In the name of art, how far will you really go?
In 1974, Marina Abramovic, also known as the 'Grandmother of Performance Arts,' conducted a social experiment called "Rythm 0" at Studio Morra in Naples, Italy.
Born in Yugoslavia, her work explores the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind.
In this experiment, Marina invited people to do whatever they want to her for 6 hours using any of the 72 items she kept on the table. These items ranged from harmless things like a rose, feather, perfume, honey, bread, grapes, a scalpel, nails, a metal bar, wine to scissors, and a gun loaded with one bullet.
The purpose of the piece, she said, was to find out how far the public would go: "What is the public about and what are they going to do in this kind of situation?"
She found out soon enough.
The experiment started off modestly as people turned her around. Someone thrust her arms into the air. Someone touched her somewhat intimately.
In the third hour, all her clothes were cut off from her body with razor blades. In the fourth hour, the same blades began to explore her skin. Her throat was slashed so someone could suck her blood. Various minor sexual assaults were carried out on her body.
They carried her around the room half-naked, put her on a wooden table and then stabbed a knife into the table between her legs. They placed objects on her. They took pictures of her and posed her with the photographs. They played with her body.
She was so committed to the piece that she would not have resisted rape or murder. Faced with her abdication of will, with its implied collapse of human psychology, a protective group began to define itself in the audience. When a loaded gun was thrust to Marina's head, and her own finger was being worked around the trigger, a fight broke out between the audience faction."- according to a famous art critic, Thomas McEvilley.
"I felt really violated: they cut up my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the audience. Everyone ran away, to escape an actual confrontation."
When she was no more a social experiment, people refused to look her in the eye as a human being. The nature of people in their primitive desires is scary, even for themselves. They want to do things, but they don't want to be held accountable or judged. Humanity is at its cruelest when presented with a silenced target. The message in this experiment is very deep.