Marina Abramović Flogs Adidas in World Cup Advertisement

Can performance art sell sportswear?

Marina Abramović.
Photo: © 2014 Patrick McMullan Company, Inc.

The latest from the world’s most famous performance artist, Marina Abramović, is leaving many in the art world scratching their heads. In a confusing move, reports the Huffington Post, she’s teamed up with Adidas to create an artsy film short celebrating the importance of teamwork on the occasion of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Sure, Abramović has been known to collaborate with celebrities like James Franco, Jay Z, and Lady Gaga, but working with a corporate brand like Adidas seems a bridge too far. The short, uploaded to YouTube, may have been shot in black-and-white and feature atmospheric music and a slightly bombastic voice-over by the Serbian artist, but let’s call a spade a spade: this is a sneaker commercial.

Ostensibly, the film is a meant to illustrate the power of teamwork by showing three groups’ efforts to transport a pile of rocks across a room. It’s a recreation of Work/Relation, a performance piece Abramović originally staged with her former partner Ulay way back in 1978, “reimagined through the lens of the 2014 FIFA World Cup,” as the YouTube description explains. One can’t help but wonder what that younger woman would think of her older self cannibalizing her oeuvre to sell sportswear.

Predictably, the group that stands in a line passing rocks along a human chain like buckets of water in an old-fashioned firefighting brigade, is not only more efficient, but has the most stamina. By comparison, the groups that work in pairs, carrying buckets full of rocks the entire length of the room, are quick to throw in the towel. “The chain is the most efficient message. The chain has the most endurance. The chain stays forever,” intones the artist’s voice-over.


A video still from Marina Abramović’s Adidas ad featuring a restaging of her 1978 performance with Ulay, Work/Relation.
Photo: Via YouTube.

“One similarity between performance and sport that I wanted to highlight in this video is the importance of group collaboration,” Abramović told designboom. The video description includes plenty of buzzwords—teamwork, discipline, perseverance, commitment, and “the strength found in togetherness”— and promises that the “resulting performance conjures the ethos of Adidas and the spirit of collaboration inherent to a global competition like the 2014 FIFA World Cup.”

The branding comes into play with the footwear, with plenty of shots prominently focusing on their black or white striped Adidas sneakers. The 11 performers (the number of players on a soccer team) also don monogrammed smocks from the artist’s Marina Abramović Institute, where Hyperallergic speculates the spot has been shot—although the location is in fact the Pioneer Works art center in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Abramović oversees the whole process, staring at the poor fools who are being forced to participate in this thankless exercise all in the name of Adidas—the short ends with the brand’s “all in or nothing” slogan, followed by the triangular striped logo.

Watch the Abramović-Adidas ad below:

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