Balkan Baroque
Marina Abramovic, 1997

Unable to play video - your browser does not support any of the available video types.

'The video images in Balkan Baroque are spatially organized like a triptych, in the middle of which there is a life-size portrait showing Abramovic as a dual self. In the first part she is dressed in a white doctor's topcoat and acts as a scientist-zoologist who tells the story of the creation of the Wolf-Rats in the Balkans, animals that, when placed under unbearable conditions (one would say, like humans in war), begin to destroy each other. In the second part, she transforms into a woman - a 'typical' Balkan tavern singer who amuses the (male) audience - dancing, as if possessed, to the sounds of a folk melody (…). On the left and right there are video portraits of her mother and father, both of whom broke with the religious background of the Christian Orhodox families, went to the partisans, took part in the National Liberation War (1941-45), and joined the Communist Party. (…) The video-portrait with parents is installed in a dark room in which one could hardly notice three copper sculptures containing water, suggesting a spiritual purification. The act of self-purification is, however, performed by Abramovic who, for six hours a day over four consecutive days washes with a metal brush, soap and water a pile of cowbones, scraping the last bits of meat from them. This purification 'to the bone', as suggested by the expression itself, this clearing away of ballast (beautiful or ugly, pleasant or unpleasant, personal and collective past), becomes an individual work of mourning without which no rite of passage can occur.' (Bojana Pejic in Balkan Epic, exhibition catalogue Pirelli Museum, Milan, 2006)

The work is currently installed as a four-channel exhibition, the fourth channel - a registration of the performance - being shown on a monitor located inside the pile of bones.

MARINA ABRAMOVIC: When the war start in Bosnia, it was so difficult time for me. I was not there. I was living since long time outside of the country. And I remember so many artists immediately react and make the work and protests on the horrors of that war. And I remember that I could not do anything. It was too close to me.

I went to Belgrade, and I interview my mother, my father, and a man who catch rats for 35 years of his life.

There is a few things happening in this installation. It's positioned so the hands of my father, my father with a pistol, my mother first showing empty hands and then with crossed hands on her eyes. And then it's me first as a doctor, telling the story of the rat-catcher, and then as a sexy dancer, dancing to the Hungarian Czardas. And in the meantime there's a huge pile of bones, which during the entire performance I'm sitting and washing. It was summer in Venice, very, very hot and after a few days already worms start coming out of the bones. And the smell was unbearable.

The whole idea that by washing bones and trying to scrub the blood, is impossible.You can't wash the blood from your hands as you can't wash the shame from the war. But also it was important to transcend it, that can be used, this image, for any war, anywhere in the world. So to become from personal there can be universal.

  • Date: 1997
  • Type: Installation
  • Copyrights: All rights reserved (c) LIMA
  • Genre: performance (artwork genre), body art
  • Keywords: registration (technique), installation - multi-channel video installation, body, culture, politics, personal history, installation - sculpture