Rhythm 5, 1974, published 1994 (detail). Gelatin-silver print with inset letterpress panel, photograph: 22 7/8 x 31 5/8 inches; text panel: 9 3/4 x 6 3/4 inches. A.P. 1/3. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Gift, Willem Peppler. 98.5214
Since the beginning of her career in Belgrade during the early 1970s, Marina Abramovic has pioneered the use of performance as a visual art form. The body has always been both her subject and medium. Exploring the physical and mental limits of her being, she has withstood pain, exhaustion, and danger in the quest for emotional and spiritual transformation. The tensions of abandonment and control lay at the heart of her series of performances known as Rhythms (1973–74). In Rhythm 5, Abramovic lay down inside the blazing frame of a wooden star. With her oxygen supply depleted by the fire, she lost consciousness and had to be rescued by concerned onlookers. In Rhythm 0, she invited her audience to do whatever they wanted to her using any of the 72 items she provided: pen, scissors, chains, axe, loaded pistol, and others. Truly ephemeral, Abramovic's earliest performances were documented only by crude black-and-white photographs and descriptive texts, which she published as an edition years later. Since 1976 she has utilized video to capture the temporal nature of her art. Cleaning the Mirror #1 shows videos of a haunting performance in which Abramovic scrubs a grime-covered human skeleton on her lap. Rich with metaphor, this three-hour action recalls, among other things, Tibetan death rites that prepare disciples to become one with their own mortality.