English, Department of



Brunton, Jaime. "Biopolitical Masochism in Marina Abramović’s The Artist Is Present." Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies. 31.1 94 (2017): 93-127.


This essay analyzes The Artist Is Present, Marina Abramović’s heavily mediatized 2010 performance at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, through the lenses of Freudian and Deleuzean concepts of masochism, specifically with respect to how the masochistic tendencies of this performance may be read in the current context of biopolitics. The essay seeks answers to questions of political import that many critical analyses of Abramović’s performance, which focus on details of the performer’s personal history, have not adequately addressed. Drawing on the documentary film Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present (2012) that follows Abramović through the conceptualization and enactment of the performance, this essay demonstrates how The Artist Is Present re-stages the quotidian practices, bodily movements, and affects fostered by biopower and emphasizes the masochistic logic that structures biopolitics. Reading the masochistic behaviors of both Abramović and the performance’s spectators through Deleuze’s notion of the masochistic contract, this essay argues that the performance ultimately harnesses “living labor” in the service of self-production of subjectivity, and that it does so precisely through an intensification of the masochism upon which biopolitics depends. In addition to engaging Freudian and Deleuzean theories of masochism, this paper also draws on Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s work on biopower and immaterial labor.