Marina Abramović: An Art Made of Trust, Vulnerability and Connection at TED Talks (Transcript)

The curator said to me, “That’s ridiculous, you know, this is New York, this chair will be empty, nobody has time to sit in front of you.”

But I sit for three months. And I sit everyday, eight hours — the opening of the museum — and 10 hours on Friday when the museum is open 10 hours, and I never move. And I removed the table and I’m still sitting, and this changed everything. This performance, maybe 10 or 15 years ago — nothing would have happened.

But the need of people to actually experience something different, the public was not anymore the group — relation was one to one. I was watching these people, they would come and sit in front of me, but they would have to wait for hours and hours and hours to get to this position, and finally, they sit.

And what happened? They are observed by the other people, they’re photographed, they’re filmed by the camera, they’re observed by me and they have nowhere to escape except in themselves. And that makes a difference. There was so much pain and loneliness, there’s so much incredible things when you look in somebody else’s eyes, because in the gaze with that total stranger, that you never even say one word — everything happened.

And I understood when I stood up from that chair after three months, I am not the same anymore. And I understood that I have a very strong mission, that I have to communicate this experience to everybody. And this is how, for me, was born the idea to have an institute of immaterial performing arts. Because thinking about immateriality, performance is time-based art. It’s not like a painting.

You have the painting on the wall, the next day it’s there. Performance, if you are missing it, you only have the memory, or the story of somebody else telling you, but you actually missed the whole thing. So you have to be there.

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And in my point, if you talk about immaterial art, music is the highest — absolutely highest art of all, because it’s the most immaterial. And then after this is performance, and then everything else.

That’s my subjective way. This institute is going to happen in Hudson, upstate New York, and we are trying to build with Rem Koolhaas, an idea. And it’s very simple. If you want to get experience, you have to give me your time. You have to sign the contract before you enter the building, that you will spend there a full six hours, you have to give me your word of honor.

It’s something so old-fashioned, but if you don’t respect your own word of honor and you leave before — that’s not my problem. But it’s six hours, the experience. And then after you finish, you get a certificate of accomplishment, so get home and frame it if you want. This is orientation hall. The public comes in, and the first thing you have to do is dress in lab coats.

It’s this importance of stepping from being just a viewer into experimenter. And then you go to the lockers and you put your watch, your iPhone, your iPod, your computer and everything digital, electronic. And you are getting free time for yourself for the first time. Because there is nothing wrong with technology, our approach to technology is wrong. We are losing the time we have for ourselves.

This is an institute to actually give you back this time. So what you do here, first you start slow walking, you start slowing down. You’re going back to simplicity. After slow walking, you’re going to learn how to drink water — very simple, drinking water for maybe half an hour. After this, you’re going to the magnet chamber, where you’re going to create some magnet streams on your body.

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Then after this, you go to crystal chamber. After crystal chamber, you go to eye-gazing chamber, after eye-gazing chamber, you go to a chamber where you are lying down. So it’s the three basic positions of the human body, sitting, standing and lying. And slow walking. And there is a sound chamber.

And then after you’ve seen all of this, and prepared yourself mentally and physically, then you are ready to see something with a long duration, like in immaterial art. It can be music, it can be opera, it can be a theater piece, it can be film, it can be video dance. You go to the long duration chairs because now you are comfortable.

In the long duration chairs, you’re transported to the big place where you’re going to see the work. And if you fall asleep, which is very possible because it’s been a long day, you’re going to be transported to the parking lot.

And you know, sleeping is very important. In sleeping, you’re still receiving art. So in the parking lot you stay for a certain amount of time, and then after this you just, you know, go back, you see more of the things you like to see or go home with your certificate.

So this institute right now is virtual. Right now, I am just making my institute in Brazil, then it’s going to be in Australia, then it’s coming here, to Canada and everywhere.

And this is to experience a kind of simple method, how you go back to simplicity in your own life. Counting rice will be another thing. You know, if you count rice you can make life, too. How to count rice for six hours? It’s incredibly important. You know, you go through this whole range of being bored, being angry, being completely frustrated, not finishing the amount of rice you’re counting.

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