In 1973, about two months before she began using her body in performance, artist Marina Abramović created a series of 28 photographic works and an accompaning slide installation entitled “Freeing the Horizon“. Originally screened by 8 projectors at the rotunda of the Student Cultural Center (Studentski Kulturni Centar, SKC, the headquarter of Belgrade artistic avant-garde of the 1970’s) and largely overlooked afterwords, the work only resurfaced in 2010 in the occasion of “The Artist is Present“, the performance and accompaning retrospective exhibition of the artist at the Moma in NYC.
In her early project “Liberation of the horizon” (1971) M.Abramović took a photograph of Place of the Republic in Belgrade and then erased the buildings present in the image during the printing process. In the two following years, while she wasn’t allowed to leave the country, she kept photographing other important urban scenes of the city, and then proceded to erase most of the buildings from the pictures using correction fluid. The process was applied, among others, in photos of National Theatre (in Place of the Republic) where she erased everything behind the equestrian statue of Mihailo Obrenovic, and for the removal of the Old Palace of the Obrenovic family, the place where the political meetings were held.
The images echoes the censorial activity of the aerographers at the Belgrade Museum of the Revolution, (of which Danica Abramović, Marina’s mother, was the Director) who incessantly erased ministers and politicians purged from the Party from the huge walls hanged on the Museum façades.
In this sense Mechtild Widrich, (faculty member of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) author of “Process and Authority: Marina Abramovic’s Freeing the Horizon and Documentarity” (in Grey Room 47, Spring 2012, available online at Academia.org) highlights the context of censorship and indoctrination in former Yugoslavia and the construction of the photographic work as a political act: “Freeing the Horizon is a complex reconsideration of three topics: (1) truth claims in photography; (2) political censorship –particularly under tightening control in the wake of the events of 1968; and (3) the role photography plays in shaping our experience of the world. The last topic lends the work not only its historical flexibility but also its stubborn claim to report truths that are not entirely visible.”
A more biographical level is unveiled by James Westcott (author of the biography “When Marina Abramović dies” – MIT Press, 2009), when he argues that the series represents the sense of claustrophobia and the need for freedom the artist felt then in Belgrade, a city completely detached from the outside world.
According to Claudia Miller, “Freeing the Horizon” assumes an almost Freudian meaning as it became a document of the past following the destruction of many buildings by NATO bombings in 1999 Kosovo war. Abramović could be seen as highlighting people’s latent fears about the future of her country (not by chance Tito’s criticism of the Eastern Bloc and the starting of the Non-Aligned Movement brought Yugoslavia on the verge of Soviet Union invasion). Collage becomes here a tool of removal, instead of addition / juxtaposition, and the creation of a new city paradoxically allows for the capturing of a fragment of history.
Mechtild Widrich’s “Process and Authority: Marina Abramovic’s Freeing the Horizon and Documentarity” (in Grey Room 47, Spring 2012, available online at Academia.org)
James Westcott’s “When Marina Abramović dies” – MIT Press, 2009
Photos and resources via and courtesy: