The Body Present: Performing the Morphological with Marina Abramovic

By Sofia Varino.

Published by The International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies

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As initially proposed by Luce Irigaray in 1977 and subsequently developed by Elizabeth Grosz and Elizabeth Wilson, the term “morphology” refers to the social and biological dimensions of the living body, whose experiences cannot be necessarily contained in language, but nevertheless cannot be located solely outside of it. My paper uses the concept of morphology to analyze key performance pieces by Marina Abramovic in relation to the moving, living body and provide a workable critical frame for engaging with biology through feminist theory. While Irigaray places the term within psychoanalytical theory and employs it towards a feminist critique of gender, what interests me is how Grosz and Wilson apply it to analyze medical, psychological, and neurological accounts of the body. Abramovic’s performances tend to place the experiences of the biological body center stage, taking it to its physical limits with spectacular feats of oxygen deprivation, bleeding and cutting, whipping, and fainting. Temporality is a key factor in endurance performance, and in Abramovic’s case it acquires special importance through rhythm, ritual and repetition, as well as stillness and silence. For example, the Rhythm series directly references medical discourse in performed actions that verge on sickness and death. In a similar manner, military aesthetics are actively pursued, repeating torture-based scenarios that expose the body’s vulnerability and capacity for survival. I suggest that by converging medical and military references in scenes of brutally self-inflicted trauma, Abramovic’s performances might point towards gaps and inconsistencies in how the body is regulated by language and by the practices imposed upon it, as much as by its own involuntary biological processes. By colliding the two, Abramovic brings the living body to the fore, a public entity enacting a set of live actions against the backdrop of language.

Keywords: Performance Art, Feminist Theory, Body Studies

The International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp.59-69. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 428.517KB).

Sofia Varino

Doctoral Student, Cultural Analysis and Theory, Stony Brook University, New York City, NY, USA

Sofia Varino is a doctoral fellow in cultural studies at the Department of Cultural Analysis & Theory at Stony Brook University. Her research areas include political theory, continental philosophy, feminist science studies and aesthetics. She is a multidisciplinary artist and is currently associate director at Harmattan Theater, an environmental performance collective based in New York City. She holds an MA in Theater from the City University of New York. Website: