Tag Archives: Presence

Nude with Skeleton by Marina Abramović 2005


Hey there, I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, although I have recently discovered the most extraordinary performance artist that I have the urge to share!

Marina Abramović is internationally recognised for her inspiring, captivating and conceptual performances that provoke a powerful and emotional response from the audience, as referenced by Sean O’Hagan.1 I’ve recently watched a documentary known as, The Artist is Present that presents Abramović most iconic and fascinating performance at the MoMA Museum of Modern Art.

According to The Marina Film Project, audiences queued to sit in front of Abramović as she sat completely still within a gallery space for six hours straight for two to three months. There was complete silence, as Abramović would continue to stare at the person right in front of her. This is one of the most remarkable performances to date and I’m completely mesmerised by the way Abramović can emotionally engage with the audience.2

The documentary presents Abramović artistic career including her relationship with Ulay, although there was one performance in particular that immediately captured my attention. Nude with Skeleton 2005 presents the artist with a skeleton that is placed over the top of her nude body, as referenced by Lima. The most fascinating aspect is the skeleton’s synchronised movements that correlate with Abramović’s slow and controlled breathing; the overall performance delivers a very interesting parallel between life and death.3


Lima explains that the performance explores death’s inevitable presence and the very notion that life itself isn’t permanent. In fact, the performance invites me to consider the presence of life and death that is profoundly emulated through Abramović’s performance including the dramatic and captivating composition with the life-sized skeleton.5

According to the MoMA audio recording, Marina Abramović explains that the skeleton exposes the frightening perceptions surrounding death and the concept of facing mortality.6 This is quite a confronting piece, as the juxtaposition between the artist’s figure and the skeleton invites me to consider my own mortality and my impermanent presence within the world that is a relatively scary thought at times. The performance delivers a powerful and emotional response that is admirable and inspiring.

I know if I had a life-sized skeleton placed over the top of me, the experience would be surreal, even frightening. The thought that we’ll have to face the inevitable at some stage is a challenging feeling that invites me to reconsider the value of life and the present moment. It’s amazing to actually realise how one single performance can trigger these profound emotions or thoughts; this is what Abramović does best! 7

The Marina Film Project mentions that the performances were recreated within the exhibition at the MoMA through a dedicated group of artists that participated in Abramović’s intensive training sessions leading to the grand opening.8

If you ever get the chance to watch The Artist is Present, I would definitely recommend it, even if you’re not into performance art, this will provide a completely different perspective in regards to art and the surrounding world. The documentary invited me to understand the importance of being present and aware of the your surroundings internally and externally. Don’t forget, rent or buy a copy of this documentary, you will seriously be amazed!


1., “Interview: Marina Abramović,” Sunday 3rd October 2010, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/oct/03/interview-marina-abramovic-performance-artist
2.The Marina Film Project, Force LLC and Mudpuppy Films INC, 2012, http://marinafilm.com/
3.Lima, “Nude with Skeleton,” http://www.li-ma.nl/site/catalogue/art/marina-abramovic/nude-with-skeleton/9280#
4.Lima, “Nude with Skeleton”
5.MoNA Multimedia, “Marina Abramović. Nude with Skeleton.” http://www.moma.org/explore/multimedia/audios/190/2016

6.Lima, “Nude with Skeleton,”
7.Lima, “Nude with Skeleton,”

8.The Marina Film Project, Force LLC and Mudpuppy Films INC

Robert Mapplethorpe:Self Portriat 1988

21/8/12 – Self Portriat Resonates the Life and Death of Robert Mapplethorpe 

Over the past few weeks I have developed an interest for self portraiture and black & white photography. In one of my class tutorials I have discovered the works of Robert Mapplethorpe whose work has featured a reference to death and the skull. According to John Ingledew, Robert Mapplethorpe has explored self portraiture in a creative format and the skull may resonate the artist’s own interpretations of death or mortality.

Ingledew also claims that there are only three distinguishable subjects within the actual photograph, Mapplethorpe himself, his hand and the skull that appears to be placed on top of a wooden walking stick. The direction of the light and the texture resembles a similar appearance to a walking stick although the image does not provide one specific explanation.

IngleDew quotes “Robert Mapplethorpe shows himself in a 1988 self portrait withered and dying fr0m AIDS. He grasps a cane topped with a small skull. It is one of the photographs in which every part is not fiercely defined by sharp focus. In stark, silvery black and white, the shiny detail of the skull is chillingly juxtaposed with Mapplethorpe’s haunted face – floating out of focus , receding into darkness” (Ingledew, 2005)

In regards to Ingledew’s argument, Mapplethorpe’s previous photographs are quite sensual and erotic that provide a strong emphasis on the human form. In the self portrait however, the artist’s body disappears from the surface of the image that creates quite an unusual composition between the metallic skull and Mapplethorpe’s face. The viewer is confronted with Mapplethorpe’s lifeless expressions that may also provide a sense of isolation and deterioration.

The self portrait also features vivid light, tone and composition that illuminates the skull on the very top of the walking stick. The skull becomes one of the main focal points within the image that is juxtaposed with the artist’s hand and the actual walking stick itself.  In relation to the self portrait is the skull an emblem of death and mortality?The composition between Mapplethorpe and the skull may encourage the viewer to speculate life and death in general. One may argue that the skull features far more facial expressions than the artist who may reflect a close connection with death. Mapplethorpe’s self portrait is a powerful image that may document the ‘presence’ and the ‘absence’ of the artist.

According to Leland Poague, Susan Sontag also theorizes the “presence and the absence” in photography that may resonate a particular moment in the past or a moment in time. A photograph may provide the ability to remember certain aspects of a person’s life although the photograph also invites one to acknowledge the absence of a close friend or a family member.

Poague also mentions Freud’s interpretations of the conscience and how the mind processes a certain loss or an absence  “In Freudian terms, absence or loss leads to a doubling; the lost object is not let go of but represented, a representation that is subsequently incorporated, as conscience” (Poague, 2000) In response to Pogue’s arguments, the photograph could be considered as a form of duplication that records a person’s physical existence. A photograph may trigger the viewer’s own memory or perception of the subjects within the actual photograph itself.

Poague also quotes “We can say with a fascination with photography is already a fascination with death, a way of taking it bit by bit as if photography was a form of mourning” (Poague, 2000) One could argue that photography is used to remember and celebrate a person’s life, at the same time photography can also provide the ability to grief over the loss of a loved one. I suppose photography is a subjective medium that resonates a different experience and interpretation from each person. Not every person will have the same response to a particualr image or photograph and the representation itself has a power to create a range of different emotions.

In Mapplethorpe’s portrait may document the artist’s spirit or entity that also reflects a ‘presence and an absence’ within the photograph. John Claridge quotes “With portraits it’s always the spirit that’s captured in the picture not the technical expertise”  (Claridge, 2000) The self portrait is a very striking image that successfully captures the life and the death of Robert Mapplethorpe who will continue to influence contemporary art within the 21st century.

Ingledew, John, Photography (London: Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, 2005 ) p.39

Poague, Leland, Susan Sontag: An Annotated Bibliography 1948-1992 (New York: Garland Publishing Inc, 2000) p.li – liii

John Claridge in Portraits: Developing Style in Creative Photography (Switzerland: Rotovison, 2000) p.51

Image Citation: http://orangemercury.blogspot.com.au/2010/11/robert-mapplethorpe-self-portrait.html