Marina Abramović: 'Seven Deaths' review

Art Free
2 out of 5 stars
The Seven Deaths of Maria Callas
Marco Anelli The Seven Deaths of Maria Callas by Marina Abramovic Photograph by MARCO ANELLI © 2019 Los Angeles, October/2019

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

A two hour celebration of opera's greatest singer, by the world's biggest performance artist. And it's very, very silly.

You can add an eighth death to ‘Seven Deaths’, Marina Abramović’s latest film installation: mine. Because this two hour ode to Marina’s favourite opera singer is so silly that I died of both embarrassment and amusement.

Abramović, probably the greatest performance artist ever (tm), loves the late great diva Maria Callas, and in this film she dramatises seven of her onstage deaths, most with the help of renowned actor Willem Defoe for some reason.

Defoe strangles her with a snake, she rips off her hazmat suit to expose herself to toxic fumes, Defoe ties her up and stabs her. At one point she smashes up some mirrors then just has a little lie down. All to the tune of Callas’ most important arias. 

Many of these deaths seem entirely avoidable. Especially if she just stopped hanging around with Willem Defoe.

The film has gorgeous production values, it’s beautiful and exactly as dramatic as you’d expect Marina Abramović doing opera to be. But it’s also inarguably and overwhelmingly silly. How can you take Marina Abramović seriously when she’s dressed as a god damn matador having a tug of war with Willem Defoe? 

Abramović’s best pieces work because of their simplicity, because she’s staring at you right in the eye in total silence, because you have to brush past her nude body to enter a room, because she’s pushing herself to her absolute limit. Direct, immediate, confrontational, brilliant performance art. But this film is the opposite. It’s pompous and overblown and totally and utterly ridiculous. It’s also absolutely mad, which is a point in its favour. 

After a lifetime of vital, influential, important art making, you could argue that Abramović has the right to disappear up her own backside a little. It’s just a shame we all have to watch it happen.

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