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Marina Abramović to electrify herself with one million volts in the name of art

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Marina Abramović’s work is famous for its shock-factor. In 1974, for example, the Serbia-born performance artist put the relationship between audience and performer to the test by laying out 72 items – including a knife and a loaded gun – and sitting passively among them. Audience members subsequently cut up her clothes using the knife while an exhibition-visitor held the loaded gun to her head. Another performance involved Marina slowly approaching a high-powered fan as she tried to breathe in as much air as her lungs would allow. She lost consciousness shortly afterwards. Her upcoming performance promises to be just as radical.

In 2020 the Royal Academy of Arts will be hosting Abramović’s solo show, which will see the artist charging her body with one million volts. If successfully executed, Abramović – who will be 73 at the time of the show – will extinguish a candle a metre away from her; the electric field will apparently repel the flame’s charged particles.

The performance is made possible through Abramović’s collaboration with art-tech company Factum Arte, who describe themselves as “providing practical solutions to technical challenges” on their website. The studio is in the process of building a machine that will charge Abramović with one million volts in a regulated and secure environment. Adam Lowe, Factum Arte’s founder, tells The Times: “Electricity is something that people really don’t understand. If you look on the internet though, you will see people becoming highly charged and as long as they are insulated, you can fly bits of lightning out of your fingers.”

Dwight Perry, a goat farmer from Dorset and skilled engineer, is in charge of building the conducting contraption. The process will involve Kirlian photography, a technique that was discovered accidentally in 1939 which uses high-voltage sources to create images on photographic plates. Specific details will be worked out over the next two years leading up to Abramović’s show.

Abramović will be the first ever woman to take over the main galleries of the Royal Academy of Arts since it was founded 250 years ago. Other ideas Abramović proposed for her exhibition may, however, not be realised such as a glass fountain spouting the artist’s blood.