In the world of performance art, where impertinence was an integral part of some of the best-known work from the 1960s/70s, the idea of re-staging pieces has usually been frowned upon. Peggy Phelan states that performance’s only life is in the present, “performance occurs over a time which will not be repeated. It can be performed again, but this repetition marks it as different”. Marina Abramović is adamant however, that performance art has to live and survive; with age, she feels the strong need to preserve the memory of performances.
Abramović’s performance Thomas Lips (also known as Lips of Thomas) first took place in 1975 at Galerie Krinzinger, Innsbruck, but was repeated in 1993 and in 2005 at the Guggenheim Museum, New York. In the performance, Abramović undertakes a range of actions that push her physical limits to an extreme and finally result in the transgression of bodily boundaries. Stark naked, she ate a kilo of honey, drank a litre of red wine, carved a five-pointed star onto her stomach using a razor blade, whipped herself, and lay down on a cross made of ice bleeding. The re-performance in 2005 repeated these actions, and lasted for seven hours without interruption.
The re-enactment of performance works such as Thomas Lips, allows the work to fit neatly into the currentaesthetic needs of the public. Any renewed interest in performance has to be reframed and displayed in a manner that accounts for the dematerialised and accelerated climate of today so as to relate to the current museum frame.
The work was relocated to a clearly delimited, raised area that looked suspiciously stage-like. David Carrier says that this deconstruction of the museum frame would point to a work of “post-object” art. He coins the term, which he states is often about the activity of making art but “focuses on the processes, leaving us uncertain what product might result from that activity”. As has often been noted, the modernist discarding of the frame and pedestal encourages informality. This re-staging also barred interruption; security guards expressly prevented the intrusion of spectators into the performance area. This prohibition of intervention also resituated the work. Abramović cannot be rescued; this tragedy is, in a sense, inevitable. By making intervention difficult, Abramović “exposes issues of collective culpability, action and inaction”. More specifically, she draws attention to the dynamics of witnessing that are particular to live performance.
Performance art tends to provoke controversy and spectator uneasiness through the manner in which the artist’s body becomes her element of emotional expression, and confrontation. The zone that Abramović enters when she undertakes a long-durational performance is perhaps the defining aspect of her art, yet it remains an ambiguous and hard-to-define element in her work.
Re-performance relates to the cultural turn in visual arts and cultures that has been evolving in the post-modern society we are living in today. It is a way to re-investigate artworks of the past, re-question the contents around their original placement, and encourage further understanding.