Marina Abramović: What Cannot be Concealed (16 Maps of Hell Leftover # 3)

“That which cannot be wholly concealed should be deliberately displayed.”

—Quentin Crisp

In “Taboos and Identity: Considering the Unthinkable,” the authors argue that “taboos are part of the definition of one’s identity. Deliberating over breaking the taboo changes the individual’s choice set, and provides information on possible private benefits. The strength of the taboo is determined by the number of individuals that obey it.”[1] Freud’s essential definition of a taboo is something that there is both a clear social prohibition against and a co-existing unconscious drive to commit. One might say, “hence the taboo,” but this works the other way also: things that are socially forbidden, and hence suppressed, may also become increasingly desirable to us.

In a paper called “Body, Psyche, and Culture: The Relationship Between Disgust and Morality,”[2] the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt (writing with Paul Rozin and Clark Mccauley) argues that socio-moral aversions, and the corresponding prohibitions, can be traced back to the visceral experience of disgust that we are all biologically configured to experience, as a means of avoiding unhealthy foods and environments (the smell of rotten food, excrement, or corpses, for example). Referring to “the surprisingly complex emotion of disgust,” the paper argues that “the web of culture might be spun, in part, from some aspects of human bodily experience” (p. 108).

Extending this into the social realm, the piece suggests that, “For Americans, socio-moral disgust is a kind of character judgment of others, especially of people who violate the basic dignity of other human beings.” Above all, it is “senseless acts of violence or cruelty, especially toward people who are weak or defenseless” that trigger in us a reaction of moral disgust, equivalent to the bodily one for foul taste or smell (p. 118). “Human societies take advantage of the schemata of core disgust,” the piece argues, “in constructing their moral and social lives, and in socializing their children in what to avoid” (p. 124).

In the alt-media shitstorm of 2016 that became known as “Pizzagate,” many of the claims had to do with how the cultural set in Washington, DC, was signaling a value system comfortable with child sexual abuse, murder, depravity, and occult symbolism (i.e., all the earmarks of a “Satanic Illuminati”). To a degree, this was indisputably the case: photographic images at James Alefantis’ Instagram account of children, accompanied by tasteless sexual jokes; sexually suggestive artwork on the walls of Comet Ping Pong restaurant (a supposedly “child-friendly” environment); a creepy “stand up” performance by a musician (Majestic Ape) in the same locale, including “jokes” (open insinuations) about pedophilia; artwork owned by Tony Podesta depicting children undergoing what looks like sexual torture; and so on.

Where there’s smoke there’s fire, the paranoid Hive-mind of the Internet reasoned, not entirely rashly as it turned out, since there were several smoking guns to “Pizzagate.” Laura Silsby’s child trafficking in Haiti, Dennis Hastert’s conviction for child sexual abuse[3] and friendship with the Podestas[4], and Jeffrey Epstein’s Lolita Express constituted three direct links to the Clinton Foundation, which Alefantis, his boyfriend David Brock, and Comet Ping Pong were all closely affiliated with. On the other hand, guilt-by-association is one of the easiest traps for conspiracy researchers to fall into, and such ties don’t make all the accusations flying around at the time correct. But they do mean that using the “circumstantial” evidence as “leads” bore some conclusive fruit (even if today “Pizzagate” is mostly viewed as a “Fake News” debacle).

The inception of the “Pizzagate” online furor (reaching its mainstream—and probably fake—crescendo with a “deranged conspiracy theorist” entering the restaurant and firing a gun, allegedly) were the John Podesta emails released by WikiLeaks. Several of these referred to Marina Abramović’s “spirit cooking,” an art project which some (possibly over-zealous) researchers claimed was inspired by an occult ritual designed by occultist Aleister Crowley that included the consumption of blood, breast milk, urine and semen. Besides the Crowley link, this item got my attention at the time because of the overlap it indicated between occultism, ritual abuse, and the arts and entertainment industry.

In her 40-odd years as a performance artist, Abramović has dealt in what she calls “true reality,” often at great physical and psychological cost to herself. She has stabbed her hand with knives, sliced her skin with razor blades, lain naked on a cross of ice for hours, and invited the public to prod, probe and abuse her naked body. Once, she almost died during a performance, lying inside a huge flaming star made of petrol-soaked sawdust. The fire sucked the oxygen from around her, causing her to pass out; an audience member intervened and she was rushed to hospital with burns to her head and body. In Abramović’s own words, “I test the limits of myself in order to transform myself . . . but I also take the energy from the audience and transform it. It goes back to them in a different way. This is why people in the audience often cry or become angry or whatever. A powerful performance will transform everyone in the room.”[5]

Spirit cooking, the performance piece and/or occult ritual that caught people’s attention after the release of the Podesta emails, relates to a series of performances from the 1990s in which Abramović used pig’s blood to write phrases on the walls of museums, such as “Fresh morning urine sprinkle over nightmare dreams,” or “with a sharp knife cut deeply into the middle finger of your left hand eat the pain.” One phrase, “mix fresh breast milk with fresh sperm, drink on earthquake nights,” caused WikiLeaks to tweet, on November 4, 2016: “The Podestas’ ‘Spirit Cooking’ dinner? It’s not what you think. It’s blood, sperm and breastmilk. But mostly blood.”

The implication was that Abramović’s performance art became something more openly satanic behind closed doors, and that this was all part of the evening’s entertainment for the elite. On the same day, The Washington Post ran its non-too-subtle counter-spin, entitled: “No, John Podesta didn’t drink bodily fluids at a secret Satanist dinner.” So much for non-denial denials, this is an example of the inverse method: repeating the charges in a “playful” way to emphasize the supposed absurdity of them.

Another Abramović performance that raised internet eyebrows was a Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) show she did with Debbie Harry in 2011, which raised over $2.5 million for the museum. The event was attended by an impressive roster of Hollywood Illuminati, including Kirsten Dunst, Will Ferrell, Pamela Anderson, Rosanna Arquette, and Tilda Swinton, all of whom were obliged to don white lab coats as worn by the staff. “At each of the round tables, a nude woman was stretched out, draped with a skeleton . . . instructed to show no emotion and remain immobile. At the rectangular tables . . . heads popped out of the middle of each . . . and rotating slowly, the actors seated, below the table, on lazy Susans.”[6] “For dessert, 12 bare-chested young men carried in two life-size cakes representing Abramović and Harry in the nude that had been created with disturbing anatomical precision by the food artist Raphael Castoriano.” At the end of the night, the female body replicas were cut up into slices so “the well-heeled guests could indulge in the visually absurd bacchanal of devouring the artists’ various body parts.”[7] Visually absurd bacchanal? Only to some.

Some have dismissed all this as simply a case of bad-taste/bad-art from the liberal progressive avant-garde, and maybe it was. On the other hand, this avant-garde also involves high-level political figures with a presumably acute awareness of just what the lower classes, the “Philistines,” and the plebeians think of them and their costumed parties. Are their eyes really that widely shut? And if not, if they are aware of people’s growing suspicions about dark rituals occurring in their midst, why would they deliberately play into those fears? If you knew your neighbors suspected you were a closet Satanist, would you start playing tapes of children’s screams at night and hanging inverted crucifixes on your door so as to make fun of their fears? If you wanted to drive them insane and risk being murdered in your sleep, you might. But at what point does bad taste, “edgy” art, mischievous humor, and elitist arrogance become a psychological operation?[8]

When Jimmy Savile openly joked on national TV about hating children and sexually molesting teenage girls, it seemed like black humor. After he died, it came out he was molesting children, and a lot more besides, and his jokes were revealed as something more sinister, more strategic. Sometimes Savile’s victims were even sitting or standing right beside him while he let slip his creepy insinuations, as if they were designed to communicate to them just how untouchable he was. What greater show of power is there than to flaunt one’s abuses openly, and suffer no consequences?

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The above article was left over after the final rewrite and edit of 16 Maps of Hell, currently available at almost 50% off due to a printer’s snafu (cream pages instead of white).

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[1] “Taboos and Identity: Considering the Unthinkable,” By Chaim Fershtman, Uri Gneezy, and Moshe Hoffman, in American Economic Journal: Microeconomics 3, May 2011, p. 139, emphasis added: https://rady.ucsd.edu/faculty/directory/gneezy/pub/docs/taboo.pdf

[2] “Body, Psyche, and Culture: The Relationship Between Disgust and Morality,” by Jonathan Haidt, Paul Rozin, and Clark Mccauley, Psychology & Developing Societies # 9 (1), 1997, p. 107-131.

[3] “Hastert Molested at Least Four Boys, Prosecutors Say,” New York Times, April 8, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/09/us/dennis-hastert-molested-at-least-four-boys-prosecutors-say.html

[4] “Podesta Brothers and Denny Hastert: Their Connections,” Pizzagate Research Project, Jan 26, 2017. https://pizzapartyshutdown.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/podesta-brothers-and-denny-hastert-their-connections/

[5] “Interview: Marina Abramović,” by Sean O’Hagan, The Guardian, October 3, 2010: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/oct/03/interview-marina-abramovic-performance-artist

[6] Michals, S. “Naked as They Came: Eating With Nudes at Marina Abramovic’s LA MOCA Gala Performance,” The Observer, Nov 13, 2011: http://observer.com/2011/11/naked-as-they-came-eating-with-nudes-at-marina-abramovics-la-moca-gala-performance/

[7] Burrichter, F. (2011). “Naked Ambition: Marina Abramovic’s Museum Gala,” New York Times, Nov 15, 2011. http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/15/naked-ambition-marina-abramovics-moca-gala/?_r=0

[8] As recounted in the audio commentary for David Fincher’s Se7en: after completing the film, Brad Pitt wanted to buy the obese corpse model from the autopsy scene, cut it open, and serve bean dip from its entrails at the after-shoot party. Just the sort of mischievous humor we have come to expect from our Brad—or was Pitt aware of the hidden backdrop to his joke (as Abramović must have been) and subtly playing off of it?

16 thoughts on “Marina Abramović: What Cannot be Concealed (16 Maps of Hell Leftover # 3)”

  1. Right then, I’ll be the first to get my toes wet.

    First off the bat is the magnitude of what you’re touching. Maybe I’m now ready to deal with this subject.

    In the vein of object, where taboo is outsourced to the script writers, frequent any porn site and it’s all on offer, although not as crafty as your writing and of course without the easy to draw conclusion! That said my brothers that are setting the bounds on what is commonly seen as taboo (bdsm, my go to category) will soon become bored I suspect and that’s when things may become overly inflated, just like those pesky haemorrhoids that plagued my bowel movements from digital stimulation, not to mention those mega …., though platinum cured silicone!

    With the quote in mind at the top of the piece, I best say that I came to this piece wanting to recognise that basically as ….. put it, the problem with social enlightenment is thinking you can do whatever the hell you want. So I come to last night where I made the decision that if I wank it’s gonna be to the hottie in leggings on tinder and not the tied up whore branded under the consent of KINK Corporation. Not that that was at the forefront of mind but all paths lead to the bottom of the valley because old habits die hard. “Not that theres anything wrong with that!” I love kinky shit

    Maybe I don’t have much more to say, but here me out, as I see my brothers check out the school girls in their uniformly dresses, I wonder maybe we are just so joyless that sex is the only way we find release from our ‘hectic’ life’s and maybe that it’s where most of us can be creative may god treat us kinkily

    May the comments flow

    Reply
  2. I feel guilt by national association. Abramović took Biljana Đurđević (also spelt Djurdjevic) under her wing, a young (at the time) artist from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade. Since moving to New York she became something of a favourite with the Podesta brothers. Her paintings, if taken in context, are pretty disturbing.

    https://www.instagram.com/biljana_durdevic/?hl=en
    Bio: “My work deals with social problems. Those who condemn and strive to censor it are usually those who are a part of the problem.”

    NB The paintings of sad, gaunt, sexualised, tied up children are not on her Instagram account as far as I can tell. Some of them can be found online: https://www.startpage.com/sp/search

    Abramović’s art reminds me of the many sects over time which believe in transcending the body. Mind over body, etc. Trauma as a path to enlightenment.

    Reply
  3. Hello Jasun.

    I thought about leaving a comment on the you tube link you provided but realised it would be pointless.

    You were superbly eloquent as always which makes me question why you have chosen to be ‘interviewed’ by such personas as Andy and Shaun. The first thing that rung my alarm bell was Andy stating where you were ‘stationed’. He quickly recovered but not before that particular gem settled itself. Why would he use that word? I don’t expect a honest reply from anyone regarding that question so let’s just say I’m thinking aloud. He interviewed Tim Kelly too, an excellent historian with real charisma so how come Andy gets these gigs?
    He’s painful to listen to, really painful. How much does he get paid on a hourly basis? Whatever, it’s too much. He needs to be retired. I stuck with it because I find you highly entertaining and interesting Jasun, your insights are completely logical and in line with mine which, apart from your ability to vocalise them so brilliantly, makes you a joy to listen to. Thank you.

    One of the comments I would have made on Andy’s you tube video was ‘why don’t you ask yourself exactly WHY you’re so enamoured with the Joker?’ Isn’t it obvious that he sees himself in the character? Doesn’t the search for the truth start with oneself in the most unforgiving way? I believe it’s this self deceit that has such a big majority of people happy to buy into the delusion of government as god. Tell me what to do, how to behave, how to think regardless of how imbecilic it is. ANYTHING so long as I don’t have to look into the wretched abyss of nothingness that is myself.

    As for Shaun Atwood, I really am at a complete loss why you would go there. I’ve spent weeks pondering on the question and still can’t come up with a suitable excuse, try as I might. It leads me back to the ‘stationed’ slip and I really don’t want to entertain that one, because I love your discourse so much. Ah well, such is reality. The scales fall from our eyes and ‘heroes’ along with them.

    Reply
    • I might have answered this, but since it was followed up by an increasingly hostile spew of comments complaining about how busy I was deleting all of them, while I slept like a babe over here in Canada, I deduce that the commentator is of neither stable mind nor benign intent. The site seems to be in particularly fast spin cycle currently; all the dross is coming out. [Edit: the “disappearing” comments never made it up because they were in moderation queue; in this case paranoia is self-fulfilling: they have all now been SPAMed]

      Reply

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