In Conversation with Marina Abramovic (2010)
The following conversation appeared in our book ‘Glasshouse In Retrospective’ which chronicles the first 5 years of Glasshouse project- from an online performance platform, through it’s transition to a physical space and several nomadic iterations.
In conversation with Marina Abramovic
Part 1- December 2010
Marina Abramovic: The first question for me will be what is Glasshouse? Is it an institution, a private home, a gallery - what is it? When I say Glasshouse, I immediately think of 'The Large Glass' of Marcel Duchamp - is it referring to the artwork itself or a work in progress?
Lital Dotan: Actually it is something that has been changing over the years. If you had asked us that a year ago, before San Francisco, I would have said it is our home that was transformed into a very dynamic art space, then three months ago I would have said it is a domestic artistic laboratory - and finally just recently we have come to realize, Glasshouse is the evolution of our concept that art should be experienced in a place that allows staying.
Eyal Perry: It's not about the architecture; it's not about a solid permanent space. That's what allowed us to create our Glasshouse in San Francisco at your invitation; we came to a space that was nothing like a 'home', nothing like any of the Tel Aviv Glasshouses, and yet we managed to create a different concept for that specific space, time and circumstances. Actually, that's how we realized that Glasshouse is very fluid and it is wherever we take it.
L: But it's not just a definition of a physical space (or non-space for that matter). If I had to define two key elements of Glasshouse it would be that it is created over and over again through accumulation of performances in our living environment and that it allows hosting.
M: OK, when you say 'Glasshouse' you immediately think of transparency, how did the title come into existence?
E: I don't remember how the name came about. It does have to do with transparency that is not one sided, it has to do with the Glasshouse as a laboratory where we experiment and observe human nature; we study what it is like to have an audience participating and experiencing.
L: It began as a concept of a virtual performance platform. We made a performance in our home, every week, for a year. The performances could be watched on our website Tuesday evenings at 10pm. After that year it evolved into a physical space, our home, and then it started to move with us wherever we went. It was not about an actual glass-transparent space (before San Francisco), but about transparency and fragility as a concept.
M: As I also came to be in your environment and see how it works, it was most interesting for me to see how daily activity and structures such as kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, the office, living place integrate in your artwork and still function, so everything is mixed.
E: When we started the Glasshouse, part of it was a response to the art scene. We wanted to challenge the clear cut border line between life and art; we always felt unsatisfied with the lack of dialogue with visitors in our exhibitions; we felt art should be experienced in a different way.
L: We wanted our presence to be part of the art experience itself. From that we came to realize that art should be experienced in a place that allows staying. Our constant presence created an intensity that led us to this concept of dynamic exhibitions at home, which is very different from the familiar graveyard atmosphere of exhibitions.
M: But you have another component here - not only you have your work here but you also invite other artists to share the environment and stay in the Glasshouse as artist in residency. So how does that work? With not only the public witnessing your private life but also other artists creating their own works in your environment?
L: For me it was very important on the conceptual level of the Glasshouse. Yes it is a home and it is about hosting, but it's also asking questions about different approaches to the experience of art. We understood that it is a bit limiting to only invite people to see us, because then they are passive; we wanted to expand the concept a bit, make the Glasshouse open for creation, that is not our creation - to take part of the focus away from our specific works and make the Glasshouse a real offer to how art can be experienced. Also, when we started it there weren't any open call residency programs in Tel Aviv, and we felt it is important to have it here.
E: Actually, I mentioned the human laboratory, where few of our projects have to do with hosting. I think that the whole idea of hosting developed into this modest residency program that we now have. It's an artistic idea - collaboration became really important for us, this new platform of exchanging ideas, emotions and energy. I think it has to do more with the process than with the actual results of the residency in terms of art products.
M: I really think that this concept is very original and also generous, because most of the artists have their problems with their own ego, own space, own environments. I have an artist friend who, whenever a friend came to his studio, would take a white sheet and cover his works, so no one could see what he was doing. Artists have been incredibly protective over their private space, especially their studios, so I appreciate very much this generosity of opening, not only to the public but to another artist to create in your environment - which really comes now to the next question, which is how are you working together? How do you work with that ego of 'my work', 'my space', 'my thing' and melt it into this kind of openness that you are now presenting?
L: I think it was rather easy for both of us to start working together, because Eyal doesn't have any ego problems... and I was young. Over time it became a symbiotic relationship and it comes very naturally to both of us.
E: As for our opening to other artists, we are not worried about others copying ideas from us; obviously once an idea is out, it can be copied but we are really not bothered by that so much. I think it's a wonderful way of transforming ideas through people influenced by us. When someone wants to do something that is based on your ideas, I think it's wonderful, it's how culture progresses. To me, the whole issue of “copying” an idea is more about the evolution of an idea.
L: I agree with your concept of the evolution of ideas, but it needs two things to become culturally significant. One is the acknowledgment of your predecessor, your source of influence or inspiration - when I see artists use ideas of others without proper credit, I feel it's morally wrong and misleading, it deeply bothers me, like witnessing a crime. The second is to add something meaningful of your own to it. I feel that in performance it's naturally so, because the presence of the performer, the time, the space, the audience; all these create different meanings to each event.
M: I really totally agree with you, and now with the internet, documentation and globalization of culture, we actually less and less have the option to control, it is literally impossible. I think it can go in different directions, and I think that to share the culture and to share a good idea is really important, and to have the state of consciousness, to be able to accept, yes, just let it go.
E: It is an important notion, in our performances we don't forbid people from taking photographs, knowing that we completely lose control over images and it can be all over the internet - Face book, blogs, wherever. It took us time, but now we are completely at peace with it. People should take the experience in their own way from their own point of view and simply take it into their own circles.
M: Another interesting question I would like to ask you is about re-enactment, re-performing, like you have done with my piece, with Yoko Ono, with VALIE EXPORT and so on. What makes you do it, and what kind of benefit do you have, personally from re-performing?
L: For us, we never considered it as re-performing, we really considered it as homage; paying a tribute to a performer in a piece that we appreciate. Just as we said before, we see it as the evolution of an idea.
M: We say re-performance, because now they are using this term-
L: I don't think it's possible to do a re-performance. You can't rewind a performance, you can't redo it. Performance has to do with time and place and, above all, the performer. So in my opinion no artist can re-perform another artist's performance. But we can take some elements from our predecessors, who went along this road before us, and see what it means to us or how it relates to culture now.
E: I think this notion that the only way to understand a performance is to experience it, came to Lital long before we started doing the homage performances. We realized that we cannot really understand much by looking at images, documentation, or textual descriptions of performances - all this can give you the general idea, but to touch the essence of it - we have to experience, to do it somehow, in our own way: adding elements to it, challenging the content and the implications of it in our given conditions of time, space, audience and circumstances.
M: I totally agree.
L: Also, the performances that we choose to make homage to are usually performances that involve the public; participatory performances. So it is not about me as a performer, it is about what I'm allowing others to experience. Homage performances examine the relevancy of the original content to a contemporary audience.
M: I would also like to ask you one very concrete question. Yoko Ono's 'Cut Piece', I didn't see it in real life, but I saw the video documentation and then I saw her re-performance, she re-preformed this piece not so long ago, but with her son, did you see that piece? And somehow, it was so not working. I could not understand her motivation, her son was so careful, cutting little pieces. I think it is really very difficult but very challenging in the work to take the moment working with the public, but take out all the risks and dangers that come out of this dialogue. I was thinking that you saw it and you can tell me what you think of it.
E: Maybe asking her child to cut her dress was another kind of personal risk, because it is breaking the taboo of ‘motherhood’?
L: When we performed the homages to Yoko Ono (Probably Asking 4 It 2009, 2010) it was about giving the audience a choice. So we added the hairbrush to the scissors. It was based on a previous piece that we did (Will U Comb My Hair?); people could choose to be tender instead of aggressive. The performance was designed to bring awareness to one’s choice, and that choice is for me the essence of the performance.
M: I was asking you this because it is very interesting that Yoko chose the son - he was so protective, there was no other choice almost. It's interesting that you have those two choices, it makes sense to me and also made this piece be seen in a very different way. You add something new to the piece.
L: I think it is important to add something to the piece because it's our dialogue with that piece. In that performance we also added the element of writing on the dress I made. The dress was written with my stories and writings, each piece that was cut could be a piece of a story.
E: There was another layer to this performance. In one of the versions we did of it in Tel Aviv, we invited a friend to participate, and towards the end of the performance, when Lital's dress had been cut completely, she took off her dress and covered Lital with it. It interested us to see if the public would get it: when one dress is cut to pieces, there is one dress missing in the room... we wanted to see if the generosity of the other girl towards Lital would make someone act with generosity to that girl that was left completely naked; if this act of generosity can continue. She walked naked among the audience, having cocktails, for 20 minutes, before some guy gave her his shirt.
L: For us, only at that point, long after my performance was finished, the performance was over. It was an experiment in extending the duration of the performance to a time frame that depended on the audience and not on me actively performing.
M: This comes to one of the oldest questions, as to how far the public can participate in the piece, and how far can the public protect or not protect the work. That's something that really there are no written rules and every performance artist from the 70s until now has a different experience. How far is the public allowed to go actually and where is our border?
L: I guess for me it changes in every performance. In the San Francisco homage to Yoko Ono, a woman came over and cut my hair. It wasn't our intention, but when she approached me from behind I could have interfered and I didn't. I felt then that it would damage the performance. But when someone approached me after that with a scarf and tried to cover my eyes I took it off. I felt it would be wrong to lose eye contact with the audience. So the borders are very subtle and intuitive, because there are no written rules for the audience to see, and behavior is often unpredictable.
M: So now, what I was thinking, I want to know about how you negotiate your relationship and your work. There is a French couple who do performances together, she is a performer but he never performs. He is always there, present and at the same time absent, but they are working together. Really, working couples are so difficult. How does it work for you? What is the structure of your work?
E: We have a very strong symbiotic relationship. We can't even point out who said what, because every idea is based on previous conversations and ideas. We realized that it is really us; it's not one of us, so we sign everything together and completely gave up the ownership of one's individual ideas.
L: But if we go to the structure of how we work, it is usually very simple. It starts with a conversation; one of us has a very strong vision and then we start discussing it and create a work out of it.
M: With Ulay we made this deal that every time we do a performance we change the position of our name...
E: It's actually cute, but it shows you were very much aware of the problem…
M: I think you have it much easier.
E: I remember we had this talk a few years ago, and I told Lital: you are the lady, ladies first, your name will always come first - and I never thought about it again.
L: For us the collaboration is essential, it's our essence, but for some people it's hard to believe this authentic experience of creating. They keep asking us: who did this, whose idea was that? We never give any answer but 'us'.
M: That leads us to the next thing, about the last piece you made, Second Floor, which was really, really disturbing. When I heard this I was quite in shock. And I saw the last images you sent, how you deal with that piece working on the theme of forgiveness. Tell me a little about this experience... because what you have done - you didn't really stop it, you didn't do anything, you didn't stop this brutal ecstasy; so how far the person can go?
L: It is a very complicated piece on many levels. I really couldn't stop the person. I completely lost control over the situation and there was no one in the room to help. It was designed in a way that I would lose control. We created architecture of violence that isolates the violence as phenomena and allowed us to examine the human behavior where there are no codes and no fear of consequences.
M: It's a key piece to so many different things that we could reflect on; questions about what is performance, how far can a performance go, what is the role of the public and how far can the public go.
E: We agree, but at the same time it is such a hard experience to digest and comprehend. We need more time for that…
(End of part 1)
This comprehensive book by artist duo Lital Dotan and Eyal Perry summarizes 5 years of activity as the Glasshouse project. Both an artistic laboratory and a home, the Glasshouse was first created by artists Lital Dotan & Eyal Perry in Tel-Aviv in 2007 with the basic concept that 'Art should be experienced in a place that allows staying'. After opening their home to the public as a live performance platform and art installation, Glasshouse TLV quickly gained national and international recognition. Over the next three years it grew to include educational and international artist-in-residency programs, and attracted many thousands visitors. The book includes two conversations with seminal performance artist Marina Abramovic about performance art in general and the Glasshouse project and essays by Moshe Zuckermann and Igal Vardi.