Performance artist Marina Abramovic breaks new ground - in mixed reality

The Life is a captivating addition to Abramovic's canon - and in a whole new dimension, no less

Photo: Microsoft Marina Abramovic wearing the HoloLens 2 headset

Marina Abramovic is likely the most acclaimed performance artist living today. Known for risky performances that push the limits of human endurance, it’s difficult to overstate her importance within the art world and pop culture at large.

From the 1970s through to the present, she has created dozens of incredibly impactful works that explore themes of courage, ego, endurance, and spirituality. In 2010, her iconic work The Artist Is Present, was the biggest exhibition at New York City’s MoMA ever. In the piece, she sat still for eight hours, every day, for nearly three months, sustaining eye contact with whomever sat across from her.

Marina’s most recent piece, The Life, further solidifies her unconventional and innovative approach to performance art, being her first artwork to harness mixed reality. Brought to life with the Microsoft's HoloLens 2, the 19-minute performance follows Abramovic, whose phantom-like virtual image appears in a vibrant red dress as she explores the space and its borders. Viewers become mesmerised by her mindful movements, her virtual image dissolving as she interacts with the installation’s borders.

For the first time, viewers are able to experience performance art without boundaries - and without the artist technically being “present.” As soon as they don the HoloLens 2 headset, Abramovic’s fully realised form takes shape before their eyes.

The Life is directed by Todd Eckert, founder of Tin Drum, a media production collective that explores themes like presence, preeminence, and contemporary technology. With The Life, Eckert and Abramovic sought to recreate the feeling of a live performance in mixed reality, without the artist ever physically appearing in the space.

“Any medium - visual, aural, even material - is really just a conduit for the energy of the artist to reach the understanding of the audience. In mixed reality we’ve achieved the first medium capable of presenting a recorded performance as an event happening now,” says Todd. “The artist is forever, in this case, which changes the very nature of what the conduit means. But for the audience with The Life, it’s my hope that they never think about such things. Instead I want them to walk away feeling like they were just in the room with Marina.”

“The nature of performance is the presence of the performer in real time and space. With mixed reality, that time, space, and presence can go to eternity," Marina Abramovic herself commented.

Through a collaboration with the legendary auction house Christie’s, the installation will cross the USA (and the Atlantic) to take up residence in Los Angeles, New York, and London for a series of private previews in tandem with the Frieze Art Fairs taking place in each city.

Abramovic is also receiving an epic career retrospective at the Royal Academy of Art in London. It’s the Academy’s first-ever solo exhibition by a woman in its 250 years. The Royal Academy will bring together works spanning her 50-year career along with new works conceived especially for their galleries.

Finally, in October 2020, in another first, artist Marina Abramovic’s The Life will become also the first mixed-reality work to be presented at art auction. Abramovic is even creating a custom vessel for the HoloLens 2 that will be included with The Life.

"Christie’s is incredibly proud to collaborate with Marina Abramovic, Tin Drum, and Microsoft on this ground-breaking work. We want to be active agents of change in the art world, and aim to have a primary role in exploring how technology and art are more and more intertwined." Stefano Amoretti, Specialist in Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie's, said.

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