»Form follows feminine.«

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Fund Me! I'll Hug You!

Marina Abramovic used crowdfunding to raise $660k: is that wrong?

  • The Marina Abramovi? Institute suceeeded in a recent kickstarter campaign to build its new home. (Image: MAI) 1 / 6  The Marina Abramović Institute suceeeded in a recent kickstarter campaign to build its new home. (Image: MAI)
  • For a contribution of one dollar a hug is promised from the artist herself. (Image: MAI) 2 / 6  For a contribution of one dollar a hug is promised from the artist herself. (Image: MAI)
  • And for $25 one can learn to drink water consciously. All proceeds go to the insitute. (Image: MAI) 3 / 6  And for $25 one can learn to drink water consciously. All proceeds go to the insitute. (Image: MAI)
  • An 8-bit video game was also a reward, offering the idea of "participation" as a thank you for a cash donation. (Image: MAI) 4 / 6  An 8-bit video game was also a reward, offering the idea of "participation" as a thank you for a cash donation. (Image: MAI)
  • Abramovi? enlisted celebrities to support her effort: seen here is an earlier piece featuring Lady Gaga 5 / 6  Abramović enlisted celebrities to support her effort: seen here is an earlier piece featuring Lady Gaga
  • She also appeared in Jay Z’s “Picasso Baby” spectacle at Pace Gallery in New York earlier this year. 6 / 6  She also appeared in Jay Z’s “Picasso Baby” spectacle at Pace Gallery in New York earlier this year.

The platform Kickstarter works through the power of the masses to generate cash for projects. The artist Marina Abramović uses performance pieces to create intimate interactions between people. While perhaps the two are alike, Merve Bedir considers what it means to crowdfund, how to learn to drink water consciously for $25, and the place of celebrity culture in an inclusive environment.

Last Sunday, 25 August, the Marina Abramović Institute (MAI) Kickstarter campaign successfully surpassed its $600,000 its funding goal with 4,765 backers contributing a grand total of $661,452.

Abramović must have been so impressed with the visitors at her 2010 MoMA performance piece “The Artist is Present,” who needed to communicate to themselves and to each other, that she decided to transform this energy [!] into the new MAI. The presence over 1,500 gazers over the show’s two-and-a-half month stint might have pointed to the desire for connection in society, but does it also necessitate including them in funding an art institute, now? In other words, was it a Kickstarter campaign intended to make us ordinary people into part of a performance art institute that will “serve society”?

For a contribution of one dollar a hug is promised from the artist herself. (Image: MAI)

From the campaign website: “…Kickstarter is needed to affirm and build the engaged community necessary for sustaining MAI into the future. The backers are told to become a founder of the institute not only financially, but also conceptually, by partaking in the very experiences MAI hopes to create.” The backer rewards vary from “The Embrace” for $1, to “Digital MAI” (MAI virtual tour as 8-bit video game: rice counting, stepping on grass, complaining to a tree) to $5 for things like “Learning to Drink Water Consciously’ for $25, etc. Either Abramović is really teasing us, or the goal of the campaign fails to grasp what people’s involvement in the institute could mean, by making the institute and Abramović its ultimate reference points.

And for one can learn to drink water consciously. All proceeds go to the insitute. (Image: MAI)

Interestingly, the MAI campaign came half a year after the renowned art critic Dave Hickey left art criticism, claiming that art had become too self-referential. Just as Abramović located people as the objects of her performance in MOMA, it is doubtful that the gazing chamber, or watching an art performance in the MAI, will activate people to be part of the experience or the institute. The campaign is far from creating an idyllic sense of belonging, even considering the backer rewards. We don’t know if Abramović really needs to crowdfund her project, but this campaign has already provided a lot of PR for MAI. Besides, we can interpret from Kickstarter that she wants to make MAI participatory from the beginning, but this hardly seems so — either from the institute’s programme or from the backer rewards. Abramović unfortunately gives the impression that we are her experiment: funding it and taking part in it afterwards.

Nevertheless, Abramović opens a door out of the conservative art world of collectors and consultants with the help of Kickstarter and pop culture: appearing in Jay Z's “Picasso Baby” at the Pace Gallery, collaborating with Lady Gaga, and getting a name-check from Frank Ocean in the lyrics to a remix. But there is surely tension and calculation there: in her 2010 interview for the Guardian we don’t know if the “pop-video fuckers” she mentions are perhaps Jay Z and Lady Gaga: “…Performance art has to live and survive... If we do not perform and recreate it, the art fuckers and the theatre fuckers and the dance fuckers will rip us off without credit even more than they do anyway. I am sick and tired of the mistreatment of performance art. Even the pop-video fuckers steal from it...” Lady Gaga also pledged a certain devotion to Abramović, by being filmed in the MAI-San Francisco for the Kickstarter campaign, which dramatically raised awareness about the MAI. But of course, Lady Gaga’s nude video for the campaign got more attention itself than either the MAI or Abramović.

Abramović enlisted celebrities to support her effort: seen here is an earlier piece featuring Lady Gaga

It’s hard to understand why Abramović collaborates with pop figures, but Jay Z’s wisdom helps to explain: “In the past, the art and hip-hop world was very close to each other. We would party together. Later, art was confined in galleries, and we got separated. Now we are finding each other, again.” It is obvious that the Jay Z and Abramović collaboration is nothing like Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol, or the MCs and graffiti artists of early hip-hop culture; it may be more like Baudrillard’s Conspiracy of Art: On the one hand, pop icons are enthusiastic to beautify their work with art, and on the other, contemporary artists will never be done with fame and spectacle.

The trend of “celebrities” doing Kickstarter is in line with the economic crisis and the general budget cuts. The reason for the recent increase in the number of biennales might not only be to discuss the urgent problems of design and the design world, but may be also, as Jessica Bridger mentioned in a recent issue of scape magazine, designers who face trouble getting funding for new commissions go for culture budgets. Big creatives apply for culture funding, referring to design’s relevance to societal issues, but before the Venice Biennale Chipperfield said: “Never before has the biennale had such a strong social thrust… All good architects believe they are contributing to society, but society is mistrustful. It sees them as self-promoting, autobiographical animals.”

Considering that perhaps art and architecture share this societal perception in common, Chipperfield’s words are worth considering in relationship to the MAI, successful Kickstarter or not. Another set of questions requires further attention: what is the ethical threshold of applying for crowdsourcing or funding and what does it mean for crowdfunding if celebrities or corporations ask for community support?

 – Merve Bedir is an architect based between Rotterdam and Istanbul. She is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Architecture, Delft University of Technology and partner of Land and Civilization Compositions.

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