These are all the performance pieces Marina Abramovic mentions in the first 103 pages of her memoir Walk Through Walls.
Untitled, age 14.
I went to the military base in Belgrade and asked if they could send up a dozen planes. My plan was to give them directions about which way to fly so that their jet trails would make patterns in the sky.
Come Wash With Me, age 23.
My idea was to install laundry sinks around the gallery of the Youth Center. When the visitors came in, they would take off their clothes and I would wash, dry and iron them. When I returned their clothes, the gallery visitors could get dressed again and leave, literally and metaphorically clean. The Youth Center rejected my idea.
Untitled, age 24.
I would stand in front of an audience in my regular clothes, then gradually change into the kind of clothes my mother always bought me: long skirt, heavy stockings, orthopedic shoes, ugly polka-dot blouse. Then I would put a pistol with one bullet in the chamber to my head and pull the trigger. “This performance has two possible endings,” my proposal said. “And if I live my life will have a new beginning. Once again I was rejected.
I wanted to take a sound-effects recording of a bridge collapse to an actual bridge and play the recording every three minutes–every three minutes, though the structure was clearly intact, you’d hear the gigantic crashing sound of the whole thing falling down. Visually, the bridge still existed, but acoustically it was disappearing. Yet I had to get permission from the municipal authorities to mount this piece, and permission was not granted. They told me the bridge could actually collapse from the strong sound vibrations.
In a tree outside the gallery I installed a big speaker that played a continuous loop of birds singing, as if we were in the middle of a tropical forest and not gloomy Belgrade. And inside the gallery, inside three cardboard boxes, I put tape machines playing other sounds of nature: wind blowing, surf crashing, sheep bleating.
One day, in the late afternoon, I felt tired and lay down on a low table in the gallery [during a show]. And suddenly, Era had an inspiration: he decided to wrap me with his [transparent packing] tape. I went along with it, lying there, arms at my side, my whole body except for my head completely mummified.
Visitors walked down a narrow corridor formed by two sheets of plywood to the deafening roar of recorded machine-gun fire. I was using sound as if it were a broom cleaning the minds of visitors before they entered the museum.
Inside the lounge of the [Student Cultural Center]: a continuous recorded loop playing the same airport announcement over and over: “Please, all passengers on airline JAT are requested to proceed immediately to Gate 265. [At the Time, there were only three gates at the Belgrade Airport.] The plane is leaving for New York, Bangkok, Honolulu, Tokyo and Hong Kong.” Everyone sitting in the lounge – whether they were drinking coffee, waiting to see a movie, or just reading a newspaper – became the passengers for this imaginary trip.
It was based on a drinking game played by Russian and Yugoslav peasants: You spread your fingers out on a wooden bar or table and stab down a sharp knife, fast, in the spaces between your fingers. Every time you miss and cut yourself, you have to take another drink. The drunker you get, the more likely you are to stab yourself. Like Russian roulette, it is a game of bravery and foolishness and despair and darkness – the perfect Slavic game.
…On the floor of the gymnasium…I unrolled a big sheet of heavy white paper. On this paper I arranged ten knives of various sizes and two tape recorders. Then…I knelt down on the paper and turned on one of the tape recorders.
Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat – I stabbed the knife down between the fingers of my left hand, as fast as I could. And of course because I was going so fast, every once in a while I would miss, just slightly, and nick myself. Each time I cut myself, I would groan with pain – the tape recorder would pick it up – and I would switch to the next knife.
Pretty soon I had gone through all ten knives, and the white paper was stained very impressively with my blood…The moment I cut myself with the tenth knife, I switched the first tape recorder from record to playback, turned the second machine on, recording, and began all over again with knife number one. Only this time, as the first tape machine played back the sounds of the knifepoint thudding rhythmically and my groans of pain, I tried quite deliberately to nick myself in precise unison with my previous accidents…And the second tape machine was recording both the playback and my next round of the knife game.
When I’d gone through the ten knives once more, I rewound the second tape recorder, played the double soundtrack of both performances, then stood up and left.
The “5” in the title stood for a five-pointed star – for two stars, really. There was the large five-pointed wooden star I planned to build in the courtyard…and there were the starfishlike extremities of my body as I would lie inside it: my head and my outstretched arms and legs.
The star was actually a double star of wooden rails, one star inside the other the outer one some fifteen feet from point to point, the inner just slightly larger than my body. In between the two star outlines I would lay wood shavings soaked in 100 liters of gasoline…I set the wood chips ablaze [from within the inner star], then I walked around the perimeter of the star a few times. I cut my fingernails and tossed the clippings into the fire. Then I took a scissors to my hair – which was down to my shoulders at the time – and cut it all off. I tossed my hair into the fire, too. Then I lay inside the inner star, stretching out my arms and legs to conform to its shape.
I got two pills from the hospital: one that forces catatonics to move, and one that quiets down schizophrenics. I sat at a little table in front of the audience and took pill number one. In a couple of minutes my body was jerking around involuntarily, almost falling out of my chair. I was aware of what was happening to me, but there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Then, when that pill wore off, I took the second one. This time I went into a kind of passive trance, sitting there with a big smile on my face, aware of nothing. And this pill took five hours to wear off.
In this piece I was naked, alone in a white room and crouched above a powerful industrial fan. As a video camera sent my image to the audience in the next room, I pressed my face against the hurricane blowing out of the fan, trying to take as much air into my lungs as possible. In a couple of minutes, the great torrent of air filling my insides caused me to lose consciousness.
My plan was to go to the gallery and just stand there, in black trousers and a black T-shirt, behind a table containing seventy-two objects: A hammer. A saw. A feather. A fork. A bottle of perfume. A bowler hat. An ax. A rose. A bell. Scissors. Needles. A pen. Honey. A lamb bone. A carving knife. A mirror. A newspaper. A shawl. Pins. Lipstick. Sugar. A Polaroid camera. Various other things. And a pistol, and one bullet lying next to it.
When a big crowd had gathered at eight PM, they found these instructions on the table:
There are 72 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired.
I am the object. During this period I take full responsibility. Duration: 6 hours (8pm - 2am) 1974 Studio Morra, Naples.
The instructions read: Performance. I slowly eat 1 kilo of honey with a silver spoon. I slowly drink 1 liter of red wine out of a crystal glass. I break the glass with my right hand. I cut a five-pointed star on my stomach with a razor blade. I violently whip myself until I no longer feel any pain. I lay down on a cross made of ice blocks. The heat of a suspended heater pointed at my stomach causes the cut star to bleed. The rest of my body behind to freeze. I remain on the ice cross for 30 minutes until the public interrupts the piece by removing the ice blocks from underneath me. Duration: 2 hours
Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful
I sat naked before the audience, a metal brush in one hand, a metal comb in the other. For a solid hour I brushed my hair as hard as I could, to the point of pain, yanking out clumps of hair, scratching my face, all the while repeating over and over, “Art must be beautiful, artist must be beautiful.”
Freeing the Voice
I lay on a mattress on the floor, dressed all in black, my head hanging off the edge of the mattress, and screamed at the top of my lungs, shrieking out all my frustration with everything: Belgrade, Yugoslavia, my mother, my entrapment. I screamed until my voice was gone – three hours later.
Relation in Space
We were naked, standing twenty meters apart…Slowly at first, Ulay and I began to run toward each other. The first time, we just brushed past each other as we met; on each successive run, though, we moved faster and faster and made harder contact – until finally Ulay was crashing into me. Once or twice he knocked me over. We had placed microphones near the collision point, to pick up the sounds of flesh slapping flesh.
Talking About Similarity
Ulay sat in front, facing the audience…Ulay opened his mouth wide and I turned on the tape recorder, which played the sound of a dental suction device. He sat that way for twenty minutes, then I turned off the tape recorder and Ulay closed his mouth. He then took out a heavy needle, the kind used to sew leather, attached to some thick white thread, and he sewed his lips shut.
This didn’t happen quickly. First he had to penetrate the skin below his lower lip – not easy - and then the skin above his upper lip. Also not easy. Then he pulled the thread tight and tied a know. And then he and I changed places: Ulay sat down among the audience, and I sat in the chair he had just occupied.
“Now,” I told our friends, “you will ask me questions and I will answer as Ulay.” … We had a small reception after the performance, with food and drink; Ulay kept his lips sewn and sipped some wine through a straw. He was that committed to the continuity of our piece.
Interruption in Space
We were naked, running towards each other again [as in Relation in Space], only this time instead of meeting in the middle, we each ran into one side of a thick wooden wall. The audience saw us both, each of us only saw the wall between us.
Breathing In, Breathing Out
We stuck cigarette filters in our nostrils to block the air, and we taped little microphones to our throats. We kneeled down facing each other. I blew all the air out of my lungs and Ulay breathed in all the air he could. Then we clamped our mouths together and he blew his air into my mouth. Then I blew the air back to him.
As our mouths stayed fixed together, as the sound of our breathing (and then our gasping) was amplified throughout the cultural center, we exchanged, again and again, that one lungful of air – which became less and less oxygen and more and more carbon dioxide as it was exhaled time after time. After nineteen minutes, there was no oxygen left: we stopped just before losing consciousness.
Ulay built two tall vertical cases in the museum entrance, making it substantially narrower. Our performance would be to stand in this reduced opening, naked and facing each other, like doorposts or classical caryatids. Thus everyone coming in would have to turn sideways to get past us, and everyone would have to make a decision as he or she slid by: face the naked man, or the naked woman?
Expansion in Space
Still another variation on Relation in Space and Interruption in Space – only this time, instead of running toward each other, we would stand back to back, naked, and then spring in opposite directions, each colliding with a matching obstacle, a heavy wooden column four meters high. Then we would trot backward to the starting point and begin all over again.
In jeans and identical white T-shirts, with our hair pulled back in identical buns, we knelt facing each other and took turns slapping each other in the face. After each slap the slapper would slap his or her knee, giving the performance a steady one-two rhythm.
We started slow and picked up the pace…We stated beforehand that the performance would end when one of us flinched – but that never happened. Instead, we simply stopped spontaneously after twenty minutes, when we couldn’t slap each other any faster.