Performance art becomes a horror show when a young female artist gives the public total power over her body.
In 1974, the Serbian artist Marina Abramović endured six hours at the hands of the public. She offered her body, 72 objects representing pain and pleasure, and stood silently without protest. The outcome is an exploration of collective action, responsibility, vulnerability and aggression. “I felt really violated”, she said of the experience. The following information was presented to attendants:
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.
Duration: 6 hours (8pm–2am.)
Some of the objects included paint, lipstick, flowers, matches, a candle, a polaroid camera, chains, a whip, various knives, cake, wine, clothing and a loaded gun. The exhibition began innocently enough— they fed her chocolate cake, kissed her, put her arms in the air, touched her semi-intimately. “In the beginning the public was really very much playing with me,” she remembers.
Then the audience became more and more daring. Her clothes were cut off her body, her throat was slashed and someone began to suck her blood. She remained passive throughout various sexual assaults and physical torture. Finally, one participant put a gun in her hand and pointed it to her head. Another forced it out of his hands and a fight broke out.
“What I learned was that… if you leave it up to the audience, they can kill you… I felt really violated: they cut up my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the audience. Everyone ran away, to escape an actual confrontation.”
This performance art, a social experiment, shows exactly how cruel society will treat a submissive woman. Psychology suggests that this brand of extreme passivity can be perceived as aggressive. People become frustrated when they are unable to solicit the reactions they deem appropriate. It is nearly impossible to deal with the total elimination of boundaries.
Still, there were those that came to her defense. They wiped away her tears, covered her nipples and genitals from exposure, attempted to create boundaries. Ultimately, as written by Natalia Borecka, “If the point of Rhythm 0 was to hold up a mirror to the darker corners of human nature, then the performance piece was a huge success. Not only did it reveal the true price of passivity, it hinted at what submissive women might really be up against when they leave themselves in the hands of strangers.”