In 2010, visitors to New York's Museum of Modern Art were confronted by a woman sitting on a chair, behind a simple wooden table. Facing her was a similar, empty chair. People came and sat in the chair, shared some moments of silence with the woman, and then moved on. Day after day she sat there, for 736 hours and 30 minutes in total: no breaks, no trips to the loo, no movement, no words.
This was Marina Abramović's 'The Artist Is Present'. It was a milestone piece, characteristically both confrontational and cerebral, confirming the Belgrade-born iconoclast as not only the queen of performance art, but also as one of the most exciting artists in the world.
Now 67, Abramović has been putting extreme performance into galleries for the last 40 years. She's been stripped, had a loaded gun and a crossbow pointed at her, taken dangerously powerful medical drugs, deprived herself of oxygen, nearly died. She's also inspired Jay Z, who was so taken by 'The Artist Is Present' he made his own (rather briefer) version: a six-hour gallery performance of his song 'Picasso Baby'.
Now Abramović is coming to London to stage another gruelling artistic event at the Serpentine Gallery. Typically for an artist who puts risk at the heart of her work, she has no idea what it's going to be yet. But if anyone can pull off a 512-hour show about 'nothing', it's her.
Are you nervous about performing in London?
‘Unbelievably so, because you are not an easy audience. You have a great sense of humour and are sarcastic. You want to be entertained and you get easily bored. It’s hell, but I wanted to see how I could get you on my side.’
What is the thinking behind '512 Hours'?
'Recently I discovered an old TV interview from 1989 when I was asked what art in the twenty-first century would be like. I said: "Art without objects that would directly use energy." Now, 25 years later, I finally have the courage to do it. For "The Artist Is Present", I had two chairs and a table and [during the run] I removed the table. Now I'm removing the chairs. I'm trying to see if it's possible to remove structure and instructions and create things out of pure energy.'
To read more about Abramović's love of chocolate, training Lady Gaga and not having a personal life, read the full interview on Time Out London
Image: Marina Abramović, photograph © 2014 by Marco Anelli