Ordealism: The Art of Suffering

In the current New Yorker, there is a long profile of the performance artist Marina Abramovic that caused me to wonder: Is my life actually Art?

Abramovic has been provoking and shocking people for thirty years. Next week, MOMA is hosting a retrospective of her work, with actors performing some of her most famous “pieces.” That alone is controversial; even her former collaborator and lover, Uwe Laysiepen, thinks it’s fundamentally dishonest to recreate performance art.

Most of Abramovic’s art has involved subjecting herself to pain and humiliation (a genre called ordealism.) Reading about it, you can’t help but feel that this art is beyond parody. My favorite piece is the one where she scrubbed a roomful of rotting, maggot-infested cow bones on her hands and knees, sobbing while video’s of her parents were projected on the walls of the “space.”

In another early piece, she stood still while the audience was offered a wide array of implements with which to torment her.

At MOMA, she will mount a work called “The Artist is Present,” in which she will sit still at a table for ten hours a day, staring into space, throughout the retrospective. Audience members may choose to sit opposite her at the table.

Here is the thing: I personally sit staring into space for MORE THAN TEN HOURS A DAY! I never thought of this as Art, but now I’m mulling it over. Maybe it is Art,   a sort of confrontation with time and eternity, a refusal to interact with gainful employment, and therefore a statement about the subjugation of of modern Man, I mean Women.

Read the article in the New Yorker if you possibly can. It’s a transformative experience that doesn’t even require you to get up off your ass!

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32 Responses to Ordealism: The Art of Suffering

  1. I wish I could think of some witty repost but I’ve been laughing since the first sentence and now I can’t stop.

  2. hammie says:

    Sorry Sis; But Tracy Emin was all over that shit years ago xx

  3. XuXu says:

    Part of me says “Fuck Her She Can Come
    Eat The Shit Of My Ordealism.”

    Is Just Me Since Wednesday Night.


  4. Ann says:

    I can think of several people that I wish would find inspiration and re-create her early piece, and give me a wide array of implements with which to torment them. THEN I’d be totally on board with this art.

  5. arline says:

    I am having mixed feelings about this.

  6. Braindance says:

    She should get together with David Blane, maybe they could sit at a table, inside a perspex box and stare into space together.
    Life is mainly pain & humiliation, how you deal with it, that for me, is the real art.
    I am trying to correlate with her point, but it eludes me.

  7. annemarie says:

    I haven’t read all of the article but I get it. People love looking at the pain of others. It’s a great idea to make them go to museum and feel uncomfortable instead of self-congratulatory about it.

    Tracy Emin’s work is almost entirely autobiographical. Not the same at all.

  8. The New Yorker article was fascinating. Made me wonder if my life is Art too! If only I could figure out a way to make money out of suffering.
    I like the “piece” where she sits naked on a bicycle seat mounted on the wall, in a crucifixion pose. I’m going to MOMA in a few weeks; maybe I’ll take the kids to this show.

  9. Faux Fuchsia says:

    The world has really gone stark raving mad. I don’t need to see an artist in a museum actioning grief to understand pain. I’ll just think about my divorce and other sad stuff in my life. For free.

  10. Jules says:

    I’m sorry but I don’t believe that crap is art. Any nut job can sit at a table for 10 hours or scrub rotting cow bones while home movies play in the background. So are we supposed to change the name of all the mental hospitals and start calling them art museums? How about the homeless shelters too? Fuck that lady. She needs to get a real job.

  11. Cricket9 says:

    I would put Damien Hirsh severed bull head in formaldehyde on the table opposite to her – at least she would have something to stare at. I think there is quite enough suffering in the world already, no need to generate more; go home Marina and have a nice hot bubble bath and some champagne.
    On the other hand, I’m sure that for my former fellow art historians there is a masters thesis in it, and possible a doctorate…

  12. dust says:

    I’m proud to share roots with Marina, we come from what used to be one country and I quite understand her point of view.
    People forget that she was doing these performances for decades and it would be nice to at least try to read the article you’ve linked before they say “fuck her”.
    Your life is art Sister, that’s why you need to get this book deal.

  13. WendyB says:

    Maybe she and some of my relatives can try to out-martyr each other. I don’t give her much of a chance against them.

  14. Chelsea says:

    “Modern art = I could do that + yeah, but you didn’t.”
    -Craig Damrauer

  15. Mark says:

    Can’t wait to read the article. Another brilliant post, SW.

    On a side note: I nominate Liz Cheney for Cunt of the Week.

  16. Aja says:

    I really want to see this. I will totally check it out next time I’m in NYC (since I became a member of the Moma and feel so proud and adult like that I must mention it in a public forum).

  17. Aja says:

    Also . . . I second the book deal thought. Seriously, SW . . . I have a feeling you have a lot more stories up your sleeve that would delight an audience easily.

  18. Girl World says:

    the empress has old smelly clothes.
    i’d much rather watch u staring off into space.

  19. Jill says:

    I think she must be on the wrong meds.

  20. Kelly says:

    Will read the article. But please, let nothing be beyond parody!

  21. Cybill says:

    Isn’t she the author of “How to turn your incredible pain into income”?

  22. Bevitron says:

    My art by ordeal is reading the New Yorker article about her, and I’ll come and perform it in anybody’s living room for a thick slice of blueberry cheesecake and enough jack to re-pipe my downstairs bathroom so I can get more than a trickle of hot water.

  23. kate says:

    I can’t believe her ex-partner is criticizing her for re-enacting performance art!
    Yes, if the re-staging were to be a frequent occurrence–some kind of show on the road–then the performance aspect might lose its immediacy, but to set something up as a piece of art in a museum certainly allows for a retrospective that later echoes it. Why be overly precious with a work that will undoubtedly bring new conclusions every time it is performed? It sounds as if this Uwe is perhaps jealous or overly critical of his ex-lover’s success. Ordealism would seem to call for its participants to harbor (or at least greatly simulate) masochism, and it would seem this opens Abramovic up to the excessive petty criticism of sadists and other insensitive sorts.

    Her work is brave and fascinating and a brilliant response to the overwhelming alienation/anomie that even contemplating the wars in former Yugoslavia entails. Like “dust” above I also share Serbian roots and have driven myself sick with grief over the atrocities that happened there, but somehow this type of performance art really addresses the pain unique to war trauma in a way that isn’t crushing or silencing.

    The open invitation to make a direct emotional connection with an artist is a fantastic way of bridging the dissonance between anonymous viewer and the artist’s past intent in a non-living work. I would love to see Abramovic’s work to judge its effectiveness.

  24. Juri says:

    Advertising “The Artist Is Present” as “the longest durational work ever mounted in a museum” is a challenge for someone to outperform her. I for one am tempted to sit opposite her and after ten hours, when she attempts to leave, show her a cardboard sign saying, “The Artist is present – where the hell are YOU going?”

    Ah, and how could I miss her reperforming “a version of ‘Seedbed,’ [Vito Acconci’s] masturbation epic, as part of a show at the Guggenheim five years ago.” How did that happen?

    And a DVD of Abramovic and Ulay walking “toward each other along thousands of miles of the Great Wall of China” would definitely land on my wishlist if making performance art repeatable were not such an art crime.

    Does anyone know how the wall show ended? Is there a sequel where they turn around and walk away from each other “along the thousands of miles of the Great Wall of China?” There should be.

  25. lizzifer says:

    Masterbating under a ramp to the sounds of people walking above you, all the while shouting dirty things to make sure take notice that you are masterbating…Sounds like a typical Sunday to me.

  26. lizzifer says:

    make sure “they” take notice.

  27. Sister Wolf says:

    dust and kate – Even though I scoff at her methods, I do respect her for her courage and commitment.

  28. erika says:

    Anything can be performance art. Also the exploitation of one’s won emotions is common sense and a fine art at the same time. We are all actors here.
    Gosh I sound like an asshole…

  29. Cricket9 says:

    I’ve read the article, I respect her commitment, but I disagree with the Ordealism as art on a visceral level. I don’t have an interest in tormenting anyone with provided “implements” etc. – I wonder who, and more importantly – why, actually participated in the performance as Marina’s tormentors.

  30. Waikiki cane says:

    We believed ourselves indestructable, watchin only the madmen outside our frontiers & remained defenseless against our own madmen. -Timerman

  31. Jerald Addy says:

    finally watching this season's MadMen finale. damn that Betty. could I dislike her more?

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