Expiring Body is an ambitious series of related videos made up of two parts: The Body and The Diary. They are based on Abramović’s travels to Sri Lanka and India in 1998, where she searched for and met people whose meditative practices allow them to experience extreme states of body and mind. Abramović has traveled extensively over the course of her career, often to remote areas to learn from primitive cultures. In her own words:
When I was in Tibet, or when I lived among the Aborigines in Australia, or when I learned some of the Sufi rites, I understood that these cultures have a long tradition of techniques of meditation which lead the body to a borderline state that allows us to make a mental leap to enter different dimensions of existence and to eliminate the fear of pain, death, or the limitations of the body. In the Western world, we are so full of fears . . . that we have never developed techniques that can push back physical limits.
Marina Abramović: Performing Body, Studio Miscetti and Zerynthia, Rome, 1998
Expiring Body: The Body is Abramović’s own version of the Cadavre Exquis. For this large-scale video installation, she mixed the head, torso, and feet of three different bodies from three different cultures. The top video, or the head, is her brother Velimir Abramović, a philosopher in Yugoslavia, discussing topics such as time, space, energy, and the alpha state of mind and death. The middle video, or the torso, is an African man in Amsterdam performing a Voodoo dance ritual. The lower video, or the feet, is footage of a fire walking ceremony in Sri Lanka.
Expiring Body: The Diary comprises five videos, each depicting people with special psychic powers involved in ritualistic acts. The acts are often repetitive—such as a Tibetan woman prostrating herself over and over again—and all capture the performer entering another state of consciousness.
At the end of her residency in 1998, Abramović presented a lecture and performance, titled Expiring Body: Performing Body, in which she presented her own early video works and those of other artists who have affected her thinking and way of working.