image

Marina Abramović: ‘I had a profound experience in Australia.’ Photograph: Mike McGregor/Guardian

Serbian superstar artist will return to Australia, more than three decades after a transformational trip to outback Western Australia

It was the place where she first fixed her famous Gaze. Now Australia is preparing to welcome Marina Abramović for a double season of art in Tasmania and Sydney.

The “superstar” Serbian performance artist will visit Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in June to launch a major four-month exhibition of her work, before travelling to Sydney to personally administer the 12-day residency at Pier 2/3, revealed in late 2014 by Kaldor Public Art Projects

The announcement was made jointly by John Kaldor, longstanding arts philanthropist, and David Walsh, the enigmatic founder of Mona. If the meeting in one room of two of Australia’s most significant private art funders wasn’t enough, the artist was also present – via video, at least – to speak of her imminent visit.

“I have been many times in Australia since 1979 to study Aboriginal culture, to do residencies with different academies, to work with students and do different research,” she said. “But this time I’m coming for a completely different thing.”

Abramović’s Mona show, Private Archaeology which opens on 13 June, will combine some of her earliest performance pieces made with one-time partner in life and art, Ulay, with more recent work in which her most significant collaborator is the audience.

Marina Abramović: In Residence, in Sydney from 24 June to 5 July, will see the artist “conduct” visitors in the Abramović method, famously taught to Lady Gaga at the Marina Abramović Institute in Hudson, New York, but also the focus of 512 hours at the Serpentine Gallery, London in 2014.

Kaldor, who spent a week experiencing the Serpentine show, said of Abramović: “She holds Australia very dear to her heart – like her artistic, spiritual home. Spending six or seven months in the outback really transformed her art.”

The Gaze, the work that ultimately brought Abramović celebrity status (and celebrity friends, including the rapper Jay-Z) was first performed at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1981, Kaldor reminded us, under the title Nightsea Crossing. “[So] Australia in many ways was an anchor to her artistic development.”

The two arts organisations initially approached Abramović separately to suggest a return to Australia, Kaldor Projects after her work Luminosity featured in its 2013 group show, 13 Rooms. This time, alongside her own project, she will also tutor a group of emerging Australian performance artists during her residency in full view of the public.

When Walsh and his team first visited Abramović in her Amsterdam studio, she shared photos and memories of her time with the Pitjantjatjara and Pintupi people of the Western Desert from October 1980 to March 1981.“I had a profound experience in the country. I then left for a long time in order to create works that could communicate my experience there,” she told curators.

Speaking of the Abramović double-header in Sydney and at Mona, Walsh said: “Marina is like the Beatles, except when Lennon was still alive. She’s a superstar and there’s no surprise we both approached this superstar because even though we come at art from different directions, we often think about the same things.”

Walsh admitted that, while as “an atheist and a materialist and a pragmatist”, he wasn’t so taken with the artist’s spiritual side, Abramović’s acute self-study did fascinate him.

Most art is unconscious or self-conscious, he said. “Marina takes it a step further – she engages self-awareness ... It’s a powerful place to be and Marina, of all the artists in the world, is the one that can take us there – perhaps the only one who wants to take us there.”