Listening to Marina Abramović: Rhythm 10

When artist Marina Abramović and curator Klaus Biesenbach first met with the Publications team to discuss the catalogue that would accompany her exhibition at MoMA, Marina knew she wanted to create a book that offered a different kind of reading experience. Hoping to address the eternal challenge of capturing the complexity of live performance on the printed page, she proposed the addition of an audio component, which she felt would allow for a more personal, intimate, and experiential understanding of the work. What you hear in this video is a track from the resulting CD, which comes with the book.

Cover of the publication Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present, by Klaus Biesenbach

From the very first track on the CD, aptly called The Artist’s Guide, Marina is present in the experience of reading the book. She engages the reader by starting with a series of instructions:

“Dear reader, before starting to read this book, you need a little preparation. Find comfortable seat—at the table, in the living room, or kitchen. Drink glass of pure water. Relax. Breathe slow, and close your eyes a few moments, until I count to seven…”

She then literally guides the reader through the entire publication, providing personal anecdotes for most of the fifty works that are featured, which span more than four decades of her career. While the book’s pages document the performances through illustrations and details, the audio offers Marina’s insight: on how a piece was conceived, what was going through her mind as she performed, or even humorous recollections relating to particular events.

For Rhythm 10 (1973), the piece she discusses in this clip, the book lists the objects used—a white sheet of paper, twenty knives of different sizes, and two tape recorders—and the details of the performance, which she begins like this:

I turn on the tape recorder.

I take the first knife and stab in between the fingers of my left hand as fast as possible.

Every time I cut myself, I change the knife.

When I’ve used all of the knives (all of the rhythms), I rewind the tape recorder.

I listen to the tape recording of the first part of the performance.

I concentrate…

Pages showing Rhythm 10 from the publication Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present

The audio places the performance in the context of Marina’s life and career—in this case, very early career. When the text, photos, and audio are experienced together, they not only enhance the reader’s understanding of specific performances but offer insight into Marina’s development as an artist, allowing for a more nuanced appreciation of her work.

For another audio clip from the catalogue, be sure to check back next week!