To test the limits of the relationship between performer and audience, Abramović developed one of her most challenging (and best-known) performances. She assigned a passive role to herself, with the public being the force which would act on her.
Abramović had placed upon a table 72 objects that people were allowed to use (a sign informed them) in any way that they chose. Some of these were objects that could give pleasure, while others could be wielded to inflict pain, or to harm her. Among them were a rose, a feather, honey, a whip, scissors, a scalpel, a gun and a single bullet. For six hours the artist allowed the audience members to manipulate her body and actions.
Initially, members of the audience reacted with caution and modesty, but as time passed (and the artist remained impassive) people began to act more aggressively. As Abramović described it later:
“What I learned was that... if you leave it up to the audience, they can kill you.” ... “I felt really violated: they cut up my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the audience. Everyone ran away, to escape an actual confrontation.”
“It was kind of a lesson…I’m standing there, just dressed in T-shirt and black jeans and these are the object. So you also can not do anything, so why are you doing this? What is the public’s limit to the artist? There are so many interesting questions posed for this performance. And to see how the public really lose control - that’s kind of frightening.
There was this person who cut my neck with a razor and drank my blood. There was another who gave me a rose and a third person who cut my clothes and who took the thorn of the rose and stuck it into my body. They undressed me, the didn’t rape me because their wives were there…the women would tell the men what to do to me. And there was one who came with a handkerchief and took my tears running down my face.
They carried me around, put me on the table and stab the knife between my legs. And then one man took the pistol, put the bullet and put it my hand and held it to my head to see if I would really pull the trigger by pressing my hand. And I didn’t have any resistance. And then came another person who took the pistol and threw it out of the window”
There are 72 objects on the table that can be used on me as desired.
I am the object. During this time I take full responsibility.
6 hours (8 pm-2 am)
Studio Morra, Naples
List of obects on the table:
sheet of white paper
piece of wood
bone of lamb
box of razor blades
I stumbled upon this when I watched a documentary about her life and works. There are many interpretations and takeaways from this but here are a few thoughts:
People are seem inherently violent but are not always so. Remember the person who took the gun away and threw it out the window? Why did they do so? Selfish reasons, perhaps, but still, why?
What makes people violent? Because they're allowed to? Because of curiosity? Power? It seems to be a combination of at least two in this case.
Contexts matter. Would the outcome have been different if the experiment was conducted in an open space? In another country? Did people feel that it was alright to hurt her because it was expected?
Would the outcome have been different if the artist were, lets say, male? Or younger/older? Disabled?
People do not like confrontation.