In 1974, Yugoslavia-born artist and provocateur Marina Abramović carried out her most audacious performance art: a six-hour-long experiment in Studio Morra, Naples, in which she stood still and invited audience members to do to her whatever they desired, using one of 72 objects — including a feather, a metal bar, a scalpel, a gun with one bullet, wine, and bread — which she had placed on a table. According to Abramović, the purpose was to explore how far the public would go when unrestricted.
The instructions read:
“There are 72 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired.
I am the object.
During this period I take full responsibility.
Duration: 6 hours (8 pm – 2 am)”
During the six hours, things began to escalate. At the beginning, audience members were tame and gentle, with romantic gestures such as kisses and roses being offered her way. As the night unfolded, events became all the more terrifying for Abramović. Thomas McEvilley, an art critic who was present at the experiment, described that which he observed:
“In the third hour all her clothes were cut from her 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. 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 factions.”
Describing what she had endured and had learned about human behaviour, Marina Abramović stated: “What I learned was that… if you leave it up to the audience, they can kill you.”