Marina Abramović on Unconditional Love

Vitali Gelwich
Kerry Shaw

She was the first woman in 255 years to have a retrospective at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. Now, she’s inspiring a new young audience who are educating their parents about her art and her impact on culture. We spoke to Marina Abramović about aliens, unconditional love, fashion, and how to live a long and satisfying life.


Wolford top, Maison Margiela dress & Rick Owens gloves

Sonia Maria Pinto Sweater

Marina Abramović: It’s early morning here. Let’s start.
Kerry Shaw: First question – do you like cats?
MA: It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s that I don’t trust them. I’m sorry.
KS: I love the way that you love fashion so unashamedly. What factors go into your decisions about what to wear?
MA: When I started in the 1970s, I never had clothes. I was brought up in communism and my mother never wanted to buy me anything fancy or anything I liked. It was horrible and I felt ashamed to wear what I wore. And later on with Ulay we lived in a car and wore clothes we could find in second-hand shops. And finally, I went to Paris and sold three works to the [Centre] Pompidou and I had money. So firstly I went to the [Yohji] Yamamoto shop and bought this beautiful suit that I still have, with an asymmetrical construction; trousers and jacket with a white blouse, very sculptural and geometric. Artists were so criticised then, not any more, but in those days if you were into fashion people thought you weren’t a good artist, something must be wrong with you. I remember at that time, Issey Miyake was going to villages in Japan and making clothes from experimental fibres. It was very artistic, but then somebody asked Miyake why he made such large clothes and he said, “I always want to have enough space for the spirit to live between my clothes and my body.” My God, that was interesting for me. He was talking my language. Then I went to see the Wim Wenders documentary about Yohji Yamamoto, which is so beautiful. He talked about how he was influenced by Russian working and military clothes.
And then I discovered Comme des Garçons and she is unbelievable. She doesn’t care if you ever wear her dress or not. She started making these bumps that were sculptural. I just had my retrospective at the Royal Academy as the first woman to do that in 255 years, so I needed to figure out what clothes to wear. It was very important to me, the statement I wanted to make. I wanted to wear something British, I wanted to rebel, so it was clear to me it had to be Vivienne Westwood. I went to Andreas, who I didn’t know at the time and he was really wonderful and I got a dress. Then I discovered a really deep friend forever in Riccardo Tisci. He was a friend of my husband at the time. Givenchy was a meeting of art and ideas. We worked on opera together – he made the costumes for the 7 Deaths of Maria Callas. He also worked on the new version of the Bolero at Opera Garnier with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Damien Jalet and me, creating wonderful costumes for the dancers. So we cross all these lines now between what is art and what is fashion. I also discovered Roksanda Illinčič and this year I was both the woman of the year and the man of the year at the GQ awards, so I wore a Roksanda Illinčič crazy yellow dress like a tent. I remember turning up in Berlin and everyone there was in black like at a funeral. I mean, look at me, look at you, all in black, but Roksanda had this little window to help with my shoot and I said, ‘Give me colour’.
KS: I know you are ethical in your fashion choices. Do you feel you need to be careful as a public figure?
MA: You can’t do anything right any more. An artist is condemned. I’m always being asked to say something or to sign petitions, so my contribution at the Royal Academy was to invite everybody to come to the square to give unconditional love to themselves and others. This is the only way. If we don’t learn to love each other, we are a mess. I wanted to be very careful about saying anything at all. I’m for unconditional love and that’s it.

Rick Owens silk gown

Rick Owens silk gown

Sonia Maria Pinto sweater & Wolford skirt

KS: This issue of PUSS PUSS is about space. I was wondering if you believe in aliens?
MA: Of course I believe, are you crazy? I definitely believe in them. I have a really crazy story. In my work, I have gone for long periods without eating. I’d done 12 days and once I did 16, which is a bit too much, too difficult for the body. But I remember that my body became so sensitive. I could smell things that dogs can smell but humans don’t, I had a perception of what was behind me without looking back. It was incredibly high enlightenment, seeing things as they are and I remember very vividly walking in the street with this incredible sensation of being watched from the top by aliens. I was looking around thinking, how do people not see that? How do they not feel it? We’re constantly observed! They don’t look like us. They’re different. They’re energy. But something’s there – I was absolutely convinced.
KS: You recently launched your wellness line, Longevity Method. It makes me wonder, would you like to live forever?
MA: No! But I would like to live after 100, as long as my grandmother who was 103 and died in her sleep because she decided she didn’t want to live any more. It was so dignified, it was wonderful. The recipe for my products isn’t my own recipe. It’s from Dr. Nonna Brenner, from Kazakhstan and the recipes are from there and Romania, and very similar to my grandmother’s. I remember she would rub my body with vinegar and garlic if I was sick and had a high temperature. I’d sweat and then the next morning I’d be fine. Dr. Brenna created these new recipes in her Swiss pharmacy that work on our inner system to make our immunity stronger so we can defy diseases and live longer. She treated me for Lyme disease which is almost untreatable.

Rick Owens Silk Gown

Rick Owens silk gown & Bad Binch Tong Tong wings

Woldford top, Maison Margiela dress & Rick Owens gloves

KS: Do you believe in life after death?
MA: Ah. This is another interesting question. I need a sip of my Yorkshire Gold for this. Yorkshire Gold tea with oat milk. [sips tea] Okay. When we die the body is 21 grams of energy lighter. That 21 grams of energy is scientifically proven to leave the body. This energy goes somewhere. I don’t think that after we die we are still running around, but I think that the energy is indestructible.
KS: Do you think the world needs some of your warrior energy as well as your unconditional love? You lived through the Balkan Wars and now you see the state of the world, how do we fix it?
MA: I think we’re living in a dark side of human history right now. Humans haven’t stopped killing each other for centuries. It’s unthinkable that we’ve never learned our lesson and we’ve never learned the simple thing to do – to forgive each other. In my case, what is my function as an artist? I can bring something that can lift the spirit, open the heart, and bring love to the table. My work is highly emotional. If I go to a movie and I don’t cry, it’s not a good movie. Opening our hearts is what’s important, we are so closed off.
KS: Do you collect art yourself?
MA: I collect absolutely nothing. I am such a minimalist, first of all. I love empty spaces. I clean my place all the time and throw things out. My mother collected everything. After she died I had to clean out her house and I said that when I die, no one will have to throw away anything because I’ll have gotten rid of it all before.

Rick Owens dress

Rick Owens dress & Bad Binch Tong Tong wings

Photographer: Vitali Gelwich
Stylist: Heathermary Jackson
Talent: Marina Abramović 
MUA: Rommy Najor
Production: Lola Production
Producer Mara MacEwan
Coordinator: Emma Sargent
Photography assistant: Patrick Zoellig
Photography assistant: Branislav Jankic
Stylist assistant: Abigal McDade