YouTubers, Marina Abramovic, and the Art of Reaction

Posted by Dalen Weathersby, King Barnes, Sep 06, 2018 0 comments

The High Museum of Art’s Teen Team is a dynamic group of rising high school juniors and seniors who help create and host public programs at the High, including our teen-only Teen Night and monthly free admission day, Second Sundays. The Teen Team program is a paid, year-round commitment, and the teens are considered museum employees. They explore the museum’s collection and special exhibitions, meet museum staff and local artists, and get the inside scoop on museum careers through hands-on experience.

This summer, our group of 16 teens created a new monthly program for teens, Teen FriHIGHday. Teen Team members researched other museums’ teen programs, brainstormed with Atlanta-area teen groups, and worked closely with the High’s Public Programs and Marketing department to develop this brand-new event. On the second Friday of each month, the Teen Team will have art-making, music, and gallery tours all geared towards teens.

The following is a collaborative reflection from two recent Teen Team members, Dalen Weathersby and King Barnes, both rising seniors in Atlanta high schools.

“There is a gallery somewhere in the world, and there is a young girl, age 23, standing in the middle of the space. In front of her is a table. On the table, there is 76 objects, for pleasure and for the pain. Some objects are: a glass of water, a shoe, a rose; but also: the knife, the razor blade, the hammer, and the pistol with one bullet. There is instructions which says, ‘I am an object, you can use everything on the table on me, I am taking full responsibility, even killing me, and the time is six hours.’” (Abramovic 2015).

In this TED talk from 2015, performance artist Marina Abramovic opens up to a blindfolded audience on the details of a past performance entitled Rhythm 0 (1974) where her clothes were cut, a pistol placed to her temple, her stomach stuck with thorns and her neck slashed with a blade, blood seeping everywhere. This is the audience’s introduction into the world of Abramovic’s practice of intensive performance art. Her practice is otherworldly, unusual, and painfully authentic, and is the interaction between performer and audience, an exchange of energies and authentic reality.

But Abramovic is by no means alone in this space of transcendent and even dangerous communication. The global cyber sphere is an ever present and limitless gallery for individuals, seeking the heed of others to find that interaction, even if it means self-endangerment. YouTubers, social media influencers, and, most intriguing, unknown persons perform and express for the purpose of reaction. Like Marina Abramovic, virtual personalities attempt queer and hazardous dares, also reacting to trending media. Whether it is the cinnamon challenge that trended in 2011 (participants swallow a spoon full of pure cinnamon in an attempt to cough or choke, which is virtually impossible), salt and ice challenge of 2013 (where one rubs salt and ice onto the their arm to give the effect of a third degree burn), or Tide Pod challenge in 2017 (pointedly to eat a poisonous laundry detergent pod), the act of endangering the self for seemingly no present reason other than to engage an audience has evolved and extends past what may be considered artistic.

This can be taken further when you allow your virtual followers to decide what you do via likes and comments, giving them the active power and social equivalency of what was seen in Abramovic’s 1974 performance of having anything from a rose or a knife held at your throat by an audience member. They may have the power to decide what you wear, eat, and even what country you visit. Humans are social creatures and seek shared experiences with a feeling of importance and validity in the world of others. Whether that be by means of allowing others to decide what substance you consume in excess on social media, or if a stranger cuts you with a knife as seen in Abramovic’s work—all is merely a matter of creative choice.

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