December 20th, 2012 · Grant Johnson

"They need time": The Marina Abramovic interview

Interview by Grant Johnson


Photo of Marina Abramović, 2012.*


Last spring, artist Marina Abramović unveiled plans for The Marina Abramović Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art, in Hudson, New York. In the following interview, Abramović details the subtleties of her institutional vision.


Grant Johnson: The Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art promises to provide a fixed, material location for relatively immaterial forms. What is at stake in this dynamic? What is gained or what is lost through the ‘institutionalization’ of performance?

Marina Abramović: You know, we, as human beings, are very nostalgic in a way in general, and we always think that things are better when they have already happened. We are nostalgic about past times and somehow think that it is not good if we change something because it was better how it was before. I really think that nostalgia is kind of overrated, and I think that we have to think about presence, and what we can do now and how we can use that strategy to do something better.

Performance was first, definitely, an alternative art form. It happened in different spaces, mostly in private—you know, different garages and alternative spaces and streets, and so on and so on—but these times are over. I think that performance has come into a new light and become very much an accepted form of art in the last few years. So I think that accepted form of art needs some kind of institute that can be seen as the platform where this can develop.

I am making something that is very private in many ways, because I think that in my experience—40 years performing—I understood that a long-duration form of performance art is the most rewarding, most changing, more than any other experience of art, both for the public looking at it, but also for the performer doing it. This is why I am making the Institute. It is very specific. It is not an Institute for any other performance art but long-durational art. So this is why it is so different, that is why I cannot really categorize if it is good for performance art generally or not. It is only for long-durational dance, theater, music, video, film, performance— and I am also including new forms of long-durational art that have not even been made yet.

So my limit, the starting point of the Institute, is the idea of six hours, that you have to spend six hours and you have to write a contract with me that you will give me your time. Otherwise, if you don’t give me your time, you cannot have the experience. So, it’s a very particular viewing of performance in this context.



Do you see the Institute responding to a particular need? Why start a new institution and not adapt, or work within existing institutions?

I think that existing institutions don’t actually accommodate this kind of attitude. They’re really just old and not adaptable. I really think that after my performance in MoMA ["The Artist is Present," 2010], which literally was so simple, close to nothing, attracted a record number of visitors, I understood the enormous need of the public to experience something on a one-to-one basis. Other institutions don’t have this kind of ability. So I think creating my own, and focusing on that need, that the public needs some kind of experience of getting to their own center and changing consciousness, for all that, they need time.

So if I provide them with an institution that will accommodate that kind of desire; that is really what I am trying to do. Which, in other institutions, absolutely, I don’t see any of that in similar institutions. Because, basically, when you come to my Institute, you’ll leave all this—iPods and cameras and watches and telephones—in a locker, and you can drop it off. And then you go to the chambers, which are, you know, a ritualization of daily life, like a slow motion movement chamber, a levitation chamber, a crystal chamber. You actually can begin to tune yourself so you can begin to see something that is long-durational. I don’t see any kind of institution that has this kind of structure.


Could you articulate any other ways the Institute will distinguish itself from other arts organizations—the various museums, galleries, foundations or theaters we are familiar with?

What is the difference? Again, this is a completely different program. First of all, if you have an audience which you have to keep for six hours or more in the space, you also have to provide the a lot in the program. That means that I have to commission, to request different artists to actually create long-durational works, even if they may have never created long-durational works in their lives before. The thing is, for certain artists, it could be very beneficial to make long-durational works. I would like to commission pieces that could be shown as a premiere, but also to have very young artists creating long-durational work. So that could be something very different, that you would come to see premieres of something that you couldn’t see anywhere else. I can imagine a concert of music that is longer than six hours long.

There is a lot of history of long-durational work. There is a kind of search. You have John Cage, there is a concert that takes 639 years, an Indian dance that takes 173 hours to complete, the original Einstein on the Beach is eight hours. There are so many long-durational works of the past that you can actually do quite a lot beyond six hours. So, there’s actually a lot of history of the long-durational, but it’s all kind of in tatters, you know, here, there. I want actually to reflect on the history, and have people see the documents, but then also to create a new history of long-durational work and to continue with it.

May I ask, how is fundraising going? Amid a season of intense political campaigning, why support the Institute?

Fundraising: I’m actually doing lots of thinking and searching, because I would like to fundraise in different ways than fundraising is normally done. I am kind of sick and tired of thinking about sponsors and the big corporations and the people who have the money. I can’t really tell you my plan, because it’s a secret, but I’m really looking for the new ways of fundraising that have never been done before. That’s what I can say now. We will start with the fundraising in February, but not before then. I am just making my plan how we are going to do that, attacking from many fronts.

I really want to do something different, because this Institute is unique and nothing similar has ever existed anywhere else in the world. I want to offer fundraising in this same way. I really believe that right now we have a necessity for something, for a change, for something different. And we need enormous necessity to back this necessity and really regain our time. I’m giving you time, basically, which has never been done. And in that way I also want to find a way that businesses create a need for people that will be met, in order to get something so special. So, I want the ones who really believe in this concept to act as sponsors and not just the ones who want something tax-deductible, because that’s not interesting to me.

My final question is simply, why Hudson?

You see, my first choice before Hudson was Bushwick. I found a very big factory in Bushwick, which was an eight-year deal. And then when I started to research the pollution of the factory, there was so much pollution because there was no regulation of the oil in the '30s, '40s and '50s. And then the woman asked this enormous amount of money from me, almost the same as the building cost, to actually clean up the area, which I could not reconstruct. I found this extremely disturbing. And then I was thinking, OK, but if I am exhibiting work that is such a rush, I have to really figure out what I can do so that even people who have a decent feeling of time arrive at a place that is more peaceful.

I first got my house in Chatham, which is 35 minutes from Hudson, and was looking for a space mostly for my storage and I found this space, and I said, Oh my God, this is not for storage, this is going to be my foundation. I found Hudson really wonderful, because it is surrounded by the countryside and at the same time, it is a really beautiful community. But now I am interested in influencing some other friends of mine to invest in Hudson because we need hotels and we need infrastructure in a more concentrated way. 

I think in the last two to three years, there has been a most enormous development. There are over 60 design shops for furniture. We have Basilica. There are already two people who are now building hotels, there are restaurants opening. And there are lots of expectations also connected to my building, because, you know, the master plan was made by Rem Koolhaas and OMA foundation, and this will definitively bring lots of interest. Because if you remember when Frank Gehry made the Guggenheim in Bilbao, just the building without even the concept, it already attracted so many people to come see. So that is why many people have become interested, and the city mayor has supported whatever I am going to undertake to make this possible.

Now we have to start a donation [fund], which I am thinking we can start in the next year, and not complete, but at least make possible, functional, by the end of 2014, so we can begin to be working with different concepts. And as the situation is going on, we can still be active, because 30 million dollars is a lot of money that I have to raise in such a very short time. But I am incredibly convinced that I can do that, because right now I have been doing some mega lectures in Europe and I have between two-and-a-half and three thousand people in the audience, and I haven’t even started the benefit.

There are lots of young people especially that want this Institute to open, and that is my main support. The young generation is very important to me because they see that this can be a very interesting future, and I they have more of a sense of time than my generation. So that’s why, and that’s why Hudson. And plus, another very important reason is that actually, right now, [getting to] Hudson on Amtrak is about a two-hour ride along the river [from New York], but right now they are planning, I don’t know when it's going to come, in the near future the train will only take one hour from New York, which is super-short. This will change everything. This will make it all the more accessible.

And a part of this, what I want to tell you, is what I am planning now—I just took up the grant the Jean Tinguely grant, and you know this is 500,000 euro, and now I am building with the Luminato Festival in Toronto—which is adding some more money—we are building a moveable Institute. It’s only going to be eight rooms, and it’s going to be a montage so that you can be transported wherever you want. This Institute’s contract will be two hours of time. So I can move this Institute around wherever in Europe and I already have a long list of museums that want to have it. So there will be like a graduation from this Institute—you go two hours and then you have to go to the big mother Institute for six hours in Hudson. We’re going to start with the moveable Institute in June, first in Toronto, and then in Basel, and then after this we’re going to have it in different places in Europe; in 2014 it’s going to the Serpentine gallery, and so on.

Because I realize I have already done one project in Milan, which actually I adapted the Institute for an already existing museum and created that which led to an exhibition which actually interacted with the public. But I realized that by the time you are working with an existing institution, you have to always adapt it to the space of the institution, but not only to the space but also to the history and infrastructure of the institution—which is not necessarily a history you like or you want. But if you have your montage institute you can always put it in the park next to the museum, use the facilities of the museum, but still be the tenant. So that is what I am doing now. For the next year, while I am raising the money, I will have this montage Institute traveling around everywhere and then that Institute will be an introduction to the main one.

This interview has been edited for clarity. 


Grant Johnson is a Performa Magazine writer in residence. 


Photo of Marina Abramović, 2012
©ORE Cultura S.r.l. and  ©Laura Ferrari 
Photography by Laura Ferrari
Courtesy Marina Abramović Archives

All other photos: Marina Abramović, Seven Easy Pieces, 2005. Performance view. Photos by Kathryn Carr © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York. Presented by The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum for Performa 05, 2005.

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