Iconic performance artist Marina Abramovic who, despite the impression given recently by some media outlets, was a cult figure long before her stint at MoMa, has often been very clear about her outlook on feminist artists. Announcing she has no interest in being one, staying clear from the ghettoisation that lurks from labels of any kind, she has repeatedly been identified simply as a female artist – although one that aims to ‘dominate the man’s world’. In line with the contradiction that some might read into those statements, she also accepted an invitation from Antony Hegarty, who curates this year’s Meltdown,to present a lecture for women only.
While the lecture mostly consists of material that is readily accessible for viewing on You Tube, the unique audience breakdown makes it sway away from being a generic time-filler by a famous artist. The gender-specific composition of the auditorium quickly, and for no palpable reason, creates an atmosphere of a secret and exclusive rendezvous, that has all the potential of revealing previously unknown details about anything from how to be a renowned artist to the meaning of life. It could be that this exclusivity stems from the fact Abramovic has never before made work for women only; mix this with her disinterest in feminist art and the result is a complete lack of expectations for a delivery of gender heavy issues. The dismissal of a feminist agenda is perfectly and ironically framed by the presence of Kim Cattrall, who introduces the artist – her role equally as (un)surprising as the fact that one of Abramovic’s installations found itself in an episode of Sex and the City. This, in other words, is a lecture for women only, rather than for politically active women only.
The combination of Abramovic’s unquestionable charisma and the audience’s evident devotion also manages to create a sense of intimacy. This culminates in the final part of the lecture, in which the stark-naked artist reads out her manifesto, reframing a text heard and seen several times before. Proclaiming she made a decision to be naked in front of women, rather than the usual audience – men – recontextualises the material at hand into a privately shared mantra. The rest of the performance is less successful at achieving the same effect, although the clips from pieces by Abramovic’s favourite artists and notable influences (ranging from former students to Maria Callas) do provide for an interesting insight into what triggers the imagination and sensitivity of one of world’s most influential performance art figures.
Ultimately however the most powerful impression that transpires from The Spirit in Any Condition Does Not Burn is a non-cerebral one, of a shared experience whose details perhaps deserve not to be passed on. Rationally speaking there is likely much to be said about recycling old (if striking) thoughts by simply delivering them in a different context; the almost mesmerising effect of Marina Abramovic, whose very presence drew tears of both joy and horror in New York, manages to, for the most part, shut those rational thoughts up.
The Spirit In Any Condition Does Not Burn is part of Southbank Centre’s Meltdown Festival.