Digital breakthrough

“One work of art can have many lives” – Marina Abramović speaks to us about stepping into the world of NFTs
By Ella Joyce | Art | 13 July 2022

Marina Abramović was one of the first performance artists to be formally welcomed by the institutional museum world, always at the fore, she is now one of the first industry greats to make the leap into the world of NFTs. Famed for exploring the limits of the body and the possibility of the mind, the tradition-altering nature of NFTs goes hand-in-hand with Abramović’s creative ethos. Having shown previously across some of the world’s most prestigious institutions, including the Royal Academy of Arts and MoMA, with the introduction of this new venture, those who are used to being audience members now have the opportunity to become active participants.

Launching in collaboration with The Cultural Institute of Radical Contemporary Art [CIRCA], Abramović is revisiting one of her most iconic yet personal works from 2001 titled The Hero. Capturing herself atop a horse, white flag in hand, billowing against the backdrop of a windy landscape, the piece was originally an ode to her father, a Yugoslavian World War II hero. In its new form, THE HERO 25FPS is now separated into thousands of unique frames to create the artist’s first-ever performance on the energy-efficient Tezos blockchain. 

Continuing to push the boundary between artist and audience, Abramović’s NFT will be appearing every evening this summer on London’s Piccadilly Lights and broadcasting across the CIRCA global network of screens in Seoul, Dublin, Milan, Berlin, Japan and New York. In an attempt to support the next generation of creatives, a percentage of the funds generated will also offer a series of grants for those working within Web3 with an extraordinary creative vision. Abramović’s practice continues to adapt to the ever-changing landscape, not only tapping into the zeitgeist but tuning it.

Ella Joyce: What was it that drew you to the idea of exploring NFTs and how did the process differ from your usual practice?
Marina Abramović: The Hero was originally filmed in 2001 around the time my father [Vojo] died. This was a time before Google and YouTube – over 20 years ago. Vojo was a national hero from the Second World War and I wanted to make an homage to him, so I created this image of the hero. This was something to do with the stillness, with the energy and with a kind of universal stoicism. It’s just a white horse that is not moving, but there’s a slight movement of the wind, my hair is blowing, and everything is seamless and emotional.

The Hero (2001) was originally filmed in a square format, so we did a lot of post-production work to fill out the Piccadilly Lights screen in London with this beautiful landscape. The Hero wraps around the entire screen and it took months and months of editing each individual frame because I really wanted the image to envelop the audience. Working in this way – frame by frame – something new emerged from the stillness.

“It’s just a white horse that is not moving, but there’s a slight movement of the wind, my hair is blowing, and everything is seamless and emotional.”

When I first heard about NFTs, it was so interesting – new media for me! If we think about the history of performance art, it’s always about immateriality. Performance is such a difficult art form because it’s so immaterial – it’s there at a specific time in a specific place for the audience to come and see. All that is left with the audience is a memory of that event and the performance is very important to be done for the public, so it’s also interactive. So many years later, what do we have? We have the NFT which is also immaterial, also about time and also about the direct experience of the audience.

Now in 2022, I see the possibility that The Hero (2001) can have a brand new life as NFT, because one work of art can have many lives. Now the old Hero has a brand new name. Now the name is THE HERO 25FPS, which means frames per second because we divided the original footage into these seconds and seconds and seconds. We discovered how the movement of the flag in the wind took on new beauty and significance with each frame. No two frames were the same. Each frame is unique because of the flag moving in the wind, the people who want to have the work can collect as many seconds as they want. Either a single-frame NFT (.jpg) or a multi-frame NFT (.gif) – these NFTs are affordably priced because I wanted to invite as many people to participate as possible in my first performance on the blockchain. As with all my work, the audience can decide how much of the experience they can have. So it’s interactive, you interpret it yourself, and it’s emotional.

“Art doesn’t have the power to change the world but art can ask the right questions.”

EJ: You first explored the concept of heroes in 2001, why did you choose to revisit this idea and how do you feel this new format expands your initial vision?
MA: In this world, women are always expected to play the role of being fragile and dependent. I wanted to present an image of a strong, stoic woman on the world stage. This takes on even greater symbolic meaning now if you consider what has just happened in America with Roe v Wade. Today, heroes can come bearing white flags. They can come in many forms: pacifist; feminine; self-sacrificial; collective. It could be Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot who recently created legalabortion.eth or even Txai Suruí, a young climate activist who was the only Indigenous woman to speak at the COP26 climate conference, challenging world leaders to take strong action and remind us that, “it is always necessary to believe the dream is possible.”

“We felt this moment in time called for something extraordinary – an extended pause.”

When Josef [O’Connor] invited me to participate in CIRCA 2022, I immediately thought of The Hero because right now, we are really facing a third-world nuclear war. There is nothing quite like the CIRCA platform in terms of scale and audience: we are showing this work for three months on screens around the world. That’s a long time. A lot of my most important works have been durational and we felt this moment in time called for something extraordinary – an extended pause. I love the fact a woman is holding the flag and appearing centre stage on all of these screens around the world at this moment in time.

What excites me the most about the NFTs is that we will donate a percentage of the funds generated towards THE HERO 25FPS Grants. I am inviting people working within Web3 to submit ideas on the NFT.CIRCA.ART website, ideas that will make the world a better, more beautiful place. People who demonstrate a heroic vision will then receive a grant in the coming months. I want to see what other ideas people have in this Web3 space to help save our planet. The grants we’ll award from THE HERO 25FPS are my small way of contributing to this future.

“Responsibility is on us, ourselves, and what we can do right now, today, to change something.”

EJ: As NFTs are a relatively new form of technology in the art world, what kind of impact do you feel they will have and how do you see them continuing to develop?
MA: I decided to embrace NFT because it enables artists to become sovereign. THE HERO 25FPS Grants will also help fund new ideas within this Web3 space, and I’m excited to see what new ideas emerge from within this space. Art doesn’t have the power to change the world but it can ask the right questions. Art can show the way, but every individual has to change themselves first. It’s up to us. It’s not that some kind of miraculous force will come and then everything will stop, we always put this responsibility somewhere else. Responsibility is on us, ourselves, and what we can do right now, today, to change something. THE HERO 25FPS Grants are my small way of contributing to this future.

THE HERO 25FPS by Marina Abramović will be released Monday 25th July at 2pm UTC. Visit NFT.CIRCA.ART to subscribe for NFT updates and apply for a HERO GRANT.

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