This essay analyzes The Artist Is Present, Marina Abramović's heavily mediatized 2010 performance at New York's Museum of Modern Art, through the lenses of Freudian and Deleuzian concepts of masochism. It specifically focuses on how the masochistic tendencies of this performance may be read in the current context of biopolitics. The author contends that many critical analyses of Abramović's performance, which focus on details of the performer's personal history, have not adequately addressed such political questions regarding her work. Drawing on the documentary film Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present (dir. Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre, US, 2012), which follows Abramović through the conceptualization and enactment of the performance, this essay demonstrates how The Artist Is Present restages the quotidian practices, bodily movements, and affects fostered by biopower and emphasizes the masochistic logic that structures biopolitics. Reading the masochistic behaviors of both Abramović and the performance's spectators through Gilles Deleuze's notion of the masochistic contract, this essay argues that the performance ultimately harnesses “living labor” in the service of the self-production of subjectivity, and does so through an intensification of the masochism on which biopolitics depends. In addition to engaging Freudian and Deleuzian theories of masochism, this paper also draws on Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's work on biopower and immaterial labor.
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Jaime Brunton; Biopolitical Masochism in Marina Abramović's The Artist Is Present. Camera Obscura 1 May 2017; 32 (1 (94)): 63–91. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-3776868
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