September 28, 2023
From working with Lady Gaga to releasing her own vinyl.
The Royal Academy Of Arts is currently playing host to an expansive retrospective of the works of Marina Abramović.
Marina Abramović is an extraordinary overview of a career spent pushing boundaries. The exhibition continually shocks and provokes emotion–even as it showcases well-documented and discussed performances from the past 50 years.
Walking alongside excerpts from works such as Rhythm 0 and The House with the Ocean View, it’s easy to understand the gargantuan impact of Abramović’s work and why it matters to so many, both in and out of the performance art world. Abramović’s appeal is cross-discipline–also reverberating throughout the musical landscape.
As producer Djrum explained to The Vinyl Factory, following the release of his Abramović–inspired LP, Portrait With Firewood: “Well, thinking of Marina’s performance art as visceral poetry, I would say that music has that same quality, particularly instrumental music. You can express a complex emotional landscape with music that the listener feels instinctively without having it explained with words.”
Despite claiming she has “no ear for music”, the renowned performance artist (and VF artist) has immersed herself in audio artistry and sound many times, whether directly in her own projects or tangentially through her followers.
Let’s take a look at some of Marina Abramović’s musical dalliances.
The Abramović Method for Music
In her multi-format approach to art, Abramović has veered keenly into the audio realm. In 2015, she coined The Abramović Method for Music for a Park Avenue Armory performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations by Igor Levit.
The method set out to increase the audience’s pure focus on the music with a collection of instructions and environmental conditions. Ahead of the performance, attendees were asked to hand in their phones, watches and other technological distractions before donning noise-cancelling headphones for 30 minutes in a dark and silent space. Slowly, the performers revealed themselves before a gong signalled for all headphones to be removed and the performance to begin.
The method, which was expanded upon during a 2019 project at Alte Oper Frankfurt, draws upon the artist’s generalised Abramović Method for self-improvement, devised from years of gruelling performance art. In an interview ahead of the Igor Levit collaboration, Abramović explained her motivations: “Technology is not the problem, our approach to technology is the problem. Like kids, fascinated, we spend days on these fucking phones,” she said. “That’s why I am making this Abramović method–for myself, too.”
Following the overwhelming success of The Artist Is Present at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Abramović returned for her first major performance with 512 Hours in 2014. As the title suggests, the performance saw her take to the Serpentine Gallery from 10 am to 6 pm, six days a week–amassing a grand total of 512 hours. Her surroundings included a minimalist selection of props and a simple environment.
As part of the performance, Abramović and the Serpentine Gallery teamed up with The Vinyl Factory to share a limited edition vinyl release. One side of the record is a live recording of the artist reading her “An Artist Life Manifesto” whilst side B captures the live sounds of the empty gallery, with only Abramović present. 512 Hours is sound art at its purest–showcasing the power that minimalism and absence can hold both within the eye and the ear.
Abramović in popular music
The turn of the 2010s saw a sudden union between popular music and art and Abramović, in particular, was a reference for some of pop’s biggest names. Kanye West declared “I’m like Marina Abramović. This is like performance art” as he discussed his single “Bound 2” while Lady Gaga publically committed to the Abramović Method. The Serbian artist’s footprints could be found all across pop music with her name serving as shorthand for high culture credibility.
Abramović met her disciples through collaborations with both Lady Gaga and hip-hop superstar Jay-Z. With the former, Abramović played a role in the promotion of the 2013 album, Artpop—performing alongside Lady Gaga in promotional videos and providing new works for the album’s two-day launch party (the bluntly titled ArtRave).
Jay-Z unreservedly displayed his love of Abramović by paying homage to The Artist Is Present with a six-hour video for Magna Carta Holy Grail single “Picasso Baby”. The artist herself was indeed present with a cameo in the video, a collaboration enabled by a large donation from the rapper to the Marina Abramović Institute.
Abramović as a vocalist
One of Abramović’s latest musical engagements has brought her voice back to vinyl–this time as vocalist and narrator. In 2022, she teamed up with Colorado dream-pop band Sound of Ceres to provide vocal narration to their third album, Emerald Sea.
Performing as The Universe in the duo’s grandiose concept album about deities falling in love, Abramović’s familiar authoritative tone is apt for its role. In an interview with Dazed, Abramović explained the collaboration: “My attraction to Sound of Ceres comes from the fact that the music feels so galactic – from a very [specific] part of the universe”.
Marina Abramović runs at the Royal Academy of Arts from September 23 to January 1, 2024. Get tickets here.