In the past four decades, Marina Abramovic has almost died dozens of times in the name of art.
The self-proclaimed "grandmother of performance art" has stabbed herself with knives, immersed her body in ice for hours, experimented with drugs, and allowed strangers to molest her.
Her passion for the art form arose in the 1960s, when the Serbian 20-something-year-old participated in protests and sit-ins. Her behavoir at the demonstrations began alarming people. By the 1970s, she was conducting artistic performances that shocked the world.
For her first performance, Marina cut herself with knives and recorded the sound. In another, she took two prescription drugs, which induced seizures and then immobility, just out of curiosity to see how her healthy body would react.
One of her most legendary performances was in Naples when she allowed the public to prod, probe and abuse her body. Lying still on a table, she was surrounded by matches, lipstick, saws, nails, and even a gun with a single bullet. Visitors were invited to do whatever they wanted with her body. Nobody held back. The artist was marked, scratched, probed, drenched with cold water, and held at gunpoint. Afterwards, Marina was heavily shaken because she realized she nearly escaped death. She started being more careful in her experiments.
In 1976, Marina met Ulay, a performance artist from Germany. Together they created live performances where they ran around a room, drove their car inside a museum for 365 laps, and stood nude in a doorway, causing strangers to squeeze between them in order to pass.
They also created the "Death Self," where they connected their mouths and took in each other's oxygen for 17 minutes, until they fell to the floor unconscious, their lungs filled with carbon dioxide.
In 1988, the couple decided to end their relationship during a spiritual journey. They both walked the Great Wall of China, starting from the two opposite ends and meeting in the middle to say goodbye.
Marina's most recent exhibit, "The Artist is Present," was at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC last spring. Marina sat silently still for more than 700 hours, while spectators were invited to sit opposite her. The event attracted several celebrities, including Sharon Stone and Isabella Rossellini. More than 850,000 people attended, many staying in line overnight, for a chance to sit with Marina.
The results of the exhibit surprised Marina. Gazing into her eyes, thousands of people burst into tears after just minutes after silent staring. On blogs and Facebook, people shared their experiences with Marina, often citing it as religious or life-altering. The artist realized she had become a mirror for those people's emotions.
In order to prepare for the event, Marina had undergone a training program devised by NASA. She ate certain foods, so she didn't have to use the restroom for seven hours. She developed an unusual sleeping pattern. She meditated.
But sitting still in a wooden chair without armrests wasn't easy. The physical pain was almost torturous for the artist, but she persevered for the love of her art.
...kind of makes you wonder what you're doing with your life, doesn't it?
I've included a few videos you might find interesting:
A very short video where James Franco faces down the artist during her famous "The Artist is Present" exhibit last year.
A fascinating interview between James Franco and the artist. Watch if you are riveted by her work or you simply just enjoy watching James Franco talk and eat.
Lady Gaga gushes over her favorite performance artist, Marina Abramovic.