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What will happen to Marina Abramović when she electrifies herself with 1 million volts?

What will happen to Marina Abramović when she electrifies herself with 1 million volts?


The artist follows in the footsteps of countless boys tasing each other on YouTube

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'Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World' Premiere - 2017 Tribeca Film Festival
Photo by Donna Ward/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Artist Marina Abramović is known for boundary-pushing, unpredictable performance pieces, some of which sound like schemes the characters from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia would’ve come up with on a particularly beer-drenched Sunday. During her 1973 performance Rhythm 10, Abramović darted a knife quickly between her fingers, cutting herself several times. A year later, in Rhythm 0, she laid out 72 items on a table, one of which was a loaded gun, and asked her audience to use the items on her in any way they wanted.

For her upcoming show at the UK’s Royal Academy of Arts, Abramović plans to electrify herself with 1 million volts, The London Times reports. Then she’ll attempt to extinguish a candle with the electric charge gathered at her fingertips.

Abramović will be the first woman ever to take over the main gallery of the Royal Academy, so props to the Royal Academy for only taking 250 years to find a woman. She will reportedly be working with engineer and Factum Arte founder Adam Lowe, who told 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.”

It’s true. Details of Abramović’s own performance may be currently limited—will she be administering the shock herself? Will the voltage be applied all at once, or gradually? Does she plan to use a taser or something more sophisticated??—but if you “look on the internet,” there are indeed plenty of illuminating examples of people zapping themselves.

Here’s a video that opens with a man saying, “All right guys, we’re back with more punishment.” He then watches as his friend repeatedly shocks his own forearm with a 1 million-volt stun baton:

And here’s a truly stunning performance from a man attempting to determine whether the electric current from a stun baton will pass through a can of Pepsi and a pair of cooking tongs. Spoiler: “Oh, shit, yes it does.”

Here’s one from a man who calls himself “Fillthy Fill.” Here, Fillthy Fill asks one of his generous friends to hit him in his back with a 2 million-volt stun gun and hold it for three seconds. Alas, Fill does not last three seconds. Instead, he instantly crumples onto a pile of pillows and observes, “I think I can smell my skin burning.”

Thankfully, we can expect Abramović to elevate this vaunted art form, even if the details aren’t all sorted out yet. According to the Times, she and Lowe plan to use techniques associated with Kirlian photography, or electrophotography, in which images are produced by a high-voltage power source.

Abramović’s show won’t open until 2020, so she will have plenty of time to peruse the thousands of stun gun YouTube videos that are now artistic canon.