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Posts Tagged ‘Rem Koolhaas

Marina Abramović Invited the Public to Hurt Her … And They Did

At 23, Marina Abramović lay on a table and invited the public to do what they wanted to her.

Various objects and implements sat at the ready: flowers, a feather boa, a knife, a pistol. The first attendees were shy.

But soon enough, someone cut off her clothes. Another pushed the thorn of a rose into her flesh. The gun was aimed at her head. After six hours, Abramović says, she rose, battered and bloodied, and limped out, with a kind of terrible knowledge about the harm that humans will inflict on one another.

Sean Braswell


Sean Braswell is a Senior Writer at OZY. He has five degrees and writes about history, politics, film, sports, and anything in which he gets to use the word “dystopian.”

Some 40 years later came a different kind of experiment.

In “The Artist Is Present,” a 3-month-long performance at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Abramović sat for eight hours a day in a simple chair. Opposite her, a few feet away, sat strangers, who had waited hours to sit down opposite the stern-looking Serbian with jet-black hair and “exchange energy” in the longest, and perhaps most demanding, ongoing performance work ever mounted in a museum.

It consisted of nothing more than eye contact between strangers — and, as Abramović recounts in a TED Talk that will co-premiere on OZY today, it changed her life.

TEDLike Page. April 17 at 8:31pm ·

“Ultimately, my message is very simple. The only way to change the world is to change the self” (via OZY).

The celebrated performance artist wants to help liberate you from your fears, and your iPhone.|By Sean Braswell

“When you give the public things to harm, the public can actually harm. But if you give them things to make them better, they will become better,” she told OZY in an interview last week.

The connection she witnessed in that chair turned her on to the ever-growing “need of people to actually experience something different” in a world in which online networks and electronic devices have in some ways isolated us from ourselves.

Abramović’s latest, and most ambitious experiment, invites her audience to discover themselves as never before — in a kind of culture spa where visitors purify themselves for six hours before experiencing “immaterial” art.

Abramović’s fears, as well as her hunger for a connection, originate in her youth in postwar Yugoslavia, where her parents gave her a first-rate education in the arts but not a loving childhood.

She found love in 1975, at age 28, in the form of a tall, flamboyant artist named Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen).

Sparks flew during their first encounter, the married Abramović wound up staying in Ulay’s bed for 10 days and the two artists quickly became lovers and collaborators.

Abramović put aside the implements of pain (and her first husband) in favor of love and trust, albeit with an often pointed edge, as in the pair’s famous collaboration “Rest Energy,” in which the two pulled on opposite sides of a drawn bow and arrow, the arrow aimed straight at Abramović’s heart.

Her early work with Ulay, says Peggy Phelan, a performance-art expert at Stanford University, demonstrates a “commitment to performance as a way of understanding love and power that remains … unsurpassed in the history of live art.”

Since her split from Ulay in 1988 — the pair broke up by walking thousands of miles toward each other, in China, for a final goodbye — Abramović has embarked on a new stage of her career.

As her fame has grown, she has become as much art celebrity as artist, one whose ambit now includes the likes of Jay Z, Lady Gaga and James Franco. Gone are the days of putting herself in grave danger with “no security apparatus,” says Phelan, replaced with a “fundamentally different kind of event,” like the one in the MOMA atrium, which had ample security.

Abramović’s evolution has not dulled her ambition. Her chair-inspired insights have sparked plans for a 33,000-square-foot center in Hudson, N.Y., designed by Rem Koolhaas.

The Marina Abramović Institute (MAI) represents not only a chance to cement her own artistic legacy but also to give back to her audience in a more permanent fashion than the all-too-transient performance world typically allows.

Still, the MAI is fundamentally about immateriality. Visitors, who must pledge to stay six hours and don white lab coats, will make their way through a series of exercises, from counting rice grains to sipping water, designed by Abramović to help them restore simplicity in their own lives.

On the surface, such a cultural spa seems a long way from Abramović’s own staged encounters with the razor’s edge. If confronting fear and loneliness requires a sharp instrument, is it sufficient for the rest of us to be threatened with the absence of our phones?

being true to your art is about more than placating the purists.

James Westcott, a biographer of Abramović as well as a former assistant, says she has always seen herself as public property, more like a shaman or priest — with the MAI now as her temple — and she is not one to put her followers in the same danger she would place herself.

“As long as she can get people to an elevated state of consciousness,” says Westcott, “it doesn’t matter if the methods aren’t as extreme or as personal as they were for her back in the ’70s.”

Abramović, in her way, is in accord. Artists exist not just to answer questions but also to “give you a different vision,” she told OZY — including finding connection and beauty and love right in front of you.

“Ultimately, my message is very simple,” she says. “The only way to change the world is to change the self.”

Open Letter to Mr. Rem Koolhaas

We have recently learned that the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) has been commissioned to develop a design for a projected development on a prime sea-front location in Beirut (Lebanon): the Dalieh of Raoucheh.

Proposing a private development over such a prime social, national, archeological and geological landmark in Lebanon has generated an ongoing public outcry, in the form of protests, letters to officials, discussions, and media mobilization. We are writing today to alert you to the disturbing facts behind the project, and solicit your support in outlining an alternative vision for Beirut’s seafront.

by The Civil Campaign to Preserve the Dalieh of Beirut

Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker

Here are the facts fuelling the dispute over the project:

1. The project will erase an important social space and a national landmark

For decades, the site where the project is being designed has been a prime social and public gathering for Beirut dwellers, but also a national landmark for Lebanese citizens. The site included traditional fishermen ports, informal restaurants, and a vibrant informal economy that lived off such temporary recreational activities.

These activities have recently been interrupted as the site was reclaimed as “private property,” and fenced-off, displacing its long-term users.

Adding to the social and symbolic significance of the site is its immediate proximity to the Raoucheh Rock, perhaps the main city landmark that holds enormous symbolic significance at national and international scales.

Frequently used as a metonym for Lebanon’s natural beauty, the Rock has appeared on national currency as well as in numerous films, histories, and imageries of the city. Any architectural intervention that modifies this seafront landscape, particularly one that privatizes a natural extension of this public landmark, will have resounding negative impacts.

2. The project will be built on property that was partially acquired illegally

Dalieh properties were the result of the visions of Ottoman and later French authorities to entrust the city’s commons to the main families of the city, as its custodians and protectors.

Until 1995, these properties had multiple owners, who were all members of the so-called “old families of Beirut.” One investor managed to buy these property shares, consolidate single private ownership and expand it over what was the city’s collective commons.

This take-over operation has been represented as a de-facto reality that overshadows the historical communal practices in Dalieh and represents them as illegal squatting of private land. This led to the fencing-off of the area and the subsequent prohibition of access to the sea.

Historical and contemporary property records we have obtained unequivocally demonstrate that property boundaries in the area have been modified to encroach on the public maritime domain, in contravention of the law. In other words, a large section of the area where the project is currently planned has been illegally privatized.

This includes the fishermen port that, until recently, secured the livelihood of over 75 families, and also served as a recreational space for thousands of others. Implementing this project in this location will make theft of public land a fait accompli.

3. The project serves the narrow interests of an elite group of politicians and real-estate developers

While urban and building regulations had relatively protected Beirut’s seafront for decades, making of the promenade along the coast a landmark communal space in the city, regulations have been considerably modified over the past 25  years.

Indeed, private real-estate developers have lobbied affiliate politicians to pass multiple exceptions to existing laws that serve their interests, allowing intensive building exploitation ratios at the expense of the city’s livability. The lobbyists behind these regulations are not only property owners, but also policy-makers, ministers, and other members of the political elite who have turned law into yet another tool that serves their private interests. Your client is a member of one of the most powerful players among that elite.

Thus, while the entire zone of the project was non-ædificandi (unbuildable) until 1966, exploitation ratios have gradually increased reaching a whopping 60% rate, according to the most recent modification of April 2014.

The effects of these exceptions to the law are clearly visible on the city, where miles of public beaches and open spaces have been turned into a gated private resorts and landscapes. A design intervention that works within this usurped legal framework will serve the interests of a handful of policy-makers/property-owners who are blatantly manipulating the law to their own advantage, at the detriment of the city, its natural environment, and its dwellers.

4. The project threatens a unique ecosystem

Numerous studies highlight the ecological value of this area, particularly as it includes representative marine habitats, namely underwater caves and vermetid reefs where a unique sea-life flourishes.

We cite, for instance, the National Physical Master Plan of the Lebanese Territories (approved by decree 2366/2009) that identifies this site as a distinguished natural area of utmost importance to be protected, as well as Plan Vert de Beyrouth (2000) proposed by renowned architects and urbanists, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Lebanon’s Ministry of Environment (2012), Greenpeace’s A Network of Marine Reserves in the Coastal Waters of Lebanon (2012)

5. The project will destroy a rich archeological site

The site is etched with features that could be traced back to the geological history of Lebanon. In fact, it may be the last remaining coastal karstic outcrop on the Beirut city coast, which is the backbone of the city’s visual landscape. Among other sites on the coastal strip, it is also by far the most extensive and important site that presents evidence of the Stone Age in the Levant.

In light of the above, we are appealing to you in your roles as founder and lead architect of the firm, and as an educator and a public intellectual, to side by us in advocating to your client, but also to planning and urban authorities in Beirut the preservation of a site with unique characteristics, and withdraw services on this project.

If such advocacy efforts falter, we urge you to dissociate yourself and your firm from this contentious project.

We remain open, as a campaign, to meet with your office to discuss in more detail various aspects of this controversial project and this key national site.


The Civil Campaign for the Protection of the Dalieh of Beirut

[All images are authored by the Civil Campaign, unless indicated otherwise.]

[Banner on the Raoucheh’s Newly Added Fence: “Lift your Warcheh (Construction Site) Off Our Raoucheh!”]

[Bathing on a Warm Sunday]

[Diving Competition. Image courtesy of Dalieh’s fishermen.]

[Family Picnics]

[Nowruz Kurdish Celebration]

[Picnics Facing the Sea]

[Protest Against the New Fence Sealing Off the Access to Dalieh]

[Public Rally to Reclaim Dalieh]

[The Old Port which Provides Boat Rides for Visitors]




March 2021

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