Marina Abramovic Talks to James Franco About New Memoir

Marina Abramovic Talks to James Franco About New Memoir

For the release of her memoir, 'Walk Through Walls,' the legendary artist speaks with James Franco about her early days and why you should keep your friends and enemies close.

For the release of her memoir, 'Walk Through Walls,' the legendary artist speaks with James Franco about her early days and why you should keep your friends and enemies close.

Photography: Inez & Vinoodh

JAMES FRANCO Why did you decide to do a memoir?

MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ [Turning] 70 is a big date in somebody’s life. I have lots of memories from age four until now. It’s like a snake shedding its skin—now I can really look into the new life of everything that’s left from 70 on. And I hope it goes to 100! I also want to be inspirational, because I have a really crazy and complicated life. I come from ex-Yugoslavia, which wasn’t even First World; it’s like Fifth World. And coming from these obstacles, criticism, and everything else against me, I overcame all of that. So [the book] could be inspirational for anybody else who has something to do in their life, but nobody trusts them, and only they believe in themselves. The title, Walk Through Walls, is really important. It’s about constantly hammering through walls and going through the next wall, having this kind of warrior relationship with life and art.

JF You dedicated the book to both friends and enemies. Can you tell me about that?

MA [Sometimes] the people who have been your friends become jealous and become enemies. And sometimes enemies who didn’t think you were any good become friends, because they start understanding the struggle. So I dedicated the book to both groups.

JF Is that sort of like what you’re talking about when you say you’re looking back at your life at 70? Reassessing or coming to terms with all the kinds of relationships you’ve had?

MA It’s really important to be honest and to tell things as they are, without sentimentality and without taking a side. It takes lots of time to have this kind of view. We are living in such a politically correct state where [it feels] like you don’t have freedom to say things. It was very important for me to have my freedom to say things, at least about my own life. If I want to have fun with myself, I can do that. If I want to have fun with the country I’ve been living in for so long, I have a right to do that. I’ve talked about my three abortions before, and it went crazy viral that I’m killing children and that I’m so dark. But I didn’t want to have a family. I think that having one energy in my life is what I’m doing, and if I had had children, it would be divided.

JF Reading the book, I thought, Oh yeah, this is what it’s like to know Marina, these are her very personal stories.

MA My life and my work are so inside each other. I always like to show all aspects of me without hiding anything. There are some things I’m ashamed of, but I’m showing them anyway.

JF I’m asking this for younger performance artists out there: How did you support yourself as an artist when you were first starting out?

MA I taught for five years in academies all around the world, and I was doing workshops and lectures. That was my main income. That’s it, nothing else. Even when I was 29, I was still an assistant in the academy I was teaching at. Ulay [Abramović’s former partner and collaborator] and I lived in a car for five years. We had no telephone, no expenses, no electricity, and we would milk cows, goats, and sheep. I was knitting pullovers, farmers would give us sausage and cheese and bread in exchange for work, things like that. It was an incredibly romantic and an incredibly happy life, without any compromises for any kind of market. Only in the last 15 years have I been able to pay my bills. I knew every communal shower in Europe!

JF After “The Artist Is Present” show at MoMA you became so much more well-known. How did that affect your work and your life?

MA If this kind of success came when I was young, I would have been destroyed. I would have started thinking, Oh my God, how important I am! But it came so late in my life and I saw how this kind of success destroys so many, so it didn’t happen to me. I took it with lots of amusement. Also, being so much in the press now, I have a platform that I can use to introduce really good performance artists to people who listen to me. But the side effects of success are not what success is about. The most important thing is that you do uncompromising work as much as you can.

JF It seems to me that the book is almost like an art piece, in the same way the show “The Life of Marina Abramović” is.

MA It’s really true. It’s very much like a cleaning process. The way that I want to die—this is my biggest wish—is to die not angry, consciously, and without fear.

Walk Through Walls: A Memoir is available now from Crown Archetype.

Credits:

Hair and makeup Jenny Kanavaros  Lighting director Jodokus Driessen  Digital technician Brian Anderson Photo assistant Joe Hume  Studio manager Marc Kroop  Production VLM Productions  Retouching StereoHorse

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