GUVERCIN: Mental dexterity important for art appreciation, analysis


Column: The Bigger Picture

Recently, I stumbled upon a video I had not seen in years, but had the capacity to evoke the same emotions and thoughts that I had the first time seeing it. 

It was about a performance called “Rhythm 0,” which was executed by the artist, Marina Abramović. Abramović is a performance artist whose primary themes consist of body art, endurance art, feminist art and art that explores the relationship between the audience and performers. 

In 1974, Abramović conducted a piece in which as the performer, she would provide an audience of strangers with 72 random items that they could use to do anything to her. 

The objects ranged from perfume, bread, wine and roses to scissors, a scalpel and metal chains. She even included a pistol with a single bullet loaded in order to truly test the limits of her own body and the audience themselves. 

Her goal was to be a passive entity and object who would be the canvas for all internalized desires, hostilities and motivations of these strangers in the audience to be expressed through, while she took full responsibility for anything that may have been done to her. 

At the beginning of the performance, people gave her roses, kissed her cheeks, hugged her and acted modestly with her. But, as the hours progressed and they realized that she is genuinely playing the role of an object and not giving any reaction to what they are doing, they became more comfortable and progressed to more aggressive behaviors. 

The audience members began making cuts on her neck and body with a scalpel, ripping her clothes off, put a knife between her legs and even putting the pistol in her hand and pointing it at herself. 

After 6 hours, the performance ended and Abramović began to move. As soon as she did, the audience members all fled, unable to look her in the eyes and confront what they had done when she no longer acted like a lifeless puppet.

While I do not have the expertise to speak for this performance’s aesthetic or artistic value, I can ascertain that it has surfaced a side to human behavior and social psychology that is difficult to see under normal circumstances. 

When we are truly given the power to do whatever we want to another human without any consequences, is it not intuitive that our uninhibited desires and motivations would emerge? 

Abramović explores this question in a very creative way, and certainly proves that when someone has the combined elements of anonymity, social influence and lack of accountability, many aggressive, hostile and repressed behaviors may emerge. In a more societal context, this performance demonstrated how significant an influence people can impose on each other, and how the group-think phenomenon becomes extremely prevalent in cases of violence or denigration. 

We are able to abandon our values and morals when those around us have done the same because it is easier for us to justify our actions when we see them in others. We have witnessed such patterns in history where people have turned against and done unspeakable things to targeted, vulnerable groups of people when it becomes socially acceptable to do so. 

The overarching message is that art is an invaluable necessity to society due to its ability to directly portray its artists, viewers and humanity itself. Through art like Abramović's “Rhythm 0,” we have access to authentic depictions of human nature in a context that can be interpretive and intimate. 

Furthermore, art provides us an outlet through which we are able to see phenomena like group-think or internalized hostility without having to witness them through traditional means like prejudice or war. 

As students of a university that is heavily involved in the arts and liberal studies, we must take advantage of our means to analyze and appreciate all forms of creative expression through which we may gain greater perspectives and insights as to who we are as human beings. 

Furthermore, we may invest our time into creating our own forms of art perhaps in order to understand who we are as individuals. 

If we not only broaden our definition of what “art” is, but also become well-versed in its prevalence and impact, we may learn far greater truths about humanity than we would with a simple aesthetic appreciation for art forms. 

Dilara Guvercin is a School of Arts and Sciences senior  majoring in psychology and minoring in philosophy. Her column, "The Bigger   Picture," typically runs on alternate Fridays. 

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