Isabelle Davis

November 18, 2015



the most important moments have been the moments in which i had to be quiet. not because i was following rules, but because to make noise would be to ruin & i knew that intrinsically. silence gives the moment gravity. it pulls my tree heart up & up from the ground & attaches it to the experience like a nest.


the piece starts in the winter & it ends in the summer & it lasts for 700 hours of gallery time. she sat & she did not move & she said nothing & she let other people sit & say nothing. & she called this art. & everybody cried.

on the last day people lined up over 24 hours in advance to become the last of the half a million people who went to go see her. one woman waited like this & took off her dress while marinas eyes were still closed & security would not let her sit down. she had to leave the premises. the woman cried. she just wanted to get closer to what marina abramović radiates.

marina lets people call her the grandmother of performance art. it has no grandfather. it does not need one with marina around.


the man at the 7/11 takes my phone off the counter & slips it into my plastic bag with the other items i am buying today. the other items i am buying today are two boxes of mac and cheese.  when i walk out i try imagining if i would have forgotten my phone had he not put it lightly into the bag. like a fragile item not covered in cracks. there’s no way of knowing, now that it happened. when i get back up to my room across the street i cannot make myself put on the documentary i have been waiting to watch for months.

sometimes, i wait so long to do something that to do it would be to lose a part of myself.

the documentary is called the artist is present. it is about marina. her piece has the same name.  both are about being strong & i am not ready to be strong yet. her work is the kind that hurts to look at. it overcomes me & it turns me & it makes me into something more solid than i am ready to be today.

but a performance is all about limits. it is about how far a person can push themselves, about seeing if they can go past what most people can imagine doing to themselves or having done to them. when done well, this becomes art.


seventy-five things went on the table for rhythm 0.

but before this, yoko ono put scissors in front of herself.

every cut was an act of violence, my professor says. he knows he knows he knows he knows.

yoko didn’t tell the audience anything. she did not say anything. she put the scissors in front of her & she remained passive. but cut piece was not passive. people are not passive. she put the scissors in front of her & gave people power they did not earn, they did not deserve. even the women, even the women hurt her like this. they cut until they got to yokos bra strap & then they cut that too.

the women hurt marina, but the men. the men picked up the gun, & loaded the gun, & pointed the gun at her head. someone else had to make the man put it down. the women pushed rose thorns into her skin, into her neck. everyone used scissors. everyone cut past her bra.

on the corner of state & congress a man asks me if i would like a sample or any help out of this skirt & everyone hears & i hear & none of us say anything.  my pepper spray is at the bottom of my bag & i’m not walking with anyone right now. even if these things were not the case, i would not say anything; i would not do anything.

for reasons i don’t understand, the men who perform art do not perform in this way. they do not put themselves in the position to be degraded.  maybe it would not be as effective. maybe everyone would be too afraid.

for us, for women, it is safer not to say anything. not to do anything. i am always forgetting how to speak when i am being degraded.

no one is afraid of marina until the end. until six hours of standing there, of letting it happen, end. & she begins to move towards them. & they all back away. & they all are ashamed.


her work with ulay is often silent as well. but this is a different kind of silent. it is the kind that cradles a sexual relationship. on the night they met, we go straight to his house & stay in bed for ten days. 

when people imagine sex, i imagine, they do it visually. i imagine they think about the feeling of being touched. i imagine i am doing it wrong. when i touch myself i think about the words my partner would say to me. at first there is a scenario but that quickly fades away. by the time i am orgasming it is just a stream of things they could be saying to me. it is just a slew of dirty words & judgments that somehow take my worst fears and make them hot.

during actual sex we are usually quiet. at the beginning they might say a few things. they might tell me i’m bad. but by the end it is all about eye contact or biting my neck or holding me down.  actual sex takes on intimacy in quiet. in breathing.

marina & ulay apply this to their art. in one piece they share air. she has determined that he is not just her other half but that they are a singular entity. they call themselves the other. they connect themselves at the mouths & share air until they are just passing carbon dioxide & then they faint. they faint into each other.

he says, our twelve years were as intense as heavy & as real as other peoples whole lives.

marina held the end of a bow & arrow steady. ulay held the other end. it pointed at her heart.  they stood like this, rotating, silently, waiting, & neither of them made a mistake. they called this rest energy. after they went home, they went to the van they had lived in for almost five full years at that point. ulay drove the whole time, she knit & washed their clothing. it was very traditional for people who were not.

she says, it [the relationship] was really horrible, & painful, & destructive. but it was creative at the same time. so it was worth it.

to display their merging into one person, they used their separate bodies to repeatedly run into each other without saying a word. they went back to the van with bruises, but we never hurt.  ulay smiles likes nothing better ever happened to him than running at full force into a woman who knew no other speed.


marinas parents were both soldiers in former yugoslavia. they raised her like a soldier. her mother kept her curfew at 10 pm until she was 29, at which point, she left. marina carved a pentagram into her stomach before 10 pm. she whipped herself until she could no longer feel pain before 10 pm. she passed out in fire before 10 pm. her warrior parents did not tell her that they loved her. to do that would be to spoil her.

marina wants to spoil everyone. she wants to radiate a love without saying anything.

her ex-husband says that when he first met her he thought she was already in love with him. it took him a while to realize that she was in love with everyone. with the world.

i watch four seasons of a very bad tv show. the tv show is chuck. i am embarrassed that i am watching it, but i tell everyone because if i tell them maybe they will be able to know why i am watching it. they will be able to tell that i need someone to hold me before my pieces begin to flake off. i wait for someone to radiate at me.

i do not tell the only person i should until it is too late. until i can make my sadness into a joke.

by the time she is going to see ulay again, after 20 years of nothing, marina regularly sees a psychologist. she goes for a visit before ulay arrives at her loft. he is going to put a finger on her teeth, he is going to make something sensitive. her psychologist is very strict. she told me, emotionally, im not doing so bad. this is almost positive.

when ulay comes in they act almost casual. marina is wearing couture. ulay, all light wash denim & crocs. they go for a drive. halfway through marina makes ulay get out of the drivers seat so she can drive him. in their 12 years together she never did that.

ulay takes a picture of her, climbing into the seat. lets go, lets ride. marina says, you can knit my hats now.


miranda july wrote, his eyes held my eyes like hands. people do not understand this until they do. sometimes this takes years & sometimes it takes meeting marina.

she holds everyones eyes like baby birds.

she hurts from this & they, the people who sit across from her, hurt from this too, but not in the same way. at the end of the day the museum asks everyone to go home & marina crawls out of her chair. she goes underneath her table & uses the child’s pose but it is not supposed to be the child’s pose, it is supposed to be the fetal position.

to sit still for months and days on end means endurance. it means a type of strength most people could never imagine needing. she worries about other people hurting her, she hides a gun inside of her chair. but it is her chair, her endurance, that causes the pain.

when i get my tattoo the needle presses into my skin & i have chosen this. katie holds my hand until the woman asks if i’m getting this as a memorial & i have to ask for katie to leave. i cry & beyza comes in. they hold my eyes like baby birds. they radiate. we make silly faces & do not say much of anything.

ulay comes to the the artist is present. it is the only day marina breaks form. it is the only moment in which she does not simply make eye contact. she leans across the table, arms outstretched. he laughs & she is so shaky. they hold hands & the music does not swell because this is real life, but this is a performance too. everyone claps. everyone knows.

he stands up. he leaves. marina cannot reopen her eyes. she is not ready to see the next person. but she is an artist. she opens them. she makes eye contact with this woman that implies she is the only person in the world.


i am an endless word vacuum. i interrupt you & then i interrupt myself to apologize for that. it can be hard for me to appreciate quiet. i am trying though. marina, in her manifesto, says the artist should stay for long periods of time looking at the stars in the night sky. i am trying.


we were born on the same day. november the thirtieth. both sagittarius. obvious, ulay says before describing how hard they fell apart.

they broke because their art became better & their relationship deteriorated. they cheated on each other. he got another woman pregnant. romance is never beautiful. but she ended theirs beautifully despite that. she planned the lovers because, what else could she do. he started by the yellow sea, she started by the gobi desert. they walked the great wall of china, they walked 900 miles, until they met in the middle. they hugged. they kept walking for 900 more miles, away from each other. it left time for thinking, it left months for thinking.

she moves on without him & he grinds to a stop. marina does not persevere, she transforms her hurt into something else. without ulay, her ex-husband says, the audience is her lover.


celebrities come to the moma to see her.  shia labouf comes so he can steal her work later.

other performance artists do not understand marina anymore. she does not always adhere to the minimalism she preaches, she wears designer clothing, she works with lady gaga & jay-z & is close friends with david blaine, she has deep files for every chapter of her life & those files are stored in a building that will eventually become a school named after her.  when she dies, marina will have three funerals in three cities— belgrade, amsterdam, and new york— & everyone will wear bright colors & each city will have a casket, & no one will know which has the real body.

more than this, she has turned her life into a performance in a way they do not approve of. a man who once went underneath the floorboards of an art gallery & masturbated as the people above him looked at art, says that she has made it a personality cult. he hates the display of self. it is too honest. house with an ocean view is too honest. or maybe he hates that when he let marina reperform— another concept he does not think relates well to the truest emotional form of performance— seedbed it had a louder message, a deeper message. a woman masturbating under floorboards makes sense, it says so much more than some guy jacking off, my professor says. he knows he knows he know he knows.

marina does not care, anymore, if other performers think that she is doing the right thing or following the right code.  she has been alternative for sixty years & now, i am done with it.


at the end of april, with one month left in the performance, marina removes the table between her chair & the other chair. she makes herself more vulnerable.

she becomes more bare with each passing minute. with each eye held. it thrills everyone except for the people closest to her. she lives in a way that pushes her up against her & their fears every minute, as a way to transcend them.

the priest doesn’t need a cross, her ex-husband says, when she takes the table away.

but to call marina a priest is an insult. it makes her more human than i am comfortable with.


in may a little boy sits in front of marina.  they hold eye contact for minutes. she loves him & he loves her & they both hum with it.  after, the boy sits on the ground above her, he cant walk yet, he cant say anything. too much has just happened & he is very small. his mother kneels down with him, sobbing. i am very proud of you. so proud of you.

You Might Also Like