Marina Abramović Goes to Coney Island: A Burlesque

Sideshow strippers shoot the art star from a canon.

Marina Abramovič Burlesque
Photo: Courtesy Burlesque

Marina Abramović gets quite another kind of accolade this week as the Coney Island Sideshow hosts an evening of burlesque that is closely, even reverently, based on the canon of the performance-art superstar.

“Limitless: A Marina Abramović Tribute” is no tongue-in-cheek send-up, its organizers stress. Each performer—with names like Darlinda Just Darlinda, Fancy Feast, Scary Ben and Matt Knife—will do a riff on a historic Abramović piece, interpreting it, usually partly naked, as absurdist cabaret. A statement of purpose notes: “We intend to present a Critical Tribute to be added to the pantheon of conversations around art and its intrinsic value to society and reality at large.” The goal of the June 26th evening is “distortion of the mind.”

As an early taste, some of the “Limitless” pieces were performed last February at the Bizarre in Bushwick, Brooklyn—one performer, Melody Jane, even slicing herself with a razor blade as the finale. Another, Kitty KaBoom, riffed on The Onion, eating one to the point of tears, as Abramović famously did in 1996. And event co-organizer Zoe Ziegfeld, known in the burlesque world for the life-size tattoo of a snake that covers her body, opted for The Stripper is Present, an audience-participation piece.

The elaborate homage is not as unlikely as it might first seem. The New York School of Burlesque now teaches Performance Art as a wing of its “neo-burlesque” curriculum. Explains school headmistress and noted burlesque historian/performer Jo “Boobs” Weldon: The individual burlesque performer makes “imaginative use of the body—using movement, pain or pleasure, painting or writing directly on [the] skin’s surface, and orifices for expression, entertainment and surprise.” Sounds right up Abramović’s alley. Many burlesquers have been “influenced by performance artists such as Annie Sprinkle, Lydia Lunch, Holly Hughes, Carolee Schneeman, and of course Marina Abramović,” she adds.

The Coney Island Sideshow has also long had ties to the art world. In 2005, Jeffrey Deitch once arranged for a star of the burlesque troupe—and a Whitney Biennial veteran—Julie Atlas Muz, to roll around Art Basel Miami near-nude in an inflatable bubble; he later did a group show at his Grand Street space featuring her work. And Coney Island USA is a long-standing 501(3)c arts nonprofit, with funding from such organizations as the New York State Council on the Arts and The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

So, what will the June 26 salute be like? There’s a possible repeat of Bombazeen Bean’s showstopper: last winter she performed bare-breasted in a winsome Heidi-like peasant costume in homage to Abramović’s Balkan Erotic Epic.

Another performer, Melody Jane, asks on Facebook: “To complete my act for this Thursday’s show, I am kindly requesting that the following items be gifted to me: (1) 8-10 oz. jar of honey, (1) bottle of red wine, (1) bag of ice, and coarse sea salt.”

Hopefully, she’s bringing her own Band-Aids.

“Limitless: A Marina Abramović  Tribute” shows at 9 p.m., 1208 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn. Admission is $12.—

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