Marina Abramović | 10.25 – 11.1.2008

courtsey of the Netherlands Media Art Institute, Montevideo/TBA
© Marina Abramović, The Onion, 1996 – 20:00 mins
see video excerpt

The first shot is a close up of Abramović looking upward and holding a large onion. Her fingernails are painted bright red, just like her lips. Slowly she brings the onion closer to her mouth, taking a large bite from it and beginning to chew. Her voice-over keeps repeating the following as she devours the onion: ‘I’m tired of changing planes so often, waiting in the waiting rooms, bus stations, train stations, airports. I am tired of waiting for endless passport controls. Fast shopping in shopping malls. I am tired of more career decisions: museum and gallery openings, endless receptions, standing around with a glass of plain water, pretending that I am interested in conversation. I am tired of my migraine attacks. Lonely hotel room, room service, long distance telephone calls, bad TV movies. I am tired of always falling in love with the wrong man. I am tired of being ashamed of my nose being too big, of my ass being too large, ashamed about the war in Yugoslavia. I want to go away. Somewhere so far that I’m unreachable, by telephone or fax. I want to get old, really, really old, so that nothing matters any more. I want to understand and see clearly what is behind all of us. I want not to want anymore.’

As she is complaining, Abramović is noticeably agitated by eating the raw onion. Her eyes are tearing up, her saliva is dripping out of her mouth as her lipstick is rubbed off and bits of onion layers stick to her face. Her chewing is slowing down, but she continues to take ferocious bites from the onion while the voice-over continues. In certain respects, ‘The Onion’ shows familiarities with early performances like ‘Art must be Beautiful, Artists must be Beautiful’, in which Abramović is violently brushing her hair and face while reciting the title of the piece. As the early performances revolve around mental and physical limits of pain, ‘The Onion’ resumes Marina’s dedication to idea of the inseparability of body and mind by challenging apparent limitations of physical stamina. The video is also part of the 16-channel installation ‘Video Portrait Gallery’ (Abramović 1975-2002).

The Onion … 10.25 – 11.1.2008

Atrium Gallery – Western Michigan University

Marina Abramović – New York New York

Sean Kelly Gallery

12 thoughts on “Marina Abramović | 10.25 – 11.1.2008

  1. brooke November 4, 2008 / 11:40 am

    this piece is so vivid and in-your-face that it is quite difficult to watch. a woman eating an onion visually grabs your attention, and although the words are hard to understand at first, once you realize what she is saying it all comes together. as an art student and as a young adult, i emphasize with much of what she is conveying.
    the physical endurance of eating an onion directly relates to the emotional/mental endurance of dealing with the issues that she addresses.
    lastly, i thought it was really awesome to see that she was ranked among bruce nauman and several other well-known video artists. the interesting thing about this is that among the artists mentioned, she is the only female.

  2. Morgana November 11, 2008 / 5:43 pm

    It is hard to watch this video, first she starts off very determined, but the more the video progresses the more agitated she becomes. Having it projected and the sound turned up I could here the little whimpering noises that she was making as she ate the onion. Not liking onions myself, it hurt to watch her eat it. As the visuals become harder to endure I was forced to listen more closely with what she was saying during the video, and the fact that she was eating this onion that physically pained her while she was reciting these things that she mentally had to endure was a very powerful contrast.

  3. Amber November 18, 2008 / 1:09 pm

    I thought this video was amazing, you can physically feel her emotional pain. Loved it. However because I was so intrigued by the video and can relate to it I am more interested in the process of the video. After thinking about the video over the last couple days I want to know if this was some thing that she was able to shoot on the first try or did she have to build her endurance up the same way we have to build up our own tolerance to physical and mental pain? Another question that arose to me was the sound. Although I think the voice over sound works well with the video I wonder what effect it would have on the video if it was taken out and you could hear the sound of her chewing, slurping and whimpering better.

  4. Adrienne Marks November 25, 2008 / 2:27 pm

    At first I thought I would be able to watch this video without a problem. I like onions, I’ve seen people eat them like apples before, but there is that moment when she gags and her eyes are tearing up that I almost lost it. The visuals overpowered the audio, I didn’t even pay attention the first few times I watched it. And when I finally did all I could think was “Wow, it must be so hard being famous.” It’s like the popular girl complaining about being invited to too many parties. I really feel bad for you, being a famous artist and traveling all over the world, people liking your work and paying you baot loads of money for it must be hard.

  5. Amber Martin November 25, 2008 / 2:55 pm

    Nice comment. I was thinking the same thing. LOL. That is why I was wondering if the video would work better with out the voice over. A wider range of audience would then be able to relate to it better. Unless Marina wants it to be more personal. However, some of the statements (especially the ones toward the end of the voice over) don’t bother me as much

  6. Andrea W November 29, 2008 / 12:56 pm

    I think as artist we all struggle with limitations of oneself. The way she expresses her pain through this un-glorified scene is brilliant. There is this impressive beauty that comes across in her eyes through physical and mental pain as she is eats the repulsive onion. I would rather eat a raw onion then do half the things she is expressing. The pain is amplified by the fact that she does this over and over again is unbelievable. The onion is like the life she is living in even though we may be jealous of her fame. Everyday to her is the bite of the onion as it is some clearly seen with every bite. No matter what we are doing or where we are at in our lives we always have to deal with the taste of the onion. Bravo.

  7. Jessie December 2, 2008 / 3:34 pm

    This video is awesome. It’s hard to watch at times, especially when she just stops for just a second and sighs this long breath. You almost think she’s going to give up and then she goes at it again. The look on her face and the tears that eventually build up make this video even better. The video is like a car accident you can’t look away from even though your grossed out. The first few times I watched it I didn’t really know or hear what she was saying because I was so interested in what she was doing. After hearing what she was saying I don’t really feel the audio fits. I feel she could have complained about something more then her lifestyle.

  8. nick December 3, 2008 / 12:50 am

    extremely hard to watch. I’m not a fan of raw onion to begin with so this video literally made me gag and my eyes water. however, excellent. the voice over about enduring that which truly annoys and aggravates clearly displays the intent of enduring devouring the onion. the uncut single shot truly drives the point home when at the end she is a mess — makeup running lipstick smeared, drool and all. makes my bitterness about life seem a bit superfluous.

  9. Brandon Cady December 10, 2008 / 11:39 pm

    This one is very hard to watch, it definitely invokes a sense of being uncomfortable. I didn’t necessarily understand the dialogue as much though, other than repetitive complaining. But you get a feeling of her detirmination and struggle against those odds, as seen through her struggling with eating the onion.

  10. zac December 13, 2008 / 5:35 pm

    This piece was entertaining and left me with a new outlook of being uncomfortable. I was so drawn to the anticipation of the next bite, while at the same time I couldn’t help but to gag while she was chewing. I feel as if she pronounced and exclaimed what she was sick of more clearly, the message would be seen directly. But I also feel if she did that, I would lose my curiosity and will power to keep watching…

  11. kevin G March 23, 2009 / 4:09 pm

    ….To be able to eat an entire onion raw… extraordinary. To be able to keep a straight face while eating an entire onion raw….beautiful!! The way the focus was right on the face as the whole frame was key to the effect given to the viewer. So powerful with very little detail in the video.

  12. Liz July 18, 2013 / 9:58 pm

    I watched it in Boston a few years ago. While I can’t recall exactly how I felt but I do remember that I experienced so many emotions watching it. I wanted to reach out to her, ‘no, you don’t have to continue’ was at one point when it was getting painful to see. But I couldn’t, wouldn’t look away. I think I even watched it twice in a row – what does that say about me?? I know it was powerful, I felt like a witness to something significant. Really blew me away. Bravo.

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