You thought the current moment couldn’t get more surreal? Well, we have news for you. A new stranger-than-fiction art-centric clash has erupted, and it involves the software behemoth Microsoft, the world-famous performance artist Marina Abramović, and hysterical cries of Satanist ties from a far-right political group.
It all started on April 10, when Microsoft uploaded a video ad for HoloLens2, a headset designed for mixed reality, that prominently features the artist. Less than a week later, the ad vanished. (ARTnews first reported the video’s disappearance.)
The now-deleted video follows Abramović as she discusses her mixed reality work The Life, which premiered at London’s Serpentine Galleries in early 2019. The work offers visitors the opportunity to experience an intimate encounter with the artist in a 19-minute performance using the mixed reality Hololens2 headset, which enables the wearer to see both their real surroundings and virtual additions. (One of the work’s three editions is due to be sold at Christie’s in October with an estimate of $700,000.)
Before long, the video caught the attention of the far-right internet. Days after it was posted, the ad—which, just to be clear, contains no mention whatsoever of Satanism—was given a “thumbs down” by more than 24,000 users on YouTube.
A Microsoft representative declined to comment about the removal of the video. After being pressed for more information, the representative did not deny that it had been deleted, saying simply: “Microsoft doesn’t have anything additional to share here. Thanks!”
Screenshots and clips of the video have circulated around Reddit as well as Twitter and other social media. According to ARTnews, many of the disapproving votes came after Infowars, a far-right blog run by Alex Jones that has promoted conspiracy theories as news, published a story attempting to connect the new Microsoft video to an earlier theory that Abramović is a Satanist.
Abramović did not immediately respond to an email from Artnet News seeking comment.
It was four years ago that the artist first became a subject of interest among the far right, after the emails of Hilary Clinton’s former campaign chairman, John Podesta, were hacked and made public. Among them was an invitation forwarded by John’s brother, Tony Podesta, a lobbyist and art collector, to a gathering of significant donors to her Kickstarter campaign.
Those who pledged over $10,000 in support of Abramović’s now-aborted art institute were invited to attend an intimate dinner party with the artist called “Spirit Cooking with Marina Abramović.” The event’s name was a play on a series of 1990s performances in which she used pig’s blood to write phrases such as “fresh morning urine sprinkle over nightmare dreams,” or “with a sharp knife cut deeply into the middle finger of your left hand eat the pain” on the walls of museums. In 1996, she also created an “aphrodisiac cookbook” of the same name.
The dinner itself—which John Podesta did not attend—was, Abramović later said, just a “normal dinner” with about 10 guests. But seizing on the name and Abramović’s nontraditional art, internet conspiracy theorists labeled it evidence of a “sex cult” or “bizarre occult ritual” that had ensnared high-ranking Democratic operatives.
Abramović defended herself at the time, saying: “I’m outraged, because this is taken completely out of my context. Anybody who wants can read my memoirs and find out that [my work] is far away from Satanism.” But on the internet, it seems, Marina is no match for angry YouTube commenters.
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