book review: Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović

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WALK THROUGH WALLS by Marina Abramović
★★★★★
Crown, 2016

 

I don’t even have words for how much I adored this book. (My one-word Goodreads review before I finishing gathering my thoughts was just ‘Perfection’.) Let’s get this out of the way: Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović is a controversial figure, and much as I’d love to shove her ghostwritten memoir into everyone’s hands, I must admit that there are plenty of people who will remain thoroughly unmoved by it, and that’s completely fine. But I also want to clarify that I don’t think it’s essential for a reader to love or understand or even be familiar with her art in order to appreciate this. The best thing to be while picking up this book is open-minded.

Personally I love contemporary art, I love performance art, and I love Marina Abramović, so this was always going to work for me. But it still managed to exceed my expectations; I think I was anticipating entertaining and instead I got revelatory. I did study Art History in college and am hardly a stranger to thinking critically about what art is, so I wasn’t expecting my perception of that question to be so shaken by Abramović’s perspective. Art and life are fundamentally inextricable concepts to her, which she explores throughout her career in a series of daring, unconventional performance pieces, which are chronicled in this book with vividly descriptive imagery. This book, as well as Marina’s career, is a testament to her unbelievable ability to push her body to its limits, and using her own physicality to connect with her audience. The way her performances build upon and interact with one another is delineated here with clarity: I genuinely feel enriched from this new understanding I have of her work and what she has tried, and has succeeded, to achieve.

Even outside of her art (though she would probably frown upon making this distinction), Marina’s life is a constant source of fascination. This reads more like autobiography than memoir, as it’s heavy on fact and chronology and light on emotional analysis, but this isn’t a criticism. Marina is presented in this book as an open, vulnerable figure, her methods and ideology made accessible through a thorough excavation of her life, from childhood to present day.

If you’re interested in Marina Abramović but aren’t a big nonfiction reader, the novel The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose is a brilliant depiction of her 2010 show The Artist is Present. Otherwise, I really couldn’t recommend Walk Through Walls highly enough.


You can pick up a copy of Walk Through Walls here on Book Depository, or The Museum of Modern Love here.

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22 thoughts on “book review: Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović

  1. I’ve had a copy of this one for a while – I’m so intrigued to pick it up now! When you say it’s ghostwritten – is that acknowledged in the book? Slash did it bother you to know it was ghostwritten?

    Liked by 1 person

    • YESSS do it!!! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

      Here’s how it’s addressed in her acknowledgement at the beginning of the book: “I would like first of all to express my deepest gratitude to James Kaplan. He listened to me for countless hours and helped me to tell my story. His desire to understand my life moved me to the core.” So I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly, but I had my suspicions throughout that it was ghostwritten because there were a few too many turns of phrase that seemed inauthentic for someone who isn’t a native English speaker (not to mention she just doesn’t strike me as the kind of person to sit down and write a book – like, the very existence of this memoir is so at odds with everything we learn about her), and then it was easily confirmed with a google search after I finished: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/nov/01/walk-through-walls-a-memoir-marina-abramovic-review

      Whether or not it bothered me is an interesting question – I’ve been mulling that over. Yes and no? On the one hand it’s kind of frustrating to still not know which thoughts were Marina’s and which were being projected onto her. I always want to hear someone’s story in their own words when possible and I do feel a bit bitter that I was denied that, even if the result is a spectacular story. But on the other hand it was apparently written after a really extensive interview process and clearly Marina is happy with the result, and the fact that it was such a ‘this happened then this happened then this happened’ book (not in a bad way!) means the nature of ghostwriting feels less inauthentic than if it had been a more emotionally intensive memoir? So my more emotional self wishes it weren’t ghostwritten and my more rational self thinks it isn’t a deal-breaker, lol. But I wanted to mention that fact quickly in my review so others could draw their own conclusions about it. (Sorry for the long comment!)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, that’s so fascinating – thank you for the explanation! That’s an interesting one – I feel like, even without a ghost writer, there is always a certain slippery quality to memoir as a genre anyway, which is why I think so many controversies come up around it (how can anyone tell their life story objectively or factually?) … so you have book like Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck, which includes some scenes that are likely entirely fabricated, or you have Educated by Tara Westover, where she has had to say that everything in the book is according to her memory and is thereby an interpretation of sorts. So I can understand your mixed feelings but can also see how having this book filtered through another writer maybe isn’t all that odd for a memoir – if nothing else, it just gives you a little more to parse through and think about in terms of storytelling. Definitely going to check this one out! 🙂

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      • I agree completely with that point! Telling one’s own story with objectivity is a fool’s errand and I’m not at all convinced that entering a ghostwriter into the equation actually muddies the ‘truth’ of someone’s story. Maybe it’s even possible that a ghostwritten memoir is capable of more truth, since the author is one step removed from the kind of emotion that clouds the subject’s recollections? (This would be an interesting subject for a video if you do end up reading this!)

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      • Ahh I’m so flattered! I’ll keep an eye out if I can get a library copy. Funny enough I don’t think I’ve really read any art memoirs except that a couple of weeks ago I read Marc Chagall’s memoir. Are there other ones you really like?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Actually I’m new to them myself! But since I love art history so much the whole art memoir subgenre seems like a kind of no-brainer for me to expand into. Did you like Marc Chagall’s memoir?

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      • It was pretty good — very dreamy and impressionistic, like his stuff 🙂 but frustrating because the style is often poetic and made it hard to always understand exactly what had happened. And he jumps around in time a bit, complicated even more by the dreamy poetic structure. But I love his art so I liked reading his words. It’s not a genre I know much about but I’m curious about it too…you’ll have to keep me updated on good ones you find!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds fantastic! The Museum of Modern Love is already on my TBR so I think I’ll stick with reading that first, but I’ll definitely keep this in mind if I love MoML.
    It seems like you’re having a great year for nonfiction!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll be really interested to hear your thoughts on both of them! The Museum of Modern Love won the Stella Prize in Australia I think in 2017? so I’m glad it got published over here. I really need to read more of those prize winners – obviously any prize for female authors is right up my alley.

      Honestly my nonfiction reading has been MUCH better than my fiction this year!! Who am I…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am annoyed. You make it sound so brilliant and I have been wanting to read it and I predicted a five star rating. And then it just HAD to be ghostwritten. Great review though!

    Liked by 1 person

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