was bombing or something, so it was a really big scandal. It was difficult.


Debbie Millman:

You also did one with recording a loop playing the same airport announcements over and over. I thought that was ironic given that at that point in your life, you hadn't really traveled much, but were recording airport announcements.


Marina Abramović:

You know, at that time in ex-Yugoslavia, you could travel. It was not [a] politically closed country at all; we were socialist by that time. But we didn't have any penny to travel; we didn't have money to travel at all. So we had [a] passport without money, so it was useless. So I had this [inaudible] central place where we will come, the students, to go to see the films, to read the books, to have a coffee, just kind of big hall. And I was saying, "Okay, if we can't travel physically, we can travel mentally." So I put the speakers there in this huge hall. Every three minutes, [inaudible] announcement saying—you know, in that time, our airport had three gates, so my announcement was like that. It said, "Please, the passengers of the Yugoslav airline JAT have to go immediately to the Gate 347." And the plane is leaving to Tokyo, Beijing, and Hong Kong. I mean, Hong Kong was like wow.


Debbie Millman:

You really got [crosstalk].


Marina Abramović:

So everybody who was sitting there for any other reason became this imaginary passenger on this trip. So this was the way to leave.


Debbie Millman:

You studied with the painter Krsto Hegedušić?


Marina Abramović:

That's really badly pronounced. Let me try to tell you. Krsto Hegedušić. Difficult, these Slavic names, you know.


Debbie Millman:

I tried. And he felt that if you're a good artist, you might have one good idea. But if you're a genius, you might have two. Period. And you think he was right and have said that you've had only one good idea. Which idea was that?


Marina Abramović:

One good idea is really working with my own body, because the body is universe. Everything, what we have in the body, is the microcosms, and everything reflected to macrocosms. So, it's such a huge research. You know, that we think that we know … that we use 30% of [the] brain, but I talked to some scientists recently and they said it's completely not true. We use just 12%.


Debbie Millman:

Really?


Marina Abramović:

Yeah. And the rest is completely unknown territory. So there's so much to do with the body, so that was mine. But he also said one more thing that I really loved, Krsto Hegedušić. He said to me, "If you're drawing with your right hand and you become better and better and better, that you can even when you close [your] eyes, just do whatever you want with right hand, immediately change to the left," because that's the danger of repetition. You start with something that you know so well, so you stop learning. And you stop risking, going to different territory. And I think for an artist, it's very important—failure. Failure is such a great territory to learn because if you don't risk, you will never go anywhere. But risk, you can fail. So to include failure in your own process of work, it's essential.


Debbie Millman:

Repetition figures prominently in the engagement of your work. You're not doing the same thing from project to project, but you're often examining body slapping towards each other or into each other, or staring at someone over and over. Talk about what that means, these long durational projects that you do, what your emotional and spiritual experience is as you go through those durations or those repetitions.


Marina Abramović:

There are two different questions here. Let's say when you give [the] example of slapping or screaming, that's actually we are going to the physical limits there. They're mostly not long because you go until you can—I don't know, you can go 30 minutes or 40 or one hour, and then you just physically can't. But the [inaudible] who involve the mental kind of exercises, like the one where The Artist is Present, this takes much longer and this takes a long period of time, like three months. When you take that kind of experience, then performers stop being performers, because you can't pretend anymore. Even in one hour, you can still pretend, but three months and everything drop down, so that performance becomes life itself. And when performers become life itself, then you really deal with the truth, with the reality here and now. And this is so essential. So later on, to me, long durational performances are absolutely the most important transformative kind of material to think about.


Marina Abramović:

But now, what I'm more and more thinking, that actually it's not enough that [the] public is just observing and being, you know, looking at … [the] public [has] to be part of something. And then after that, [inaudible] is present, I create this all new set of work, which I call Abramović Method, which I have to give the public the tools that actually can go with their own experience. This is essential because then only they can understand this long duration.


Marina Abramović:

How [can] the public without being prepared see something which is almost nothing? You know, what you see, two people sitting, or you see maybe light passing, shadow, and the night is coming. It's very simple. How you can kind of connect with that kind of time? Only if you understand your consciousness, your pattern of breathing, and stillness. So you have to get into the stillness in order to understand stillness.


Debbie Millman:

You've written about the artist Bruce Nauman's statement that art is a matter of life and death, and then stated that this is exactly how it was for you. Even at the beginning, art was life and death. There was nothing else. You considered it very serious and very necessary. At that time, did you feel that you had to sacrifice anything to pursue the life of an artist?


Marina Abramović:

I felt that I had to sacrifice absolutely everything. And just to [inaudible] to Bruce Nauman, he said, really, I'm going to tell you exactly. He said, "Art is the question of life and death." Maybe sounds melodramatic, but is also true. Yes, sounds melodramatic, [inaudible] all my life, and in those big words. But when you take that serious, then really you get to some point of experience and transformation, because the performance is about transformation.


Marina Abramović:

You go through the transformation that when you started, you're in one state of mind. When you finish it, something else happens. But if you're really there with your body and your mind. Because you know, you can stand in the front of the public with your body and your mind is in, I don't know, Honolulu. And [the] public [will] feel this. [The] public feels the fear, feels insecurity, feels when you're not there. So you have, and [the] public, have to actually be there in the same time, in the same space, and to create this energy dialog. [The] public and the performer complete the work. Performer without [the] public does nothing. Nothing's happening.


Marina Abramović:

When I was 7, Martha Graham said one thing that I always liked. She said, "Wherever dancers dance is the holy ground." And I changed it to something else. I said … that wherever [the] public stands for me is the holy ground, because every single person in the public is important. Even if I do the lecture and I'm talking and I see somebody leave, maybe just go to the toilet, I have to see if you come back. If you didn't come back, something energetically I'm doing wrong. You have to [inaudible]. That's what it's all about.


Debbie Millman:

I'd like to talk with you about some of your early performance pieces, but before we go into specific pieces, I saw a lecture of yours where you shared what your definition of performance art is, and I was wondering if you can share that with our listeners.


Marina Abramović:

So, if you ask many artists, many artists will tell [you] different things. It's so interesting that so many artists told me when they're performing, they don't even see the public, they don't feel [the] public, they don't … you know, they're just into their own world. In my case, it's totally different. I could never do performance at home because … I also never rehearse my performances. If I rehearsed any of them, I [would] never do it because they're bloody complicated and difficult, and I don't like pain anyway. At home, I do anything with this, you know, I don't like. But what you need, when you've had the concept, you have to count on [the] energy of the audience who give to you in order to push your limits much further. Same with [a] rock concert. You have this incredible energy which the audience gives to the singer, and then he can [perform at] his best. Same with performers.


Marina Abramović:

So for me, [the] definition of performance is mental and physical structure which you create in specific time and specific place, when energy dialog happens. You have to determine that this is the space, and I'm going to be there one month. So whatever happen [in] this period, outside of this, it's not your control. You are there no matter what. But if [inaudible], if the electricity stopped, if a tsunami happened, whatever, it's a part of the work. You can't predict it. But you have to be there. That's it.


Debbie Millman:

Rhythm 10 was first performed in Edinburgh in 1973, and was based on a drinking game played by Russian and Yugoslav peasants. Of your piece, you spread out your fingers on a white piece of paper and stabbed a knife down as quickly as possible in the spaces between your fingers. Every time you cut yourself, you picked up another of one of your 10 knives and repeated the routine. You taped your [inaudible] as you cut yourself. And when you were finished with all 10 knives, you replayed the tape and started the routine again, trying to nick yourself in time with the previous accidents. You said that you were terrified beforehand, but the second you began, your fear evaporated. Marina, how did that happen? How were you feeling as you did this piece?


Marina Abramović:

It was [a] completely crazy idea, you know. I'm young, we're talking 20, 21, you know, 19. I'm doing this very young, very dedicated. My idea was how you can put time present and time past with the mistake together.


Marina Abramović:

And then when I … actually I only missed twice, and I taped everything on the tape recorder. I left [the] tape recorder with this double sound as the only reminder of installation. So, that's about the piece, and it's called Rhythm 10.


Marina Abramović:

But you know, for me, every time before I do anything, it can be [a] lecture, it can be any kind of public event or performance, I'm terrified. I have always this feeling in the stomach. I mostly go to the toilet and sit there for a while; I just feel secure in the bathroom. But you know, it's [a] feeling of … I don't know, of nervousness. And the moment I come in front of the public, magically it disappears. But if I don't feel nervous, I would be panicking—why I'm not feeling nervous, because then something is wrong. I feel that. It never stopped. Even now … especially the public talks, and I'm talking, if the lecture is 3,000 people, it's kind of lots of people, and I'm terrified. But the second I'm there, it's gone. Gone, gone, gone. And then some kind of other energy takes place.


Marina Abramović:

It's another important thing not to prepare. The problem is repetition with artists, when you get really lazy and become repeating the same thing, blah, blah, blah, again. And [a] really important thing is that you always remember to surprise yourself. Nevermind the public. But yourself, you have to surprise. So for me, my best talks are when I'm not prepared at all. I stand in front of the public and I feel … I just [am] silent. And then somehow, that energy comes into me and just happens.


Marina Abramović:

One of the best conversations I had recently was with Laurie Anderson. We had lunch before and I said, "What are we going to do?" I said, "OK, [these are] our rules. Don't have any subject talk. Don't prepare any visuals. And don't know what's going to happen, except perfection." So we went there, two of us, and the public was there, and we say … we start like this: "[Are there] any questions?" From the questions to the public, became the talk. It becomes so organic, so natural. That's what is interesting for me, that kind of unpredicted moment that actually your life, you're not kind of trained over and over to repeat your story.


Debbie Millman:

It requires faith though when showing up.


Marina Abramović:

But also age.


Debbie Millman:

That helps.


Marina Abramović:

[inaudible.]


Debbie Millman:

You know you can rely on yourself after a certain point.


Marina Abramović:

But you know, it's interesting when you're [a] young artist. You are so afraid of this kind of thing that you don't have props. Young artists need so much stuff around them. They need all projections, and I'm using this and other friends, and whatever. And it's mostly mess. But when you start removing everything and it's just you and the public, that's when magic happens because performance is time-based art. You have to be there to accept it, but also it's [an] immaterial form of art. For me, always the music is the absolutely highest form of art because it's nothing; the sound goes through you. Second is performance, and then everything else.


Debbie Millman:

One of your next pieces where you actually did have a number of props was Rhythm 0, which you performed.


Marina Abramović:

Yes, but this is … we're talking '74.


Debbie Millman:

Absolutely, in 1974.


Marina Abramović:

This is [a] young, unsecure artist.


Debbie Millman:

Well, this is an incredible piece. You placed 72 objects on a table, including a rose, a razor, a pistol with a solitary bullet in it, a real bullet, and you invited the audience to do whatever they wanted to you over the following six hours. They started out rather kind and then became crueler. Can you talk a little bit about what happened?


Marina Abramović:

First of all, it's very important why I did this. Every performance [has] reason. In that time, we're talking early '70s, performance was not seen as any part of art. This was actually crucified. They were saying we are masochists, we are sadists.


Debbie Millman:

People thought you needed to be put in a psychiatric hospital.


Marina Abramović:

Exactly. And it's totally dismissing as any work. And then I was thinking, OK, if this is a kind of opinion of the public, general opinion of the people, what if I put these objects on a table for pleasure, but you know, I put a rose, I put a shawl, I put beautiful things, too. And then I put the chains and saw and needles and knives and real bullet with real pistol. I had the little text on the table saying, "I'm an object. You can do anything on me." It was, if you want—including killing me—using all objects. And for six hours. So, I give them permission basically to use anything. And I am not doing anything. I'm dressed and I'm standing there. So, I'm not [a] masochist, I'm not [a] sadist. I'm not doing anything. I'm just [an] artist standing there, and seeing if you give complete freedom to the public, what will happen.


Marina Abramović:

After this performance, I knew one thing: that the public can kill you. I will never kill myself; I know what is my limit and I don't want to kill … I love my life very much. But the public can kill you. This is so important. But also I learned from this performance one more thing: If you give the tools for the public to bring the spirit down, they will use it. But you also can give the tools to the public to lift the spirit, which took me 25 years to learn, [inaudible] Artist is Present. [inaudible] just a chair. That spirit went somewhere else. But this was 25 years between these two pieces that I learned that lesson.


Debbie Millman:

Were you surprised at the time how cruel people could be? I mean, they ripped your clothing, they scratched you. You nearly got shot. If somebody hadn't interfered, you very likely would have gotten shot. Somebody pulled the gun away from the man that put it to your forehead.


Marina Abramović:

Yes. I prepared for this performance to be completely without will, which is not easy. Six hours, if you put my hand up, I will leave my hand up. If you, whatever you do, they will carry me around, they will put me on the table, put [a] knife between my legs. It was so scary. All I have to do is to just look in one point somewhere far away between all this public, and just be there, like, I am at their total disposal.


Marina Abramović:

But after six hours, when they passed, and the gallerist came and said, "Time is over," it was 2 in the morning and I start walking to them. I was half naked, I was full of blood. There [were] people … they give me [the] rose, but then they cut the … with knives, the clothes, and then they [tore the] thorns through the rose in my body. Then one cut, I still have scarring, drink my blood. It was unspeakable what people can do.


Marina Abramović:

And also it was very important that the time [was six hours], because if I give them one hour, that would be just OK. But six hours, people start to kind of open more and more and more, and midnight passed, and then [things] become very, very difficult. One reason I was not raped, because it was a normal gallery opening, and peoples coming with their wives. And it was like—


Debbie Millman:

Do you think if the wives weren't there, you would've gotten raped?


Marina Abramović:

Probably. What was very interesting also, the [women were] not touching me, but they would tell men what to do to me, which was very, very scary too. But one thing, what happened when six hours [had] passed and the gallerist came and said to me, "Now, it's finished." So, I become me, and I start walking to them. And I was hell, a mess. And they start running. The people literally run out the gallery, and then—


Debbie Millman:

They couldn't face you.


Marina Abramović:

And then when I become [a] normal human being, and then when they … you know, the next day, they will call, they'll apologize, they don't know what happened and so on. And I remember coming to the hotel and looking [at] myself in the mirror and I had a big piece of gray hair just overnight.


Debbie Millman:

Your hair went gray. I saw pictures of you after that performance and you looked absolutely emotionally shattered.


Marina Abramović:

It was amazing. [An] amazing experience. And you know, I will never try that. This is why I could never rehearse my performances. I have only concept. And I never know how it'll finish and what … and I have the … I always have the timing. I have five hours, six hours, three hours, one hour; I always fix the timing. Only in early performances, when I deal with pain, I could not fix [the] timing because I will, like screaming, slapping, [inaudible]. We will know how far we go because we didn't know the limits. But I will never repeat that because I could never repeat in real life any of this. But energy of the public is essential.


Debbie Millman:

How were you able to manage your pain until you reached the … so much pain, there is no pain threshold.


Marina Abramović:

By experiencing, to stage pain, in front of [an] audience, and to go through painful experience. You become a mirror to the public. So, if I have courage to do this, then you have the courage to deal with your own life, so that was also the concept, an idea. And the concept is not like kind of stupid masochism; the concept was to get rid of fear of pain, which I really succeeded. So, I understand pain and I can get rid of fear of pain—then anybody else can too, so it's actually inspirational.


Debbie Millman:

You mentioned Ulay. In 1976, you met Ulay on a trip to Amsterdam and fell madly, passionately in love, and together you created the relation, works, art, vital manifesto which stated: art vital, no fixed living space, permanent movement, direct contact, local relation, self-selection, passing limitations, taking risks, mobile energy. What were you seeking to do together at that time?


Marina Abramović:

You know, in my own world, I came kind of to the limit of how I used my body. So, I met this man who I met on my birthday, and he said—


Debbie Millman:

You have the same birthday.


Marina Abramović:

So it was his birthday. I said, "Wow." So we both had [the] same birthday. We fall in love. And we spent 12 years living together. One important thing, we would become [these] modern nomads. We live in the car because we didn't have money. Performance was not ... you're mostly not ever paid. That they pay you for food and accommodation is something. So, it was nothing. It was park the car somewhere in the mountains and wake up [at] 5 in the morning and milk the sheep, and then the—


Debbie Millman:

[crosstalk] cheese and—


Marina Abramović:

And with the cheese, the peasants will give us the cheese and sausage and bread, and we'll knit all our clothes and stuff like that. It was really [a] romantic and incredibly beautiful time. It was one of the times I will never forget. And then we were just doing the work. It was just love and doing what you want to do regardless [of] every other concessions to the art market or anything. This was really absolutely no compromise in any way.


Debbie Millman:

I love that in the van you had a sign that said “Art is Easy.”


Marina Abramović:

This was the absolutely sarcastic remark; that's not easy.


Debbie Millman:

Some of your work together included screaming at each other until you lost your voices, sitting in silence for hours or days at a time slapping each other over and over. In your piece Rest Easy, you held a massive bow and he pulled an arrow pointed at your heart, and the piece lasted 4 minutes and 20 seconds. One false move, and again, you could've died. You said that in your artistic partnership, you were trying to leave ego behind, to leave masculinity and femininity behind, and to meld into a third party, which to you seemed like the highest form of art. Do you think control figured into any of the work?


Marina Abramović:

Yeah, of course, but it was the most important when we got together and started working. As I said, I can't really … I was like really going to the limit of my own work. And getting together, that was like this whole new energy. How two people can produce, one male and one female, work that actually doesn't involve ego, and we melded something that we always, you know, [inaudible] by two names, and we never actually revealed who had the idea because it didn't matter anymore. It was just unity. It was really strong and I [will] always believe that two people can do more than one.


Marina Abramović:

So when our relationship started falling apart, I hide from the world for three years. Nine years it was incredible, and three years it was not. And I could not fail, actually face the failure. I could not face to say to even to my most intimate friends, "It's not working." We pretended it was working and then finally it fall apart in Great Wall of China.


Debbie Millman:

On part of the walk on the Great Wall of China, you had to pass through 12 provinces that were forbidden by foreigners. There were areas that were polluted by radioactivity. You've written about how you saw people tied to trees and left out to die as a form of punishment. You saw wolves eating corpses. This was a China nobody wanted to see, yet you were seeing it. Between that and the realization you were walking towards Ulay on this wall, and at which point when you met your relationship would be over, it must’ve been unbearably sad.


Marina Abramović:

It was.


Debbie Millman:

Unbearably sad.


Marina Abramović:

It was really sad and you know that later on I made this theater piece, Life & Death of Marina Abramović, with Bob Wilson, [with] Willem Dafoe playing my father.


Debbie Millman:

I saw it, it's incredible, an incredible piece.


Marina Abramović:

Ulay saw [it] and in one point, he said, "I can't understand why [you] could not just make [a] phone call saying it's over."


Debbie Millman:

[inaudible] see each other.


Marina Abramović:

But I said, "Oh my god, never even crossed my mind." I think that the relationship was so intense that also separation [had] to be so intense, so the Great Wall was like, way to go.


Debbie Millman:

After you and Ulay separated, you wrote how you felt fat, ugly and unwanted.


Marina Abramović:

Well, before this, I just want to tell you that we walked two and a half thousand kilometers.


Debbie Millman:

He had the easier walk, by the way.


Marina Abramović:

But this was not the … we chose that way. This was not that he chose [the] easy way. You know, the Great Wall of China starts in [the] Yellow Sea and finishes in [the] Gobi Desert. So we made this, the vision of male and female. So the female is the water, I start from the water. And the fire is the male, so he starts from the desert. It happened that from the water, I got all the mountains and he got all flat land, so that happened.


Debbie Millman:

It wasn't very fair.


Marina Abramović:

And then we meet in the middle and that was the story.


Debbie Millman:

How did you recover?


Marina Abramović:

It was [a] very difficult moment in my life because before, I always go back to my art. But this time, art was together. So, it was, “I have to reinvent everything.” Literally, to reinvent everything. The one thing that helped me is to make theater, the piece about … from my life. Because I was thinking, "What if I paid the theater?" that I actually stage my life so that I can make some kind of … the vision between me playing the life, and I [inaudible] that playing my life I can liberate myself. It was better than psychotherapy. And I hate psychotherapy, so I never do [it]. So, this was really important. And actually, I did this, and [it] really, really worked.


Marina Abramović:

For the first biography, which I did because I made six of them, I actually staged also the moment of saying bye to Ulay. … And somehow I see him as a theater piece. It was very interesting because in [the] early '70s, I hated theater. Theater was the biggest enemy. Theater was people sitting in the dark; the actresses are playing something which is not real.


Debbie Millman:

The blood is ketchup.


Marina Abramović:

The blood is ketchup, the knife is not a knife. I mean, all this stuff, it was fake. But this time, I developed my own language with performance, so I was OK with theater. You know, first you have to hate your parents in order to become independent, so it's the same with theater. Now, theater, I love theater; it's all OK. And then I was thinking, "Theater is [the] way to go," so I actually … also in the piece, Ulay was played by his son, who he didn't even tell me existed all this time when we [were] together; the second son. And he looked exactly like Ulay when I met him. So, it was like some kind of mixture of theater and real life and real drama staged in the theater context.


Debbie Millman:

You have very candidly stated that you seemed to always be trying to prove to everyone that you can go it alone, that you can survive, that you don't need anybody. And you go on to state that this is also a curse because you're always doing so much and at times, too much. And because you have so often been left alone and without love. Do you still feel that way?


Marina Abramović:

I just fell in love recently. But you know, it's, somehow, there're lots of wrong men in my life. It looks like I really—


Debbie Millman:

[crosstalk] I understand.


Marina Abramović:

I always get guys with trouble and it's like, "Oh my god." Then I have to save them or something, and it's so bullshit and … and then I, you know.


Debbie Millman:

You've saved a lot of men.


Marina Abramović:

And then I follow this pattern, you know, it's so important to … you know what is very important? How we choose the people. We choose them by their look, but we don't choose them by their … what they're really, by the content. You know, there was a—I just want to tell you one funny experiment. In Germany, I don't know, 10 years ago, I was reading Der Spiegel magazine. They took 30 men and 30 women, and they put them in two separate places. They undressed them naked. They blindfold them and they put them together. And they have to do, to touch each other and kiss, that's all. But they have to form the couples by the feeling without seeing.


Debbie Millman:

It's terrifying.


Marina Abramović:

And then they took the blindfolds off, and [the] experiment was incredible. 98% [would not have been the other’s] visual choice.


Debbie Millman:

Wow. So what do you think that means?


Marina Abramović:

That means that we never listen to the body. Body, it has its own knowledge, and is incredible [inaudible]. We go for the visual and we go to the brain, we're so fucked up generally, and we don't go for the body. Body tells everything. The body creates chemicals which are really the pull of attraction. So, this time I really went right, I think.


Debbie Millman:

I'm so happy for you. I was so struck by how you realized you didn't love Ulay anymore when you no longer liked his smell.


Marina Abramović:

That's it. When you stop liking the smell. You see, that's … the body is talking. We never pay attention. Bodies have this incredible wisdom.


Debbie Millman:

I'm so happy that you're in love again. In 2010, you created The Artist Is Present in the atrium at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where, in every day for three months, you sat facing people for eight hours a day without moving, speaking, eating or going to the bathroom. How did you mentally and physically prepare for this?


Marina Abramović:

I took one year. It's like preparing for the NASA program to go to space or something. I really took it seriously; it took me one year. One important thing was how you can change [the] metabolism of your body. I literally for one entire year had breakfast in the same time, which was 7 in the morning, and never had lunch. I never [took] any water till in the evening. And then [at] night, [I drank] the water. So that was very important because if I was sitting in the MoMA at lunchtime, your body automatically produces acids, and if you don't take the food, your blood sugar goes down and you feel sick.


Debbie Millman:

[crosstalk] yeah.


Marina Abramović:

You get [a] headache and it's all the problem. It was very difficult for me not drinking the water, drinking by night because by night, I was so exhausted from the sitting. Because it's eight hours a day and 10 hours on—


Debbie Millman:

10 on Saturday.


Marina Abramović:

10. No, Fridays.


Debbie Millman:

Friday.


Marina Abramović:

So Fridays is 10. And I made this terrible mistake by not putting the arm on the chair …


Debbie Millman:

Arms.


Marina Abramović:

… so that all my body sinks in and my ribs go into the stomach and it's so hurting. But I understood that problem with arm [inaudible] the second day, but I was too proud to change.


Debbie Millman:

I know, and I saw. I looked at all the ways that you … when you and Ulay were sitting face to face [crosstalk].


Debbie Millman:

[crosstalk] always arms on the chairs.


Marina Abramović:

And I didn't want to because it looked aesthetically better. But then I was too proud to change, and it killed me.


Really, this was killing me. But then, you're so exhausted. I mean, you have pain all over. And then in the night, you have to have enough sleep and drink water all the time because it's the only time you drink the water. And you know, I never peed, actually.


Debbie Millman:

People were questioning did you have a trap door or—


Marina Abramović:

And also, I did … I built it, but then after [the] second day, I just put a pillow because I knew I [would] never [use] it. Really, it's something that [the] body [can] just switch off. So that was the …


Debbie Millman:

Why did you take the table away? Initially there was a table between you and the people that were sitting across from you.


Marina Abramović:

You know, first, there was three months, and I had three dresses. I took a blue dress, which somebody made for me but I designed. So, first the blue dress was to calm me down. The second month was [the] red dress to really give me energy. And the third month was [the] white dress, so purity and calmness. And I wanted to have [a] very formal situation; you know, table, two chairs.


Marina Abramović:

But then the second months came the man with [the] wheelchair. They moved the chair to put the wheelchair. And because of table, I could not see even this man at their legs, what happened. It was something that I understood that I actually don't have full contact because of the table. And then it took me all these two months to realize this. And then on the third month, when we finished [the] second month, I asked to remove the table, which security [inaudible] didn't want because it was a kind of buffer before me and [the] audience; there was always freaking out about security. I didn't care; I wanted it to be removed. And that moment, they removed [it]. That month, was for me, [when the] performance took off completely to another level.


Debbie Millman:

850,000 people stood in the atrium at MoMA; 17,000 on the final day alone. And you were there for everyone, whether they sat with you or not. I was there. It was an extraordinary thing to observe. The people sitting across from you, you were often visibly moved. From the beginning, people were in tears. Do you feel like you became a sort of mirror? What opened peoples' hearts as they were sitting across from you?


Marina Abramović:

You know, this whole thing is … I was thinking so much [about] what happened [with] this piece because when I told it to Klaus Biesenbach, the curator, that I will do this work, because he actually gave the title to [the] exhibition, Artist Is Present. And he said, "I wanted to have all the work which you're present, performance video or photography." Fine. But when he said that to me, it was so natural that I should be present there too. And he said to me, "But you know this is museum. This is MoMA, and New York people don't have time. Probably the chair will be empty most of the time." I said, "Don't care. I will just be there." And I was thinking if I did this piece maybe 10 or 15 years earlier, I really believe that [inaudible] chair would be empty.


Debbie Millman:

Really?


Marina Abramović:

You know why? The time is different. I think that because of technology, because [of] how we developed ourselves, that we depend so much on the gadgets that people don't … even relationships, the young couple will text messages but they will not see each other. Something happened with human contact, and I think that actually the public never have more need to be part of something and to have the time to actually experience what they experience with themselves. Like now, we are facing enormous loneliness and pain, and it's so difficult, you know, and I never saw so much pain in my life than just looking at people and what they're bringing me. But I was there, vulnerable. I was there all the time, unconditionally [giving] them love, and they could take as much time [as] they wanted. And that was essential. This was something that we'll need now. So I understood that actually you don't need … in the museum, you just look at something. But I think we need to be part of something.


Debbie Millman:

To connect.


Marina Abramović:

And that's happened. So here, it was interesting because [the] audience was one to one, but also all the rest, the waiting was part of the piece too. Sleeping hours, it was part [of] it; the commitment was part of the work.


Debbie Millman:

While you were doing the show, scientists in the United States and Russia became interested in what you were doing and wanted to test the patterns in brain waves triggered by mutual gazing and found that your brain waves with your seated guests were syncing up and making identical patterns. Did that surprise you?


Marina Abramović:

You know, this was all [a] new thing for me, that I can see how that actually the different centers of the brain develop. And this, which is the most amazing conclusion—that in total silence, looking [at a] stranger who you never speak one word [to], the subconscious brain work in incredibly … like with full speed, that actually you can understand that person so much more than talking. Talking is like you're actually pretending or you're trying to make [an] impression, but you just … eyes are the real doors of the soul in the real sense. And it's incredible what happened there. You know, total stranger, unconditional love. That's the key. And long duration.


Debbie Millman:

I read that one thing you were very proud of was that you mastered the art of not sneezing.


Marina Abramović:

Oh yes.


Debbie Millman:

How did you do that?


Marina Abramović:

This was something because there's dust. Lots of dust. And there's moments of … that you really [feel you’re] going to burst sneezing. And then you have to slow your breathing to almost zero. And then you pass that point, which is so incredible and difficult.


Debbie Millman:

I have two last questions for you, Marina. The first is, you said it's crucial to include death in your life now, and you think about death every single day. I believe that inspired your thinking about the three Marinas. Can you describe who the three Marinas are?


Marina Abramović:

Before this, I want to just tell you that you know how when you develop yourself and start thinking about you as a persona, and also in relation to the public. So often, you actually make one image to the public and then you have to try to keep that image, and somehow that's the image the public gets. But in [the] meantime you develop other things because we are so full of contradictions. Every human being has contradictions, but we are ashamed to expose them.


Debbie Millman:

Why? Why do you think that is?


Marina Abramović:

That's human nature; nothing we can do about it. And I was thinking how I can expose, especially when I started my theater piece. How we can expose things that I'm ashamed of to the public and share this with them? This is incredible liberation if you can do that. And then I start seeing, well, there's three Marinas I have in myself, that I like to show to the public and not to be ashamed of them, and they have to take it.


Marina Abramović:

So, the one is this heroic Marina, really like, "I'm feeling like [a] warrior. I can go through the walls." Like, my book is called Walking Through the Walls, because I never stop in front of the wall. I just see the wall, get through. That's it. And then it's [the] next wall and so on.


Marina Abramović:

And then this is the other one, who is very spiritual, really spiritual, who goes to the retreats, long time in the forest and do kind of things, who I really, you know, the … lots of restrictions, you know, not eating for [a] long period of time, not talking, and so on.


Marina Abramović:

And then comes the bullshit one. Oh, this one is a big deal. The one who really everybody tries to hide and we all have the bullshit one, who loves to … you know, if you give me a box of chocolate, I eat all of this; not one. [crosstalk] Like bad movies and shitty gossip stories, will go to [the] hairdresser. I read all the Peoplemagazines and every gossip you possibly sell. You know, all these things that you love, fashion, clothes, and you like this and …


Marina Abramović:

You know, all the stuff that you actually, as a heroic Marina, you don't want to admit, but I like all three of them. This one will ask me in the beginning of this conversation, if you don't want to ask yourself the questions, you don't. I don't have secrets. I write about them, and I like to expose to the public. And I like to share with the public. So if I can show you my bullshit, show me your bullshit, then we have real conversation.


Debbie Millman:

Absolutely. And I think you want to be buried now with three coffins, but no one's going to know which one you're in, either heroic Marina, spiritual Marina or bullshit Marina.


Marina Abramović:

Yeah. We have this three coffin story. Actually, one is real body, the other ones are not. But the three places I lived longer, like what would be Belgrade, Amsterdam, and New York. And the important thing is to [have a] celebration of death. Because you know, [inaudible] said [a] beautiful thing. [inaudible] said, "The life is a dream and the dead is waking up." But we are so afraid. American culture is the worst. We are so afraid of dying. That is removed from you, like don't exist. I never forget … you know, I was in America in '80—I think it was '84, I don't remember—the time when the shuttle with the teacher explode.


Debbie Millman:

Yes.


Marina Abramović:

I was in Boston, in MIT, I remember. And everybody was looking at this great moment. And then unbelievable. Nobody believed that actually it's dead there and everybody is gone. So, something that you really believe you're immortal and you believe … you read, you're ever young. But you know, bad news, we're all going to die. So it's very important that in one point of your life, you prepare for that exit, so that exit has to be a celebration. So, I want all my friends [to] come. Dirty jokes, I love dirty jokes, it's really my big thing. Politically not correct, especially to have the clothes not like [inaudible] black, but all the violent colors like acid green and blue and red, and celebration of … you know, I had [a] difficult but great life, and death has to be great too.


Debbie Millman:

Marina, before I say goodbye, I was wondering if you could read one of your artist manifestos for our listeners.


Marina Abramović:

OK, I need the glasses. So, Manifesto is much longer, but you choose one page, so I'm going to read very dramatically this one.


Marina Abramović:

An Artist's Life Manifesto by Marina Abramović. An artist's conduct in his life. An artist should not lie to himself or others. An artist should not steal ideas from other artists. An artist should not compromise for himself regardless to the art market. An artist should not kill another human being. An artist should not make himself into an idol. An artist should not avoid falling in love with another artist. Too bad I did twice.


Marina Abramović:

An artist's relation to silence. An artist has to understand silence. An artist has to create space for silence to enter his work. Silence is like an island, in the middle of a terrible ocean.


Marina Abramović:

An artist in relation to solitude. An artist must make time for the long periods of solitude. Solitude is extremely important. Away from home, away from studio, away from family, away from friends. An artist should stay for a long period of time at the waterfalls. An artist should stay for a long period of time and exploding volcanoes. An artist should stay for long periods of time looking at the fast running rivers. An artist should stay for long periods of time looking at the horizon where the ocean and sky meet. An artist should stay for a long period of time looking at the stars in the night sky.


Debbie Millman:

Marina Abramović, thank you for bringing your genius into the world, and thank you for joining me today on Design Matters.


Marina Abramović:

Thank you.


Debbie Millman:

To find out more about Marina Abramović, the website is marinaabramović.com. This is the 13th year I've been doing Design Matters, and I'd like to thank you for listening. And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both. I'm Debbie Millman, and I look forward to talking with you again soon.

And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both.  — Debbie Millman