Few of us can really comprehend what it takes to be a performance artist, and the extreme mental and physical distress artists subject their bodies to during their performance. Last in the series of the Art as Witness themed talks by MAP, Bangalore, Breaking the Fourth Wall: From Witnessing to Participation brought together two premier performance artists, from opposite ends of the globe, to help viewers uncover the dynamic medium of performance art.
Brought up in Yugoslavia, Marina Abramović is, to put it simply, the ‘godmother of performance art.’ For the past five decades of her career, Marina has proven the power of using one’s own body in communicating with the audience through her extremely gruelling, yet cathartic performances. The other artist in conversation with Marina was Nikhil Chopra, whose performative pieces also focus on transformation, drawing upon India’s colonial past, as well as politics of identity and gender. A casual conversation between two powerhouses of talent, the webinar offered an insight into their personal practices and methods, experiences of their chosen medium, and a shared understanding of the disadvantages posed by the current pandemic.
Marina spoke of the peculiarity of being in one place for more than three months, and of her incredibly programmed life, with shows planned up till 2025, coming to a complete standstill. Depending solely on audience engagement, performance artists cannot simply send their works to be displayed at an exhibition. They are, in a sense, the artwork themselves, and have to physically be present for each performance. Nikhil Chopra agreed, explaining that for them, the artwork is created in the flesh, and without the ability of feeling the viewers and their energy up close, the work of performance artists remains incomplete.
However, Marina reiterated the importance of developing a more positive viewpoint during such trying times. She believes that confronting this fear of the unknown, or an unplanned future is the time of intense, personal, mental, physical, and emotional transformation, which will eventually prove rewarding for all.
Marina’s advice to all contemporary and upcoming artists is to follow the heart, to develop their charisma, and most importantly, to discover the story they want to convey within themselves. Chopra’s advice is to take risks that may threaten their identity and to break away from the shelter and confines of society.
There is no doubt that the talk was a truly rewarding experience this weekend. If you haven’t already, watch the complete conversation between the two artists.