Rhythm 0: Risking your life for performance art

By: Annika: Getz

*Note, this article may have material that could trigger individuals (violence against women), therefore, we present a trigger warning here.

Performance art is a style of art which was created and developed throughout the 20th century. The idea is that rather than a painting or a sculpture or something of that nature, the art is a live performance done by the artist.

Marina Abramović is a performance artist who did most of her work in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Most of her work puts her in very dangerous situations, and ends with her being cut, burned, starved, or some other form of harm being inflicted on her physical being.

Her career began with the ‘Rhythm’ pieces, ‘Rhythm 10’ (1973) involved her playing a Russian knife game, and cutting her fingers repeatedly. A year later ‘Rhythm 5’ followed, where she layed in the middle of a burning star, until she eventually lost consciousness, and had to be taken out of the performance. She remarked later about being angry with the results of the performance, saying “I was very angry because I understood there is a physical limit. When you lose consciousness you can’t be present, you can’t perform.” In the same year she performed ‘Rhythm 4’ and ‘Rhythm 2’ where she invoked her own unconsciousness in a way which would not interrupt the performance.

Still in 1974, Abramović performed her final piece in the ‘Rhythm’ series. ‘Rhythm 0’. In this performance, Abramović placed 72 objects on a table, and invited the audience to do whatever they’d like to with her and the objects. She left written instructions which read “There are 72 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired. I am the object. During this period I take full responsibility.” For six hours Abramović remained completely passive, not moving, or speaking.

Some of the objects were ordinary, everyday objects. A hat, soap, cake, a rose. Some of the objects however, were less tame. A knife, scissors, a gun, a bullet. Abramović took the ultimate risk, knowing that if the audience wanted to kill her, they could. She said later that she was fully ready to die in the performance, and counted herself lucky for coming out alive.

For a little while, at first, the public remained calm, they put a rose in her hand, fed her the cake, kissed her cheek, etc. However, as the night went on, the audience became more aggressive.

They at one point used the scissors to cut off her clothing. They placed her on the table and stabbed the knife between her thighs. The artist recounts someone even cutting her near her neck and drinking her blood, then covering the wound with plaster from the table. She also remembers that at one point, the gun was put in her hand, and later even pointed at her head.

Abramović recounts the night as being almost six hours of pure horror. At the end of the six hours, when the performance was over, she began walking towards the audience, covered in blood and tears, and the people ran away from her. It was as though the public realized that it had been a real, living person who they’d been torturing for hours, and they couldn’t face her.

This remains to me, one of Abramović’s most important works. Showcasing the sadistic nature of people when given the chance to hurt others without repercussion. There were probably people there who went without the intention of hurting the artist, but once put in the environment, found themselves doing just that. I think the psychological aspects of the performance similarly mirror those of the Stanford Prison Experiment, an experiment done by the psychology students at Stanford in the 70s. Through a hyper-realistic prison simulation, with college students playing the parts of guards and prisoners, they found that perfectly normal people became cruel when put in positions of power where they were given the chance to do so.

I think it speaks to our human nature, that these people became so sadistic in such a short time. The issue was that they didn’t see Abramović as a human being during this time, and so they felt they could treat her however they wanted to. The moral of the story is really just to treat everyone with the basic human decency that we all deserve.

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