'Italy, I love you': Marina Abramovic in a moving video message

The famous performance artist says we "must learn a lesson" from the disaster of the pandemic

Marina Abramovic

"Italy, I love you. And my heart is with you." These were the moving words leading performance artist Marina Abramovic spoke in a special video message regarding the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, that has devastated the European country. The video statement was made in association with Palazzo Strozzi as part of project IN TOUCH.

As part of the project, the international artist joined Ai Weiwei and Tomás Saraceno in sending a message of solidarity and encouragement emphasising how Italians are demonstrating “great courage and a great feeling of community and humanity". Abramovic was also keen to ruminate on how the COVID-19 crisis, an emergency now global, must serve us as an opportunity to rethink our relationship with the planet.

“I know this is a moment of crisis, and the virus is everywhere, but at the same time from the disasters, we have to learn a lesson...It is something going to pass but what is really left is a very valuable experience that human consciousness should change, our approach to our world and our planet should change. This is the lesson that we have to learn", she says.

Italy has played a significant role in Abramovic’s life and art. Many of the artist's early performances in the 1970s took place in Italy and were received with international acclaim. Rhythm 0 (1974), for instance, was a six-hour work at Studio Morra in Naples where Abramovic stood still while the audience was allowed to do anything they wanted to her using one of 72 objects on a table, including a loaded gun. In 1977, she performed the work Imponderabilia with her then-partner Ulay where they both stood naked at the entrance of the Galleria Comunale d'Arte Moderna in Bologna, forcing visitors to squeeze past them to enter. Then, Abramovic was awarded the Golden Lion for Best Artist at the 1997 Venice Biennale. In 2018, Palazzo Strozzi presented Italy’s first retrospective devoted to Abramovic's work, emphasising the way that Italy had influenced the artist.

Nevertheless, Abramovic has also sparked controversy in Italy. After a book signing at the opening of her Palazzo Strozzi show, an amateur artist hit the artist over the head with a painting on paper he had made of her that was framed but without glass. Arturo Galansino, Palazzo Strozzi’s director and the curator of the exhibition Marina Abramovic: the Cleaner, expressed “sadness that such an important exhibition for Italy should be marred by the actions of one individual”. Earlier in 2018, Abramovic also came under fire for a poster that she had designed for the Barcolana sailing regatta in the Gulf of Trieste. The city’s right-wing deputy mayor raised objections to its slogan of solidarity “We’re all in the same boat”, which referenced Italy's migrant crisis.

Meanwhile, Abramovic has a new show scheduled to open at the Royal Academy in September the RA is optimistic that it will go ahead. In Abramovic’s first major exhibition in the UK, the RA bring together works spanning her 50-year career, along with new works conceived especially for these galleries. As the performer approaches her mid-70s, her new work reflects on changes to the artist’s body, and explores her perception of the transition between life and death.

Audiences will be able to engage with the ongoing debate that Abramovic explores throughout the exhibition: can performance art outlive the moment of performance? ​She examines the question of legacy through photographs, videos, installations and re-performances by younger performers. Curated in close collaboration with Abramovic, this exhibition will offer visitors the sort of intense, physical encounter for which she has become known. The artist will participate in the programme of talks and events surrounding the exhibition

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