I’ve yet to truly recover from a London visit to the latest exhibition of Marina Abramović at the Royal Academy: a visceral encounter that left me reeling. Marina, who is visiting London for the next few months, has little time to herself thanks to this show, leading other performance art events, her work with English National Opera – and promotion for her Visual Biography.
In it, Marina and Katya Tylevich begin the process of sorting out the former’s massive archive of work, which goes back some 55 years. Marina chimes in as we see photos from her childhood room, her family, new images of her work, functions she attended and more candid moments. It is the revelation that she almost died earlier this year, and the hurried nature in which A Visual Biography was finished, that might be the most telling elements. Even with the artist in hospital, she and Tylevich write to each other, Marina realising that so much has been left out and a fear looming of what exactly this book will become.
Descriptions of Marina’s turbulent relationship with her mother, fascinating and wild mid-1970s performance work, and the coupling with fellow artist Ulay make the result a fine coffee-table, page-turner. Though I don’t quite see the point of putting huge words over images seen for the first time, when they have already featured on the previous page, shots of her time in Brazil in a mine and the famous Great Wall Of China show – where her and Ulay walked the entirety and met in the middle to be wed – are the most emotional.
Fate would prove otherwise: their relationship had proven so fraught that instead, upon seeing each other, they separated. Things aren’t ever quite the same afterwards – though luscious photos of her recent work, which got bigger and bigger in size and scope, prove noteworthy. The image of Marina Abramović in a hospital bed hits home the most – the most recent entry of a remarkable artist who helped formulate a new form of art.
Marina Abramović: A Visual Biography, Marina Abramović with Katya Tylevich (Lawrence King)
Price: £80. Info: here
words JAMES ELLIS