|Nude with Skeleton, 2002-5, colour video without sounds, 12.36 min looped|
The supine skeleton rises and falls, seemingly coming to life, as the body beneath it breathes in deeply and then exhales, repeatedly. Marina Abramović is nude beneath a skeleton created to her own dimensions. As she animates it, so it reflects her imminent death. She holds its hand in hers in an intimate coupling, the twelve-and-a-half minute video looped – condemning Abramović in this open coffin indefinitely.
Abramović’s synthesis of spiritual symbolism and a clinical stripping down of the body to its bare bones is rooted in that moment in the seventeenth-century when allegorical mysticism collided with the emerging ‘rational’ disciplines of science, anatomy and medicine. With Abramović’s fleshy, physical performance we voyeuristically witness her private meditation. She gazes up, perhaps waiting for something, or someone. A living sculpture, she is a live body becoming sculpture in the inverse of how we can see the best sculptures by Bernini as ‘object becoming live body’, Bernini’s expert drapery making his figures seem as alive as Abramović’s nude body.
Her extended sombre vigil on mortality embraces both pain and pleasure, Marina becoming a contemporary St. Teresa – simultaneously transcendent and earthy, erotic and religious. Her fragile body on the hard floor manifests a Baroque fear as she continues to breathe, almost painstakingly, and, eventually, cries. Likewise, Bernini’s sculpture The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, also presents a woman glancing the eternal, the arrow a materialization of eroticism and divine revelation.
Moreover, looking at Bernini’s Blessed Ludovica Albertoni one can even imagine a skeleton lying with her. On the threshold of death, her head inclined upwards, here also, as with Abramović’s piece, mortality is coupled with eroticism. Consciousness and a sense of the mystical pervade both works, even being 400 odd years apart and presented in very different or even opposing mediums. Both use a respectively contemporarily relevant medium to present a physical depiction of struggling against mortality.
We witness a religious transformation – the body comprehending its own demise and the soul triumphing over death. Albertoni is in her final moments – as well as her most mystical – while Abramović breathes slowly and methodically, accepting her own gradual descent into the grave. These works are idealisations of death – vitally alive and transcendent images of morbidity – embodied paradoxes of the human condition.