Warning: This article contains images that some readers may find disturbing
Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović held a daring exhibition in 1974, when she totally left herself at the audience’s mercy for six long hours. “Rhythm 0”, the name of her work, comprised very few elements, but had a disturbing finish.
Marina stood rigidly in a room at Studio Morra in Naples. There were 72 objects placed on a table in this room. The following “instructions” were written on a sign for this work:
“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 (8 pm – 2 am)”
The utensils were divided into two groups. One was called “objects of pleasure,” the other “objects of destruction.” The pleasure selection contained harmless objects such as feathers, flowers, grapes, perfume, wine, and a piece of bread; the destructive items included knives, scissors, a metal rod, razor blades, and a pistol loaded with one bullet.
Little happened in the first few hours — only photographers dared to approach her. A little while later, members of the audience were approaching her, kissing her, lifting her hands into the air or handing her flowers. These were the tame beginnings of what was to be a grim night…
Some people began to carry her around, placing her on a table and sticking a knife between her legs. Several men groped her, touching her in intimate places. From the third hour onward, the “objects of destruction” started to come into play.
Her clothes were then ripped apart using razor blades and members of the audience began abusing her body and even cutting her. But the torture didn’t stop there and things only got worse.
“In the third hour all her clothes were cut from her with razor blades. In the fourth hour the same blades began to explore her skin. Her throat was slashed so someone could suck her blood. Various minor sexual assaults were carried out on her body. She was so committed to the piece that she would not have resisted rape or murder,” said American art critic Thomas McEvilley, who observed the work.
“I felt really violated: they cut up my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head,” said Marina, looking back on the final two hours of the work.
It’s hard to believe what happened next. Once the six hours were up and she became a “human being” again, the audience could no longer look her in the eye. Everyone just left — they couldn’t approach her as a person.
However, there have been differing views expressed on what actually happened. It’s been said that the audience, as with the objects, split into two groups: an “aggressor” group and a “protector” group. When someone pointed the pistol at the her, it’s reported that a fight broke out between the two factions in the audience. Either way, it was a truly shocking experiment.
You can watch the following video to hear Marina Abramović herself describe what happened that night:
“This work reveals something terrible about humanity. It shows how fast a person can hurt you under favorable circumstances. It shows how easy it is to dehumanize a person who does not fight, who does not defend himself. It shows that if he provides the stage, the majority of ‘normal’ people, apparently can become truly violent,” said Marina. Sad, but true.