As I had reached the age when people are supposed to have their lives organised neatly, my beloved cousin Roberta gifted me Marina Abramović's (1946) memoir, "Walk Through Walls". I had a feeling that an intriguing trip in the time machine awaited me. Little did I realise then the profound lessons I would learn from this remarkable daughter of World War II partisans – lessons about incredible courage in being yourself, the determination to move forward, and the capacity to openly share life experiences.
Growing up in what was then Yugoslavia with an extremely cold, angry and pedantic mother and a strict, although maybe a bit more loving, father, Marina Abramović spent her whole life trying to erase the boundaries of fear, and to break free from the psychological issues acquired in the golden cage. After starting with painting, she felt true freedom only when she began using her body as an art tool. During the first performance (Rhythm 10, 1973), Marina caught the audience's attention by stretching out her hand on the table and stabbing knives between her fingers at full speed – like in a Russian game. There was blood and adrenaline, after which the young artist realised that this would be her way of expressing her attitude towards herself and the world (or maybe just expressing those feelings boiling inside, which are often difficult to name?).
Although the book describes what it means for Marina to cross borders as a descendant of fearless communists, after closing the last page, I would define the title simply like this: to dare to live an authentic life, unhindered by family opinions, societal stereotypes, and even national borders. Walking the Chinese border, living with the Australian aborigines and other cultural experiments illustrate the determination of this hot-blooded Serbian woman to know the world outside her comfort zone.
But don't think that this woman who has crossed the limits of pain goes through life cold-heartedly. She also experienced burnout due to her busy schedule. Marina admits that when important decisions need to be made, she simply flips a coin and lets the universe decide instead of wasting her energy. In addition, she believes in incomprehensible higher powers, and exotic spirituality, and has repeatedly proven that decisions made based on intuition, rather than logical deductions, can create unforgettable experiences. For example, a house in Amsterdam with a former drug dealer, which she saved from destruction.
"If you experiment, you are doomed to failure. By definition, experimentation means stepping into territory you've never been before, where failure is very possible. How do you know when you will succeed? It is very important to have the courage to face the unknown. I like to live in the in-between spaces, where you have to acquire the comforts and habits of your home and completely surrender to chance.”
Although I greatly admire this woman's intuition, I have little faith in exotic or religious spirituality and supernatural powers. I tend to approach Marina's tales of the energy field and her interactions with shamans with caution, though my curiosity remains piqued. For example, I'm uncertain about what to believe when this woman claims that she alters the human energy field with her incredibly long, endurance performances and asks: "What would it feel like to sit and stare at each other for as long as humanly possible, and then even longer? Would we move to a new level of awareness? Would we read each other's minds?" Maybe it's completely possible – the answers are given in the pages of this book.
Human feelings are a slightly more mundane topic, but no less mysterious than mind reading. How to use them at the level of true awareness? Marina also gives an answer to this question, which, I would say, is very suitable as a basis for a philosophy of life for those who refuse to lead a shallow existence until their last breath: "I believe that emotional awareness is everywhere around us. The only question is how to reach it. Most people have experienced moments when something in their brain says, “Oh my God, I understand now.” Those moments are very rare, but the knowing is always there – come and get it. All you have to do is drown out all the noise around you.
And for that, you have to exhaust your own thinking system, exhaust all your energy. This is extremely important. You must feel really exhausted, to the point where there is nothing left: when you're so tired that you just can't take it anymore. When the brain is so overworked that it can no longer think, there comes a moment when the ultimate knowing becomes available. It was very difficult for me to win that knowing, but I won it. And the only way to win it is to never, under any circumstances, give up."
For some, these memoirs may appear pretentious (like contemporary art itself) notes of a masochistic star, but for me, it's a confession of a woman who wasn't afraid to make mistakes and dared to live by her own rules. Living in her own way, she's able to unite art fans and even believes that united people can change consciousness and at the same time the world for the better. But first, her story inspires us to start by clearing ourselves and our consciousness. How? As the inner voice dictates.
Quotes translated from the Lithuanian version of the book.