Few names resonate as strongly as Marina Abramović. Renowned globally as a performance artist, Abramović has fearlessly pushed the boundaries of her physical and mental endurance in pursuit of profound artistic expressions. From subjecting herself to exhaustion and pain to even risking her own life, the Serbian artist has consistently challenged societal conventions and expectations.
As the Royal Academy of Arts in London prepares to host a remarkable exhibition dedicated to Marina Abramović’s illustrious career, we had the privilege of asking Andrea Tarsia, Curator of Marina Abramović and Director of Exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts about Abramović’s transformative body of work.
The exhibition promises to immersively present pivotal moments from Abramović’s career through sculpture, video, installation, and performance art. Iconic pieces such as ‘The Artist is Present’ will be re-staged through archive footage, while others will be meticulously reperformed by a new generation of artists trained in the revered Marina Abramović method.
As a curator, you need to be able to enter artists’ imaginative worlds. Can you discuss the curation process behind this exhibition and how you worked with Marina Abramović to select the featured works?
We approached the exhibition in quite an open and organic way. I had some ideas and works that particularly interested me, and of course, Marina Abramović also had, but the selection developed over time. In terms of overall approach, Marina was keen not to hold another chronological retrospective. From my side, I was conscious that this would be the first major exhibition of her work in the UK, so it felt important to still provide a sense of overview and to include some key works. We decided on a thematic approach that brought into dialogue works from different periods that showed how concerns run and evolve throughout her practice. She is a very generous artist in terms of her openness to ideas, and I enjoyed our collaboration a lot. We devised the exhibition, and then covid happened, so we had to postpone the exhibition for three years. We decided to use the time to develop a completely different exhibition. So you could say that I am lucky to have worked with Marina on not just one but two exhibitions.
How did you navigate presenting Marina Abramović’s groundbreaking performances in a way that maintains their integrity while also adapting them to the exhibition format?
Marina Abramović has, throughout her career, always thought of performance art beyond the moment in which it is held. It is, by definition, an ephemeral art form – how might we experience it again beyond memory – if we have witnessed it – or photographs in books? Her answer has developed in tandem with technology – she has consciously re-presented works with exhibitions in mind, in media that range from black and white photographs to video and large scale-installations. So, we are lucky in the sense that part of Marina’s own practice has provided an answer to this question. Beyond this, in the exhibition, we have alternated between galleries that are dedicated to a single work, to galleries that bring together a number of works that are thematically linked or have a kind of emotional or physical affinity.