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Death and the anthropomorphic life of objects in performance. Marina Abramović’s Nude with Skeleton and other animations [excerpt]

Performance Research A Journal of the Performing Arts, Volume 20, Issue 2: On Anthropomorphism, S. 4-11. | 2015

by Jungmin Song

[...] Another object performance hovering at the border of object theatre and live art is conceptual dance artist Eva Meyer-Keller’s Death is Certain (2002), which contains elements of anthropomorphizing without creating characters out of things. The performer, dressed in a white apron, destroys rows of red cherries with the tools of murder and execution. One cherry is crushed by a hammer, another injected by hands in rubber gloves, another crushed in a vice, another immolated in a pile of matches, another trapped in a plastic vessel and asphyxiated by cigarette smoke, another shaken around in a plastic cup lined with thumb tacks. It is impossible not to read this performance metaphorically. The cherries are surrogates for iving beings, whether human or animal. The performer is the executioner, the audience the passive witnesses to a re-enactment of mass slaughter and genocide.

It is a harrowing performance and one that differs in important ways from Molnár’s Alka-Seltzer sketch. Molnár provides a backstory to the suicide of his protagonist. He anthropomorphizes a tablet through a scene in which it is bullied by a group of sweets before it drowns itself in a glass of water. Without the bullying scene we would not read the performer dropping an Alka-Seltzer into water as a suicide. In contrast, Meyer-Keller’s cherries are simply picked up from ordered rows on a table and transported one at a time to the site of killing. The dramatic reality of the death is not due to the manipulation of the cherries. The pieces of fruit do not speak or move in human-like ways. Rather cherries are actants endowed with aliveness for the duration of their killing. The execution is carried out with care and attention to scale, materials and tools. That is what makes each death certain – the killing is performed correctly and precisely. As Meyer-Keller enacts execution, disaster and accident upon cherries, and their flesh is bashed, macerated, electrocuted or burnt, we ironically feel the life of cherries most acutely. And even after such brutal acts there is potential for another life, as from their pips a tree might spring. Death is only certain in the moment of killing, not eternally. [...]

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