Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Recreating a performance art piece, just for fun

Riki's picture

instructions for the pieceinstructions for the piece

"This is a recreation of a performance art piece by Marina Abramovic. You may use the objects in the box to inflict pleasure or pain upon my body. I will not react. If you do not feel comfortable doing this, you may sit facing me in silence. I will not react. I assume all responsibility to anything that happens to my body during this piece. I ask that you do not cut my hair or destroy my clothes (for practical matters)."

The above statement was written on a piece of paper and placed on a table outside the campus center. The objects pictured below were also on the table.



I sat in a chair at the table. Abramovic's piece lasted for six hours, and she had 72 objects, including a gun with one bullet. By recreating an alternate version of her piece, I was hoping to gain an understanding of human interaction as a passive object. I was also hoping to make a video about what I learned but I didn't allow myself enough time for the GIST web project deadline, so I am making a portfolio entry for fun to document my experience.

There weren't as many passers-by as I thought there would be, so there weren't that many opportunities for interaction. Strangers ignored me or looked confused while walking by, but no strangers came close enough to read my sign or do anything to me. People I knew stopped to investigate. I did not talk to them or make eye contact (though I would have made eye contact if they had sat across from me, but I think only one or two people did), and I tried my best not to react when my body was acted upon. I was tied to the chair with string. One of my hands was taped to my face (which got very cold after a while; it was about 40 degrees outside), and the other was taped to my pocket. Someone put paperclips on my ears. Someone squeezed my hand with the wrench and then put the black clip on my hand (both of which hurt. After about 20 minutes, someone else came and took the clip off my hand because she felt badly). Someone wrote on my face and stomach with marker. Someone fed me honey. Someone tied a bow in my hair. Someone gave me a sedative from the pill bottle, which caused me to fall asleep for several hours once I went back to my room. Nothing was particularly pleasurable or painful. The sedation was annoying. I was surprised the person put it in my mouth because they said, "I don't know what this does." It is interesting that giving someone a pill without knowing its consequences is much easier to do than cutting someone with a knife.

When people acted on me, they did so only when someone else was present. I wonder if people would have felt more comfortable doing things to me if the piece were more private and not where friends and colleagues could see them. People talked about not wanting to hurt me. The person who squeezed my hand with a wrench tried it on herself first. She was contemplating cutting me with the knife, but decided against it after testing it out on herself. This person astutely noticed that most of the objects were for pain, not pleasure, and therefore I must have set them out so that someone would use them.

When I think about this experience, I wonder whether I was merely an object, or a reflection of the subject performing the action. If I were not to react, would the person really be hurting me? Or would they be hurting themselves? Did they gain any information or understanding from the interaction since I did not respond with verbal or body language? I'm interested to know what the participants learned.


Liz McCormack's picture

silent transactions

What an interesting and risky! riff on Abramovic's work.  I was particularly intrigued by the flow, or lack there of, of information you established by choosing particular objects and the location of the performance and then also not reacting.  I liked your sense of possible reflective information flow.

Also, your observations of people and their behaviors was keen and reminded me of the practices of science.  I wonder if you'd be interested to take the next step and try to develop a "theory" of people's reactions.  What kind of theory might Hayles, for example, propose considering the interaction as a type of "reading"?   What other frameworks from the course could shape a "theory", i.e.,  be used to construct the meaning of the performance?