Marina Abramović Takes Over TV (4 stars)

Marina Abramović Takes Over TV

Serbian legend opens our eyes over five hours of stimulating TV

'How many performance artists does it take to change a lightbulb?' Marina Abramović provides the punchline to her own set-up and follows it with a hearty chuckle. No spoilers here, but to be fair it's a decent gag. Of course, to many, performance art is one long ridiculous overblown joke; and the more serious the performer seems to take their art, the funnier it gets. As if to get that awkward subtext out of the way sharpish, this five hours of Marina Abramović Takes Over TV kicks off with the scene in '90s sitcom Spaced where David Walliams, dressed as a Leigh Bowery-esque act called Vulva, yelps and squeals meaningless utterances into the void.

Across the two and a half hours that were available to view ahead of transmission, the legendary Serbian artist and her PA pals prove that there's plenty lightness to be had within the murky performance art sphere, and that they can actually have a laugh at themselves and their work: Miles Greenberg giggles before sitting in a large Perspex box to confront his fear of moths; there are humorous artist ad breaks, one of which features an ostentatious yet perfectly practical face covering being promoted; some folk offload their worries to a tree before giving it a hug; and Abramović herself has a jaunty back-and-forth with Tim Marlow who describes entering her world like stepping into 'the twilight zone'.

One question is asked throughout: what exactly is 'performance art'? Some of the standard tropes are ticked: nudity (check), actual physical risk (check), a little bit of embarrassment for both the act and viewer (check and check). But Abramović insists that performance art is fundamentally about the here and now, and living in the moment; for a few long minutes she silently stares down the lens and straight into our souls. Performance art is often nothing without an audience or creative partner with the process often transforming through interaction. Her own work has reflected this in spades from the public being invited to use a series of 72 objects on her (ranging from a feather boa to a loaded gun) in Rhythm O, and Rest Energy in which her late partner Ulay held tightly onto an arrow aimed at her heart. A captivating, infuriating, quizzical, informative, and yes, occasionally amusing night of takeover TV.

Sky Arts, Saturday 5 December, 9pm.

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