I have devoted this week to immersing myself in all the research materials I can find on Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic. For my final paper in my History of Exhibitions class, I chose Abramovic’s landmark retrospective “The Artist Is Present.” The exhibition, which opened in the spring of 2010 at MoMA, raised several important questions about exhibiting performance art, including: can a piece of performance art be re-performed with similar resulting impact? Can a piece of performance art be performed by a different performer and still be meaningful?…and…Is performance art visual or performing art?
What I had not anticipated was that in googling Marina Abramovic, I was about to be ushered down a rabbit hole, out of which only an episode of my favorite podcast Reply All and some additional research could pull me.
Here’s the deal: Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s emails were hacked and leaked by WikiLeaks in October of 2016. One of the emails, dated from last June, was from Abramovic. She asked Podesta’s brother Tony if John would also be free to attend her next “Spirit Cooking Dinner” at her house.
This is where Abramovic’s troubles begin – the duplicitousness nature of her email, owing to her existence as both a performer and a human, make the meaning of “Spirit Cooking” flexible and therefore concerning. For conspiracy theorists, the dinner’s name seems a direct reference to her work “Spirit Cooking,” during which she wrote strange, folkloric and barbaric recipes onto the wall with pig’s blood.
Regardless of what truly transpires at Ms. Abramovic’s “Spirit Cooking Dinners,” the relation of such a controversial exhibit with the Democratic party candidate’s Campaign Chairman opened an enormous can of worms that concluded with Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama, most of the important figures within the Democratic National Committee, and many other left-wing supporters being accused of running a satanic child trafficking and abuse ring in the underbelly of Washington, D.C.
This wild series of rapid internet explosions might not have had much of an effect on the IRL world, had a believer not walked into Comet Ping Pong with an assault rifle ready to single-handedly dismantle the alleged ring of heinous crimes against children. Denial of the existence of such an underground child trafficking market has only increased the opposition’s beliefs that it continues to thrive and extends throughout the entire influential high-profile liberal community.
What I find fascinating and liberating about Abramovic’s role in the affair is the fact that her involvement is the one that remains most questionable. Her actions, by and large, can be more closely aligned with satanic practices and ritualistic cannibalism than the public actions of any of the conspiracies other players. Yet she is protected from the scrutiny of Reddit communities like The Donald and conspiracy theorists more wholly than the other members of the liberal community by her truth. Her art and her life’s work remain consistent in the way they push the boundaries of acceptable medium, treatment of the human body, and the message they convey to society. In remaining true to her life’s philosophy, she remains unscathed–or thoroughly as scathed as she was before.
There are many lessons to be learned from this fascinating series of events. Educators, researchers, internet trolls and the media will all likely glean different messages and disseminate them through various channels. One thought pathway I encourage inquiring minds to pursue is to apply the following lens: politicians professionally craft facts, policies, and movements according to their own personal agendas, but package that agenda as the agenda of their community’s.
Artists do the same thing, but are transparent in their ownership. They willingly acknowledge their own personal interests and causes, rather than attempting to represent a group, a community or a nation. Artists are individuals who are living their truth. Perhaps politicians would do well to pursue a similarly transparent methodology.
Featured image: Marina Abramovic. Courtesy of @pizza_gate Twitter handle.