I met Yvonne Rainer for the first time in 1975, when I invited her to see my performance Freeing the Body in Berlin. Afterwards she sent me a letter full of outrage at my use of the body in performance. So it felt familiar when I first saw the letter she wrote to Jeffrey Deitch in response to the re-performers I trained for the gala at MOCA, Los Angeles, in November of last year. I think this is fascinating because it means over the decades we still see things very differently. In a way it makes me sorry that she does not understand the meaning of my work. The open letter from Yvonne Rainer — with its critique of my use of re-performers in my work for the MOCA gala — has already been explored. Now I would like to show the world the other side: open letters from these very same re-performers who participated in the gala and who have come to my defense in this matter. I hope this is enlightening to Yvonne Rainer and anyone else who has been following the controversy.
“It is important to note that Yvonne had not even seen the performance when she wrote her rant. Jeffrey Deitch, the director of MOCA, later invited Yvonne to come see one of the rehearsals, in a PR move that I did find incredibly disrespectful to Marina. Yvonne accepted the invitation and apparently stopped many of my fellow performers to ask questions and, essentially, to harass them. Why was she there? Is it now OK for artists to crash each other’s rehearsals and write stink pieces about them? It irks me to no end when public tantrums like these are rewarded.”
“I believe that, in fact, there are major moral and ethical complications within this work. However, I also believe that great work should be complicated. Things need to be shaken up, because if we are complacent all the time, no one ever grows and nothing ever changes. And that’s just not how the world works.”
“I have to say I am saddened and angered by this letter. I feel upset that this event has been blown out of proportion and is being perceived in such a negative way. As a performer for your event, I felt extremely comfortable working on this gala. […] Art to me is freedom of expression whether someone will understand it or not. I know this matter is stressful for you right now but I am reassuring you as a re-performer. I support you one hundred percent.”
“Thank you for the experience of performing in your piece for the MOCA gala. I am appreciative in so many ways. For one,
I think that the vision of the work was brilliant; it delivered a very pointed critique of the environment that provided the context of its presentation. It was a beautifully subversive work that privileged the unmediated exchange of human energy in the midst of a space that would traditionally deny such exchange.”
“I am 22 years old. At the age of 16 I was diagnosed with a life-changing chronic illness, and as an artist and performer, I am constantly reminded of my physical limitations. Last year I discovered Marina’s work, and it was very important for me. I realized that this woman, through her focus, her bravery — but perhaps most importantly her generosity — was approaching the limits I had been afraid to acknowledge. This realization created a monumental shift in my life as a person and artist. Although I am incapable of some things, I feel empowered by Marina to go further than my doctors, mentors and peers believe I can. But I have also learned that what is most important is what I believe. Marina, even without being someone I knew, taught me to work from a deeper place of generosity. For that, I walked into my audition at MOCA.”
In her Artist’s Column Marina Abramović reflects on more than 30 years of art performance in the context of her current activities.