Yugoslavian born “Body Art” performance artist Marina Abramovic (known as the “grandmother of performance art”) performed’Role Exchange’ in 1975 where she exchanged places with a prostitute in Amsterdam’s red light district for a night. Marina had befriended and developed a relationship with the prostitute who agreed to participate in the art work on the proviso that she remain anonymous. Not only did Marina occupy the prostitute’s window space but the prostitute attended an exhibition opening (De Appel gallery) at the same time and both women role-played at being each other.
Anna Novakov wrote of the work in her 2003 article for the Womans Art Journal, Point of Access: Marina Abramovic’s 1975 Performance “Role Exchange“. She says
“According to Abramovic,. Role Exchange was advertised with a standard gallery invitation sent to hundreds of people. The exhibition attracted a large art audience and was documented with black-and-white still photographs taken inside the gallery and outside the brothel window. There was no direct audience participation in the gallery, although the brothel had three male visitors who came in off the street.”One was drunk and left immediately, one didn’t want to pay the going rate, and the third man only wanted the woman who usually worked that window.”( E-mail exchange, November 2002.) The exhibition received good press coverage. Documentation of Role Exchange and many other early performance pieces was exhibited in the mid-1990s as framed photographs and texts. The Role Exchange photographs were taken by Ulay (in front of the brothel) and the De Appel Gallery staff (in front of the gallery).”
“I was living in Yugoslavia and was invited to do a performance for a project called Body Art. That was the first time that I had been to Amsterdam and the first time that I had seen the red-light district. I found it to be quite shocking. Especially, coming from a communist/socialist country and having the background that I had. My mother was a major in the army. My father left when I was seventeen. My mother had to raise the children [Marina and her brother] completely alone. She was very strict, always talking about morals, what was right and what was wrong.”
Marina Abramovic, quoted in Anna Novakov, ed., “Role Exchange: Desire, Beauty and the Public,”Veiled Histories: The Body, Place and Public Art( New York: Critical Press, 1997), 27.
Marina Abramovic is known as the ‘grandmother of performance art’ originally from belgrade she now lives and works in New York. Abramovic started working with performance art in the early 70s when she was a part of the avant-guarde Body Art Move-ment along with artists Nesa Paripovic (whom she married in 1971) and Zoran Popovic. The group was associated with american “body” performance artists of the time: Vito Acconci (Seed Bed, 1971), Chris Burden (Shoot, 1971), Bruce Nauman (Corridor, 1972) and Dennis Op-penheim (Parallel Stress, 1970).
Abramovic has won the 2012 Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Berlin film Festival. http://www.berlinale.de/en/presse/pressemitteilungen/alle/Alle-Detail_14165.html