Marina Abramovic brings inspiration at home

The Serbian edition of “The Cleaner” is to be performer's biggest spectacle

Serbian performer Marina Avramovic

Marina Abramovic is one of the most famous, extravagant and unscrupulous performance artists in the world. Known as the grandmother of performance art, in her memorable and breathtaking exhibitions, she has always explored the relationship between a performer and an audience, limits of human body and possibilities of a mind. And now, her return to Belgrade is - as she describes it herself - a big deal professionally, as well personally.

Not only is the city her hometown, but it has been more than four decades since she had a solo show there, and that was back when it what was the capital of former Yugoslavia. It’s the place where she first discovered how to create art that is not subjected and subdued to conventional rules, and where she says she now wants to inspire other younger artists to do the same.

Perhaps because of the length of time since she left at aged 29, the world-renowned artist published an open letter on July 26 in the Serbian weekly Nedeljnik to reintroduce herself to her home city. The personal note, signed “with love, Marina,” starts off with a memory from her youth in Belgrade when she was first becoming an artist.

“I watched [clouds] often while lying on the grass, and one day my observation was suddenly interrupted by planes, which appeared out of nowhere and left a beautiful pattern in the sky,” she writes. “At that moment, I realised that everything could be used to create, and that there was no reason to limit myself to studio painting.”

The artist’s retrospective, which is called “The Cleaner,” has been on an extensive European tour since 2017, but its finale in Belgrade will be extra special. Organised by Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, “The Cleaner” traveled first to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, near Copenhagen in Denmark, where she and her former partner Ulay were reconciled. The exhibition went next to the Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn, and was most lately on show at CoCA in Torun, Poland.

In Belgrade, where the exhibition is due to open on 21 September and run until January 2020, the show will be at its largest. “Rhythmics”, in this order: “10”, “5”, “2”, “4” and “0”, presented in a sort of first Marina retrospective at the Salon of Contemporary Art in 1975, will also be featured in the “The Cleaner”.

“My professional return to Belgrade is a big deal for me,” Abramovic writes, adding that this might be the most exciting show since her exhibition at MoMA, “The Artist Is Present” in 2010.

But besides the biggest, it will also be the most significant to her personally, she says. “I only came back to visit family. I last exhibited here on my own 45 years ago. Now, almost half a century later, I want to show, especially to the new generation, what I’ve been doing all these years.”

“Only when you make a mistake [it] means you are doing something new and experimenting,” the performer adds, stressing the importance of sharing this message with young people who may be facing similar challenges.

“In the end, only when you go through a series of failures and create your own path can you accomplish what you envisioned,” she writes.

Abramovic nevertheless, has not always spoken highly of her time in Yugoslavia. “I come from a dark place,” she wrote in the opening of her 2016 memoir, Walk Through Walls, recalling the communist era under leader Josip Tito. “Perpetual shortages of everything, drabness everywhere. There is something about communism and socialism - it’s a kind of aesthetic based on pure ugliness.” She left in 1975 to move to Amsterdam, the same year she had her last solo show in Belgrade.

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