Rhythm 5
Marina Abramovic, 1974, 8'11''

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Marina Abramovic performed 'Rhythm 5' only once in 1974 at the Student Cultural Center in Belgrade. It was one of her first performances. This registration is a transfer of a silent black-and-white 8mm film, captured by Marina's brother, Velmir Abramovic. The video reveals through moving imagery for the first time exactly how the events of this seminal performance transpired. The footage centers on Abramovic first stoking the fire and performing her cleansing and cutting exercises, before entering the burning arena, adopting the star motif with her standing body and finally lying down in the corresponding shape.

Abramovic's instructions for the piece state: “I construct a five-pointed star (made of wood shavings soaked in 100 litres of petrol). Performan
e: I light the star. I walk around the star. I cut my hair and throw it into each end of the star. I cut my fingernails and throw them into each end of the star. I enter the empty space in the star and lie down.”

The performance was an hour-and-a-half long. When Abramovic entered the center of the star of burning flames the audience (which included Joseph Beuys) didn't quite realize that Abramovic lost consciousness as the powerful flames sucked all the oxygen out of the air. She was at last rescued when members of the audience pulled her, unconscious, from the fire. While the performance and multi-faceted symbolism of the five-pointed star of Communism (hence the title Rhythm 5) – also the pentagram of occultism – was a direct challenge to her parents, their politics and the state, it was also a challenge to herself and the first of many such endurance-based works. “In this period, Abramovic focused on her body’s limits, making it both object and subject of the artistic action in which the artist pointed toward the literal and direct physical act on the body: in a behavioral sense, potential energy is transformed into mechanical, biochemical, sexual, psychological, and social energy.” (Biesenbach, 2010)

In a 1998 interview with Thomas McEvilly, Abramovic said of the impact of the performance: “I was supposed to stay there, till it burned down, but as I was lying there the fire took up all the oxygen and I passed out. Nobody knew what was happening till a doctor in the audience noticed it and pulled me out. This was when I realized that the subject of my work should be the limits of the body.”

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  • Date: 1974
  • Length: 8'11''
  • Type: Video
  • Copyrights: All rights reserved (c) LIMA
  • Genre: body art, performance (artwork genre)