Barbarism Anyone

The Guggenheim has issued an open invitation to voyeuristic barbarism ? with Marina Abramovic as the eager victim. Next month, New York will be treated to seven consecutive days of the exhibitionism of Marina Abramovic, a performance artist, who plans to mutilate herself in the museum. Her performance art consists of several seven-hour-long stints of self mutilation, where she plans to cut herself on the stomach, nails, and lips in various set pieces.Why is this barbarism? Why can't this too be art? Two centuries ago, Edmund Burke wrote, "I am convinced we have a degree of delight, and no small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others.

"1 To unlock this urge - this delight in the pain of others in the context of an exhibition, is to unleash mob instincts. "The violence of the feelings of crowds is also increased, especially in heterogeneous crowds, by the absence of all sense of responsibility."2 (Gustave Le Bon) The mob mentality occurs precisely because the individual feels no personal sense of responsibility for the events unfolding before him. Indeed, this freedom from accountability allows for the indulgence in the "pleasures" of watching the suffering of others. Is this the goal of art? To transform us into a shameful mob?.Ms.

Abramovic has transformed museum-goers into bloodthirsty mobs in the past. Take for example, one of her renowned pieces performed in Naples. In 1974, Marina Abramovic now 60 years old, performed a piece called, "Rhythm 0". In it, she stood passively in a museum for six hours with 72 items around her, including knives, a needle and a loaded gun. She invited the crowd to use any of the tools on her that they wanted to, in whatever way they wished. According to the New York Times, here was the result: "The participants became involved slowly at first, but after a while Ms.

Abramovic's clothes were cut off, and her body marked, burned and cut. Finally, a man took the gun and made her put it up to her head, trying to force her to squeeze the trigger. She didn't resist, but a fight ensued as other spectators intervened.

" (NYT, Sunday 11/6/05).To cultivate this base and sad aspect of our selves is immoral. It is immoral to invoke humanity's base and murderous urges for the sake of spectacle.

This is the same murderous urge that shouts to a depressive on a window ledge, "Jump!" No, this lowest aspect of being is not to be nurtured, toyed with, cultivated or titillated.It is immoral because of the violation to her own body. But perhaps more immoral is the insidious violation of our psyches. Putting aside Ms.

Abramovic's welfare, what does this grisly indulgence do to us? It horrifies us, or worse titillates us, but ultimately serves to harden us against emotional warmth. "Citizens of modernity, consumers of violence as spectacle, adepts of proximity without risk, are schooled to be cynical about the possibility of sincerity."3 (Susan Sontag) This is one of the high costs to society for this sort of indulgence.Further, it is the responsibility of the keepers of art to draw the line. And as a matter of fact, they did draw the line - at crucifixion.

Yes, Ms. Abramovic wanted to nail her hands to a Volkswagen and drive it around the museum. Apparently, museum officials balked at this. Well, at least some sanity prevailed, even if it was perhaps ultimately prompted by insurance and liability issues.For many, the answer to the question, "Barbarism Anyone?" will always be "Yes.

1. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful

Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd 1895 (Dover publications, New York) p.22
3. Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, (Farrar Strauss and Giroux, NY 2003), p.


.Elizabeth Crawford
Adjunct Professor, Emory University.

By: Liz Crawford

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