For her next act, Marina Abramovic is sending a massive shout-out to Edvard Munch.
The 66-year-old performance artist, well known for doing pieces that require extreme endurance (stabbing her hand repeatedly with a knife or laying for hours on a block of ice), has recruited 270 Oslo residents to recreate Munch’s iconic “The Scream.” The first copy of “The Scream” was painted in 1893, depicting a person screaming with what is believed to be the view of Ekeberg hill, overlooking Oslo, in the background.
It has been suggested that the proximity to a lunatic asylum to the site may have inspired Munch’s imagery, which seems to depict the distortion of the environment and the self. The painter, born 150 years ago, used to live near Ekeberg.
Abramovic, who recently appeared in a music video with rapper Jay-Z, traveled to Oslo earlier this month and asked a collection of Norwegians (who typically have a reputation for reserve) to scream while holding a frame with the view from Ekeberg hill in the background. The performers were filmed and photographed, and the artist is now compiling the work into various productions she plans to release in coming months.
In an interview, Abramovic explained the method behind the madness: “We scream when we’re born, but we don’t scream during life, it seems like we forget that we’re allowed to do so.”
During the yelling sessions, screams echoed through the woods and some in the vicinity of the event who did not know what was going on even called the police to see if someone was hurt. Visitors to the scene found quite a lot going on. Men and women were shuttled in buses up roads leading to Ekeberg and, as they let loose with various types of screams, a camera crew captured all the action.
Abramovic said the work, conducted between August 15 and 25, accomplished her goal. “The painting is very emotional and I think that what we’ve done reflects that.”
Although her performances are usually done solo, Abramovic has in the past used the diversity of her subjects as a key feature in her art. For instance, in a 2010 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art called “The Artist is Present,” Abramovic sat in a chair for 700 hours and people from all walks of life came and sat facing her, silently returning her gaze. That piece triggered deep emotion in the people who sat across from her.
Seen in connection with her previous work, “The Scream” project is more closely linked to the “Aaa aaa” performance that she did with the West German performance artist Uwe Laysiepen in 1978, in which the two artist are yelling into each other’s open mouths.
The idea that hit her while visiting Oslo and the spot that may have inspired Munch, was the following: To put up a frame in the size of the original “The Scream” and allow people to complete the work; she wanted to create a contemporary interpretation of the painting, put to life, and sound, by the people of Munch’s home country.
Participants varied from the age of 2 to 97. Among the cast: a dentist, a judge, a priest, a convicted murderer, a shooting victim. Some wore traditional Norwegian costumes, others wore their working outfits.
The only common denominator was their screams, a loud, sometimes painful, sometimes angry, sometimes excited acoustic connection to Munch’s work.
Abramovic said she was affected by the power of peoples’ screams while working in Oslo. “Simply shooting the video was highly emotional,” said Abramovic. “There were people that were shocked when they heard themselves. They had never screamed before.”
She remembers particularly well how a woman was standing in front of the camera, tearing her mouth so widely open that her face looked contorted, ready to let out the loudest scream. And then — no sound.
“That silent scream was one of the most powerful.”
Glass artist and jewelry designer Camilla Prytz was one of the participants in the project. Not having screamed for the last 40 years, she practiced screaming while driving on the highway, in her car.
“It’s good to scream, I think,” Prytz said. “You know, Norwegians aren’t exactly the most screaming people in the world. If you start screaming in your home, your neighbors will probably call pretty quickly.”
Abramovic said she was slightly worried when it came to making the “very shy, closed and introvert” Norwegians cry out in front of a camera. She said that she observed posters at the airport saying “Welcome to the city of ‘The Scream,’” and then saw how the people of Oslo were taking pictures of “The Scream” with their iPhones, standing with their mouths open, but not releasing a single sound.
“It would definitely have been easier to do this with Italians,” she said and laughed. “But then, on the other hand, there is a reason why The Scream was painted here and nowhere else. There are probably very few people who could have done this.”
And, having started to edit the tapes of her 270 different screams, Abramovic feels she has gathered the material she was hoping to get. The result, a film of 1 hour and 17 minutes, will be projected in crowded parts of Oslo, like the city hall and a university, on October 24.
A book and a behind-the-scenes movie, including peoples’ reactions before and after screaming, will be released too. The artist hopes that she has encouraged more people of the slightly secluded nation to scream out their sentiments. And she’s left the frame that she used for the recording on the same spot, in the park of Ekeberg, so that everyone can honor Munch and his work with their screams.
“I don’t know, of course, but I have an intuition that this is going to be very, very popular. Maybe, if people go to Paris to see the Eiffel tower, people may come to Oslo to scream.”