For the record: Spirit Cooking is not anything but a little known and, measured in her ouvre, a rather throwaway functionality Abramovic did in an Italian gallery in 1996, by which she painted obvious instructions on the white wall with pigs blood. Instructions like: “with a sharp knife cut deeply into the middle finger of your left hand eat the pain. ” She also painted a small form of icon in the corner with the blood too. It’s pretty repulsive and rather luridly aims to shock but it’s also sincerely not severe. Abramovic also published a Spirit Cooking cookbook, containing comico mystical, self helpy instructions like: “spit inside your naval / until the lake is filled / lie immobile / hearken to the pulse / of a dog.
” You’re not really meant to truly do this stuff. As Abramovic said at London’s Royal Festival Hall last night in a launch event for her new memoir Walk Through Walls, it’s just poetry. They doubtless made a “golden ball” too, a recipe given to her by Tibetan monks after a meditation retreat in northern India. A golden ball is intended to be eaten after a long period of fasting and meditation. I’ve had one, at the end of a “workshop” she gave to her students—I was her assistant at the time—in Andalusia in 2005.
A golden ball consists, precisely, of seven almonds, three coriander seeds, two black peppercorns, one white peppercorn, and a dribble of honey, all ground in combination and wrapped in a sheet of 24 carat gold leaf. It was delicious, but I was assured that I wasn’t going to become a Buddhist by eating it. Having known Marina for fourteen years now, and having written a biography, I don’t think she’s ever in fact worshipped anything else. What she has done is graze world religions and esoteric non secular practices as source material for experimental performances and as meditation tools to salve her bottomless emotional pain. She basically takes the non secular and squeezes it into the purely bodily. It’s all concerning the management of stimulations, deprivations, and aesthetics to obtain—in a all the way down to earth cause and effect way—sure physical outcomes and mental states.
She sort of believes in everything—and therefore, in a way, in nothing. Except the facility of the body. The literalism of the alt right’s interpretation of the Spirit Cooking dinner recalls the culture wars of the 80s and 90s, where the road among representation and advocacy, among artifice and reality, got blurred… and curiously never got back into focus for some. Since the 1980s, Abramovic has spent months in retreat at Buddhist monasteries in Northern India—does that make her a Buddhist?She’s also spent months with Aborigines in Australia—does that make her a shaman adept in reading Songlines and recalling the Dreamtime?She habitually plays numerological readings on new people she meets, breaking down their date of birth to a single massive number—does that make her a Hindu mystic?She’s twirled with Sufis—so is she one?She’s suspended herself from wires in homage to the levitations of Saint Teresa of Avila—does that make her a Christian?She’s stared at snakes for hours and sat determinedly still while a python wrapped itself around her head and neck—does that make her a snake charmer?She’s knelt down head to head with a donkey, gazing into its eyes while trying to telepathically speak with it—does that make her… Dr. Doolittle?She’s lived with quartz miners in Brazil—does that make her a miner too?She’s milked goats in Istria and helped make cheese—does that make her a dairy farmer?Maybe it makes perverse sense, because the undertaking of the alt right is to “reveal” reality as a lie, that they might also convert artifice—in Abramovic’s case, performance—into cold hard fact.
But this confusion of functionality and truth, test and faith, does inadvertently point against anything curious and standard about Abramovic: she’s simultaneously fully sincere and completely comedic. To neophytes she may appear to be a resounding modern-day witch. But it doesn’t take much googling to surmise that this is also functionality in the traditional sense of the word, and that during truth she’s funny, frivolous, and game for anything else—in her own words, she’s a lover of “bullshit” like celebrity and fashion.