When visitors went to Marina Abramovic’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010, they found the fearless performance artist there. Anyone could sit across from the Yugoslavian-born Abramovic and stare into her eyes. She discusses that work and others at a sold-out appearance at the Museum of Fine Arts on Wednesday evening from 6:30 to 7:30 in Remis Auditorium.
BOOKS: How would you describe yourself as a reader?
ABRAMOVIC: I like to read three or four books on different subjects at the same time. Lately, I have been reading mostly books that deal with anthropology, history, and biographies. I am very interested in real people and their lives. Some examples include “Chaos, Creativity and Cosmic Consciousness” by Rupert Sheldrake, Terrence McKenna, and Ralph Abraham; a biography of the theosophist Madame Blavatsky; and “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared M. Diamond.
BOOKS: What is the last book that really grabbed you?
ABRAMOVIC: I just finished “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami. I love how he mixes realism with the supernatural so that his unreal worlds became very real and accessible. Next on my reading list is his novel “Norwegian Wood.”
BOOKS: Have any books had a major impact on you as a person or an artist?
ABRAMOVIC: Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot,” the Romanian writer Mircea Eliade’s works about shamanism, and everything by the Russian poet and the Russian writer Marina Tsvetaeva. My parents had a very large library of Russian literature, and I became interested in her work when I was young because she had the same name as me.
‘Growing up in the former Yugoslavia, reading for me was a way to escape reality. I would often not leave the house until I finished a book I was reading.’
BOOKS: Do you do any reading in preparation for your performances?
ABRAMOVIC: My performances are more related to my direct life experiences. However, before a performance, sometimes the most inspiring thing to me is reading a dictionary. This can be any kind of dictionary: a dictionary of symbols, a dictionary of alchemy. To me, the explanations of words and terms are important to view in this kind of objective context. For the title of a performance, I will sometimes close my eyes and pick a word straight from the dictionary. This creates a type of poetry and makes the title abstract and symbolic.
BOOKS: What role did reading play in your childhood?
ABRAMOVIC: Growing up in the former Yugoslavia, reading for me was a way to escape reality. I would often not leave the house until I finished a book I was reading. When I did this, the book’s reality transformed into my own reality. I was always living inside the books that I read.
BOOKS: Which books do you remember “living in”?
ABRAMOVIC: Yes. “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Kafka’s “The Castle,” and everything I could get my hands on by Marcel Proust.
BOOKS: Why did you pick “Solaris” by Stanislaw Lem for the marathon reading you held last summer?
ABRAMOVIC: I love “Solaris.” When you read it, you don’t know if you are dreaming, if time is relevant anymore, and if perhaps it takes place after a major catastrophe. This creates a timeless space into which you can project your own experiences. Because of this, it was the perfect book for a long durational reading.
BOOKS: Looking at photos of your loft and house, you seem to own next to no books. Is that right?
ABRAMOVIC: This is not true at all. I like how Japanese houses have very few objects on display. Most Japanese families have a storage place full of objects. In the spring, for example, they take out the spring vases and put them around the house. In the winter, they return the spring vases and take out the winter ones. I do this with my books. My cupboards are full of books, but the only visible book is the one I am reading. When books are always accessible, you become so used to them that you don’t see them anymore. If you take out a book only when you are reading it, then the experience is always new to you.