In 2016, artist Marina Abramović became the unexpected target of right-wing ire after internet users claimed to have uncovered connections between her performances and Satanism. Now, those allegations of Satanism have returned after users besieged a YouTube video featuring Abramović performing as part of a mixed reality work.
Uploaded by Microsoft on April 10, the video was an advertisement for the HoloLens 2, a headset that allows users to see digital imagery with the outside world still in their view. (Mixed reality, unlike virtual reality, is not all-encompassing—viewers can see their surroundings while experiencing the headset’s moving images.) In the video, which is now deleted from YouTube, the artist discusses her new mixed reality work, The Life, and tells viewers, “I believe that art of the future is art without objects. This is just pure transmission of energy between the viewer and the artist. To me, mixed reality is this answer.”
There are no explicit mentions of Satanism in the video, which also features interviews with an official at Christie’s—which plans to sell The Life in October for more than $775,000—and the work’s director. Also included is a demonstration of The Life.
When viewers don headsets, they can see Abramović wearing the red dress from her acclaimed 2010 performance The Artist Is Present. She slowly walks around, and her image sometimes appears to blink because of digital effects. The artist has described The Life, which debuted at London’s Serpentine Galleries in 2019, as a performance accessible anytime, anywhere.
Shortly before the video was deleted earlier this week, it had been “disliked” by users more than 24,000 times. (Asked about for comment, a Microsoft representative did not deny that the video had been deleted. Screenshots of its existence have circulated around Reddit and other social media.) Many of the downvotes on the video came after Infowars, a far-right blog run by Alex Jones that has promulgated conspiracy theories as news, published an article tying the video to the 2016 allegations of Satanism.
Those allegations rested largely on emails released by Wikileaks around the time of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. The emails were obtained from the hacked account of John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and in one, Podesta’s brother Tony, an art collector, is invited by Abramović to see a performance of her 1997 work Spirit Cooking, for which she made paintings from pig’s blood. A book of recipes instructing readers to enact forms of violence went with the piece. (According to one Abramović expert, these orders are not actually meant to be carried out.) Right-wing outlets claimed that the work indicated that Abramović and the Podestas were implicated in a sex cult.
Speaking to ARTnews in 2016, Abramović called the performance “a normal dinner” and vehemently denied the Satanism allegations, saying, “Anybody who wants can read my memoirs and find out that [my work] is far away from Satanism.”
Abramović could not be reached after repeated requests for comment for this article. A representative for Microsoft declined to comment.
As of Wednesday morning, a link listed on Google for Microsoft’s page dedicated to Abramović’s art redirected to a website for the tech company’s arts-related initiatives. A 2012 documentary about the artist, Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present, is still available for rental on Microsoft’s website.