Dwight Garner at the New York Times:
Marina Abramovic’s first major performance art piece was based on an old Russian drinking game. In front of an audience in 1973, she took a series of sharp knives and stabbed each as quickly as she could into the spaces between her fingers. (In the game, there is only one knife and you take a drink for each nick.) Blood went everywhere.
The art crowd loved it. Ms. Abramovic knew she’d found her medium. “No painting, no object that I could make, could ever give me that kind of feeling,” she writes in “Walk Through Walls,” her new memoir. “It was a feeling I knew I would have to seek out, again and again and again.”
This finger-stabbing phase was followed by one that might be described as, “I take off my clothes and cut myself, sometimes while lying on ice.” There was her I-run-into-things-while-naked period. There was a crawl-on-the-floor-with-snakes era.
She was there early, and she became known as the godmother of performance art. Her pieces combined masochism and spirituality, often to intense effect. They were a form of “body horror,” to use a phrase that has been applied to films directed by David Cronenberg.