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Lyn Bentschik performing Marina Abramović's, The House with the Ocean View, photo courtesy of Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland GmbH 

Photos: Peter-Paul Weiler © Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany GmbH 

On Reperforming Abramović 

Lyn Bentschik in dialogue with Philip Auslander

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Lyn Bentschik

In the fall issue of The Art Section, I spoke with Dr. Joey Orr about his new book A Sourcebook of Performance Labor: Activators, Activists, Archives, All, which reveals the workings of a relatively unknown production infrastructure underlying the presentation of performance art today. Orr focuses on the initial presentation of performances, but there is a growing trend of re-performing historical works by significant performance artists. I talk here with Swiss performer Lyn Bentschik about their experience of re-performing canonical works by the iconic Serbian artist Marina Abramović. 


Although the history of performance art extends back to the early 20th Century, the idea that such events could be performed more than once, or that historical works could be performed anew is relatively recent. To provide context, the American performance artist Allan Kaprow, creator of the form known as Happenings, stated in “How to Make a Happening,” a lecture of 1968, that such events should not be rehearsed or repeated because this would rob them of spontaneity and make them too much like theatre. Shortly before his death in 2006, however, Kaprow gave permission to a gallery in Munich to reperform his 1957 genre-defining work 18 Happenings in 6 Parts. Abramović went through a similar transition. In the 1970s, she was adamantly opposed to the idea of reperformance, and still insists that performance art and theatre are intrinsically different but came to believe that live performance is a better way of presenting historical works than through photographs and films.  


Abramović reperformed pieces by several of her peers, with their permission, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City in 2005 under the title of Seven Easy Pieces. Reperformances of her own work were the heart of her The Artist is Present, her 2010 retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She has gone on to make reperformance a regular means of exhibiting her work. She has also taken control of the process of reperforming her work by recruiting and training performers. Performing Abramovic’s work is arduous. She is sometimes described as an “endurance artist” because of the physical demands she places on herself and the length of time her pieces require to perform. For The House with the Ocean View (2002), one of the works Bentschik performed, Abramović fasted and lived on the wall of a gallery for twelve days. In our conversation, we touched on how Bentschik came to be an Abramović reperformer for the 2017 European retrospective exhibition The Cleaner, the training they underwent, the experience of performing, and thier perspective on the legitimacy of reperformance as a means of presenting performance art. 

–—Philip Auslander


Marina Abramović, Artist Portrait with a Candle (C) from the series Places of Power, 2013, Courtesy of Marina Abramović Archives © Marina Abramović by SIAE 2018

Philip Auslander: Please tell us how you came to work with Marina Abramović.


Lyn Bentschik: The story of how I got to reperform Abramović pieces is not very spectacular. It was 2016. I was living in Stockholm, where I had finished my BA in Dance Performance at Uniarts Stockholm and was freelancing. A friend of mine sent me the audition notice at the very last minute. I remember having to change a shift at my job to be able to make it. I went to the casting led by Lynsey Peisinger, a performer and choreographer who collaborated with Marina at the time, at MDT, a venue for dance and choreography in Stockholm. It lasted two days. I passed the first round, then the second round, and was included among 30 other performers to do this work during her retrospective The Cleaner at Moderna Museet Stockholm. I didn’t really know what this meant. I knew her and her work from the movie The Artist is Present and was impressed, of course, but I wasn’t a close follower of her work at all until that point. I was very open and curious and mainly excited to have gotten a “real” performance job after having finished my education. 


Marina Abramović, The House with the Ocean View, 2002-2018 New York, Abramović LLC, Courtesy of Marina Abramović Archives and Sean Kelly, New York, MAC/2017/072.

Photo Credit: Attilio Maranzano

PA: Do you remember what was involved in the audition process?


LB: The first meeting happened in a sub-group of approximately 10-15 people. We were sitting in a circle in a room at the Moderna Museet, together with Lynsey Peisinger. She had a folder with some information about us, probably copies of our CV’s and a picture or something similar. She asked us to introduce ourselves and if we had a certain practice that would help us to get grounded. I said my practice was dancing.


On the second day, we were together with all the other applicants that had passed this first sub-group-round. The day started with Lynsey leading a warm-up, consisting of light physical exercises. It was a similar mix of exercises to those we would later do every morning during the “Cleaning the House” workshops. At that time, they just felt like random warm-up exercises: shaking the body, waking up the senses by touching ears and eyes, opening the nostrils and breathing, etc.


After that, we continued with several exercises. I specifically remember two of them: “Slow Motion Walking“ (walking as slow as possible across the room) and “Mutual Gazing” (looking each other in the eyes without moving or blinking, sitting on a chair across each other). I have done these exercises countless times afterwards, for example during the “Cleaning the House” workshops or when I was a facilitator for the Abramović method, but nothing beats this first experience I had during the casting process. It was so crazy to try and do something so simple that became extremely exhausting after a very short amount of time. I was pushed to my limits pretty quickly because I had never done anything like it before. In addition to the stress of the exercises being very hard, I had no idea if I was doing it “right.” I couldn’t compare it to anything I’d done before, certainly not to the dance auditions I was used to up to that point.

Lyn Bentschik performing Marina Abramović's, The House with the Ocean View, photo courtesy of Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland GmbH 

Photos: Peter-Paul Weiler © Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany GmbH 

PA: I seem to recall that you performed Abramovic’s work at venues other than the Moderna Museet. How did this come about?


LB: The Cleaner, Marina’s retrospective exhibition, was planned to happen in several different locations all over Europe. When the first exhibition in Stockholm came to an end, I knew that the next stop would be the Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen. I also knew that they would repeat certain performances there, which meant they would need performers in Copenhagen. I had fallen in love with the work at that point and didn’t feel done with it at all. So, I asked Lynsey if I could come along to Copenhagen. I knew Copenhagen because I’d lived there for a year around 2010 and could very well imagine moving there again for some months. Luckily, Lynsey said yes, so I did my second exhibition period there. After Copenhagen, The Cleaner travelled further to Norway, to the Henie Onstad Museum, in a slightly reduced version. I was chosen among six performers to join that exhibition as well. The next, and for me the final stop was at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, Germany.


The reason for my wanting to continue the work was a mixture of love and curiosity. The work was very hard, challenging and deeply intriguing. It triggered something in me, and I needed to continue to perform to get a better understanding of what that was. 


Marina Abramović, The Cleaner exhibition, A view of Marina Abramović's installation Balkan Baroque (Bones) 1997, one-channel video (b/w, sound), 9'42”. New York, Abramović LLC.

Courtesy of Marina Abramović Archives and LIMA © Marina Abramović. Marina Abramović by SIAE 2018 Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk,

Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn, Centrum Toruniu

PA: You mentioned to me that when I first contacted you, I used the word “reenactment” to describe what you did with Abramovic and asked about its relationship to the term “reperformance,” which you seem to prefer.


LB: For me the difference between the two words lies in the word “acting” and the associations I have with it. “Acting” could imply that people try to act in exactly the same way as in the original piece. It might mean they strive to reproduce the same emotions, the same movement quality, the same music, lights, circumstances. 


Of course, there are similarities between my associations of “acting” and the reperformances we’ve done of Marina’s pieces. For example, in trying to achieve a similar setting or costume. The difference for me lies in the execution of the performances. I never experienced  that anyone wants me to “act” the way she did or reproduce her style of performing. I never felt I’m performing her. I always felt that I was performing me, with my personal reactions, emotions, movements, flows of energy etc. At a certain point when working with long-durational-performances, you simply don’t have the strength anymore to “act” or “pretend.” You just are, in your most authentic, vulnerable, and personal state, because every barrier you try to put between yourself and the audience gets broken down by time. I think Marina and Lynsey knew this very well and therefore never told us to do “as Marina would do.” Instead, they trained us to deal with long-durational-performances. This way we could build up our own “toolbelt” with personal strategies on how to deal with moments of wanting to give up, hunger, loss of control, emotional rollercoasters, etc. That’s why they made every single performer join a “Cleaning the House” workshop before a new exhibition period would start. Even the ones who’d done the workshop before; I did it four times.

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Marina Abramović, The Cleaner exhibition, A view of the reproformace of Cleaning the Mirror by Lyn Bentschik at Moderna Museet, Stockholm Photo: Iris Bentschik 

PA: What did the workshops entail?


LB: The workshop lasted five or six days. It was led by Lynsey Peisinger. It usually happened somewhere out of town, in a retreat center or an empty school, for example. During the workshop, we didn’t speak, and we didn’t eat. We handed in all our cellphones, books, music devices, and watches. Basically, anything that could distract us. We could bring some items that were communicated to us beforehand: one soap, one bottle of oil, one towel, one notebook and, depending on the time of year, warm clothing. We slept all together or in smaller groups, sometimes on beds, sometimes on camping mats, depending on the place we were staying at.


During the workshop, first thing in the morning was swimming in the sea, river, or a lake. Sometimes it was very cold: I remember that we had to break through ice to go swimming in Norway. Sometimes, we had to walk a long time before we would get to the water. Once we’d bathed, we would go back to the workshop venue. Lynsey would lead a warm-up; then, we would start doing long-durational exercises. We never knew for how long we did an exercise; we never knew what time it was. She told us to start, and she told us to stop. In between the exercises, we had breaks and we could drink herbal tea and make notes. In the evening, we usually did a nice calming ritual and then went to sleep.


You mentioned that many people find the Abramović reperformances to be controversial. I haven’t heard much about this and would be curious to hear some of the main arguments of the people finding it a controversial subject. 


Lyn Bentschik performing Marina Abramović's, The House with the Ocean View, photo courtesy of Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland GmbH 

Photos: Peter-Paul Weiler © Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany GmbH 

PA: I think there are two main areas of controversy. The first is the belief that the kind of performance art Abramović and others do is so personal and specific to the original performer that it seems wrong for someone else to perform it. The second has to do, in my view, with an anti-theatrical bias in the culture of performance art (Abramović, for one, has often insisted that her work is different from theatre). Reperforming works of performance art, especially by people other than the original artist, seems to suggest that such works can be treated as scripts and the events as theatrical performances. As someone who has seen this phenomenon from the inside, what are your thoughts?


LB: I agree that artistic work is often deeply personal and very close to the artist themselves. Let’s compare it with a song that is very close to the heart of the musician who wrote it. What happens when the musician shares the song? It touches a lot of other people’s hearts. What do they do? They start singing along and even reperform the song later, in the shower, for example. That is rarely considered wrong or weird, is it? Not even when they start doing it in a public space, for example on stage at a karaoke bar, or release a cover album that they make money with.


I believe something similar happened with Marina’s performances. There is something deeply human about copying someone or something, which makes it hard to control. Probably because it’s a big part of how humans evolve: kids learn by copying adults. Only after they’ve repeated the adult’s actions and movement several times are they able to “make it their own,” reflect about it, apply changes to it, find out whether they would do it differently or maybe not at all. They add their little “twist,” their own personality, to it.


So, even though artists can state that their works shouldn’t be reproduced, which is what Marina tried at first, it happens anyways that people copy whatever they’re intrigued and touched by. I wouldn’t describe it as wrong, more as a natural development, as part of human nature that it makes no sense to control or judge.


Marina Abramović, The Cleaner exhibition, Abramović LLC. Courtesy of Marina Abramović Archives and LIMA © Marina Abramović. Marina Abramović by SIAE 2018 Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn, Centrum Toruniu

PA: I completely agree with you. I once wrote that watching performance art evokes the desire to perform the work yourself so you can see how it feels to do it, not just experience it as a spectator.


LB: To go back to the song example: It doesn’t kill my joy to listen to a well-made song if I realize (or know) I’m listening to a cover. Why? Because I’m not trying to experience the original piece. If I’m listening to a well-made cover, I’m trying to experience this person’s take on the original piece. I don’t have a problem with the fact that they use someone else’s “script,” meaning the same chords, if we take the song example, or the same circumstances/rules as Marina’s original performance, if we take the reperformances as an example. Everybody watching a reperformance knows that they won’t see Marina. They know it’s someone else performing it, and I think it’s the wrong expectation to want to experience the original piece when you go see a reperformance. It’s probably a more fruitful experience if you are open the experience a contemporary execution of an elder script.


I heard once that the reason why Marina developed the “Cleaning the House” workshops was that if people were going to copy her works anyway, why not teach them how to do it “properly“? By “proper,“ I mean that the workshops were designed to let people develop their own tools to deal with the hard situations a long-durational-performance confronts you with. And that corresponds well with how I experienced them. In a way we were trained to create our own “twists” and make us solid, safe, and interesting “cover artists.”


PA: What of the accusation that reperforming performance works turns them into theater?


LB: As I said, I don’t see a problem in using old performances or their circumstances as scripts for new work. I don’t agree that doing so makes them “theatrical events.” This is also why I don’t use the word “reenactment.” Since I’m a performance artist and not an actor, I don’t have a lot of expertise in the acting area. To me, acting, means to play a character, someone else, something you’re not. By doing so, you tap into your own feelings and emotions of course, but the goal is to become a character that differs from you as a person. Reperformances are not acting because it’s not a reproduction of Marina’s way of doing the performance. If I were trying to do that, I would attempt to become Marina as a character, someone outside of myself.


To me, reperforming her works has always been an invitation to perform it my way, with my own personal tools, and “twists” that I developed. An invitation to get deeply personal with the work and the audience. To make it mine, which necessarily implies to do it differently than she did it. It’s the whole meaning of it. Because we’re different people in a different place in our lives, at a different time, in a different country, with a different audience. In my opinion, the heart of the performances is the performer and their deeply personal and individual connection to the audience. That’s impossible to copy or to act. 


Lyn Bentschik at Marina Abramović's, The House with the Ocean View, Foto: Lyn Bentschik

PA: Abramović’s work is sometimes described as “endurance art.” How does its durational aspect fit into our discussion?


LB: Long-durational-performance is really hard. To quote Marina: “It’s not exactly a walk in the rose garden.” Maybe one can compare it to running a marathon or climbing the Himalayan mountains. To sustain something very hard for a very long time consumes an enormous amount of energy. If you want to do something long-durational, you need to be willing and able to tap into your very last resources, to give everything you have and play the long game. You need to keep moving even though you’re in pain and hungry, you need to keep performing even though you maybe don’t even want to anymore; it’s part of the process to go through these emotions.


“Acting” as if you’re not in pain, as if you want to keep performing (even though you don’t want to) or you’re not hungry consumes very precious energy. It’s energy you would rather use to finish the performance (or the marathon or the hike) and thereby achieve your goal than to spend it on “acting” and ultimately being dishonest about the situation you’re in.


As time passes during a long-durational-event, every facade, every act, every lie you try to tell yourself or the audience crumbles. I know because I’ve tried. Every single time, time got to me, time made all the walls I tried to put in between myself and the outer world to protect my vulnerability crumble. It was a beautiful process because it made me understand that the beauty of long-durational-performance art, or a marathon for that matter, lies the vulnerability and the honesty of the struggle. And that’s impossible to reproduce or “act” because every person holds their own truth and their own vulnerability. For the audience it is deeply touching and cathartic to witness someone push through their pain, push beyond their own boundaries in order achieve something they believe in. It gives them hope that they might be able to do it as well.

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Lyn Bentschik  completed a BA in contemporary dance performance at Uniarts Stockholm and an MA in Choreography at ZHdK Zürich. Formative experience with numerous reperformances of Marina Abramović's historical and contemporary works in the Europe-wide retrospective The Cleaner. In 2020 Lyn was awarded the Dance Award of the City of Zürich. Own works explore the intersection of (expanded) choreography and performance. Lyn is part of the two documentaries The Other House (2019) as well as Homecoming: Marina Abramović and her Children (2020).

Lyn Bentschik performing Marina Abramović's, The House with the Ocean View, photo courtesy of Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland GmbH Photos: Peter-Paul Weiler © Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany GmbH 


Philip Auslander writes frequently on performance, music, and art. His most recent book, In Concert: Performing Musical Persona, was published in 2021. The third edition of his book Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture is now available from Routledge. Dr. Auslander is a Professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech, and the Editor of The Art Section.   

Philip Auslander

photo: Marie Thomas

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